The Jefferson Prize honors a tenured or tenure-track faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in research and creative activity.
Alison Vacca, assistant professor of history, is considered her generation’s leading historian in her field, which centers on the rise of Islam and the Middle East during the medieval period—specifically, on the complex and conflicted history of the Caucasus region, which was a crossroads of empires and religions 12 centuries ago and remains so today. Her most recent focus is a study of women in the Caucasus Mountains during the medieval period—a topic that has been largely ignored until now. Vacca’s work will show the important roles that women played as emissaries, intermediaries, and teachers, and this award will support her work on a book on the experience and roles of women in early Islam. One of the things that makes Vacca such an extraordinary scholar is her mastery of the demanding languages of the historical texts, which are written primarily in Arabic, Armenian, and Persian. For this new research, she will learn yet another language—medieval Georgian. Vacca’s groundbreaking work promises to help scholars understand the nature of Islamic rule in the region and how it spread through the Middle Ages and on to the present.