Cohn Prize

Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize

The Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize honors outstanding and innovative scholarship across discipline and country of specialization for a first single-authored English-language monograph on South Asia, published during the preceding year. Books nominated may address either contemporary or historical topics in any field of the humanities or the social sciences related to any of the countries of South Asia: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal in the spirit of Barney Cohn’s broad and critical scholarship on culture and history in South Asia. The prize aims to acknowledge two books, one in humanities and one in social sciences, for recognition each year.

2025 Prize

$1,000 award for the author.

Guidelines for Submission

  • Books must have a 2023 copyright date to be eligible for the 2025 prize.
  • Prior publication of an edited volume, exhibition catalog, or translations without critical apparatus does not necessarily disqualify authors.
  • Books may only be nominated for one prize competition within each regional category; please see the main Book Prizes page for regional categories.
  • Publishers must complete the book nomination form. Each press may nominate a maximum of six books for the Cohn Prize.
  • Only publishers may nominate books.
  • Upon receipt of a completed nomination form, publishers will be provided with addresses for prize committee members. A copy of each entry, clearly labeled “Bernard S. Cohn Prize,” must be sent to each member of the committee.

Books published by the Association for Asian Studies, Inc. are ineligible for consideration for prizes administered by the Association for Asian Studies. Employees of the Association are excluded from consideration for AAS book prizes, subventions, and grants. Publishers should check with authors to certify that they are not employed by the Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 

Deadline

The nomination deadline for 2025 prizes has passed. Award winners will be announced on February 15, 2025.


2025 Cohn Prize Committee

A. Sean Pue (Chair)
Michigan State University

Shailaja Paik
University of Cincinnati

Malini Sur
Western Sydney University

Piya Chatterjee
Scripps College


2024 Awards

Winners and Citations

Sylvia HoughtelingThe Art of Cloth in Mughal India (Princeton University Press)

The Art of Cloth in Mughal India is a stunning book, both wide-ranging and in-depth in its analysis of cloth in Mughal India. Sylvia Houghteling’s masterful book shows us how to study cloth at different levels and scales of analysis, ranging from the material, economic, affective, political, and aesthetic dimensions. Houghteling unearths histories told in cloth, but also how this fragile object is traced in a wider archive, ranging from painting to princely account ledgers, in order to illuminate its far-reaching, at times unexpected, social, economic, and political role.


Kriti KapilaNullius: The Anthropology of Ownership, Sovereignty, and the Law in India (HAU Books)

Kriti Kapila’s Nullius: The Anthropology of Ownership, Sovereignty, and the Law in India turns the classical anthropological formulation of “the gift” on its head by considering what happens when something is taken away. Nullius uses anthropological understandings of property to examine the Indian state’s dispossession and erasure of people, places, and things. Kapila deftly combines insights gleaned from her ethnographic research with readings of anthropological theory and legal and social history from the nineteenth century to the present. Though conceptually dense, this well-crafted and provocative book remains remarkably accessible to non-specialists.


Jayita SarkarPloughshares and Swords: India’s Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War (Cornell University Press)

In Ploughshares and Swords: India’s Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War, Jayita Sarkar draws on a rich set of archives to place India’s nuclear program in its broader global geopolitical context. Sarkar highlights how India’s leaders promoted economic modernity (“ploughshares”) and military strength (“swords”) through its space and nuclear programs from the 1940s to the 1980s, setting in motion a techno-political project that served as a disciplining device to stifle dissent within democratic India. Accessibly written and transnational in scope, Ploughshares and Swords provides significant insights into understanding India’s Cold War history, as well as the continued significance of plutonium and the nuclear program in India today.


Past Awards

Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize

2012 Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial India

2013 Jacob Dalton, The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism

2014 Davesh Soneji, Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India

2015 Cabeiri  deBergh  Robinson, Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists

2016 Lotte Hoek, Cut-Pieces: Celluloid Obscenity & Popular Cinema in Bangladesh

2017 Sonal Khullar, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990

2018 Nathaniel Roberts, To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and the Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum

2019 Anna Marie Stirr, Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal

2020 Sohini Kar, Financializing Poverty. Labor and Risk in Indian Microfinance

2021 Nosheen Ali, Delusional States: Feeling Rule and Development in Pakistan’s Northern Frontier

2022 Durba MitraIndian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought and Maria Rashid, Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army

2023 Vaibhav SariaHijras, Lovers, Brothers: Surviving Sex and Poverty in Rural India; Honorable Mention, Malini SurJungle Passports: Fences, Mobility, and Citizenship at the Northeast India-Bangladesh Border