GW Book Prize Finalists Announced
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College has announced three finalists for one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, the George Washington Book Prize. Now in its tenth year, the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on early American history.
The 2014 Washington Prize finalists tackle fresh and engaging topics about the nation’s founding era. In The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (Yale), Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy explores the British perspective on the American Revolution. Jeffrey L. Pasley examines the lively politics surrounding the first contested presidential election in The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy (Kansas). Rounding out the slate of honorees, Alan Taylor offers new insights into race and slavery in the early Chesapeake in The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (W.W. Norton & Co.).
“In very different ways, our three finalists not only reveal new understandings about the complex legacies of revolution in our young republic but also place American history within a larger, global context,” says Ted Maris-Wolf, Deputy Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. “They challenge us to re-think many of our assumptions about race, politics, and diplomacy in early America.”
“These books are just too good to miss. Everyone should know about them,” adds James Basker, the president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which co-sponsors the George Washington Prize with Washington College and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “We want the George Washington Prize to bring great history to a larger public — to teachers, students and general readers everywhere.”
The Prize winner will be announced May 20 at a gala dinner at Mount Vernon.
This year’s prize holds particular significance for Mount Vernon. In September 2013, the historic estate opened a new state-of-the-art center for scholarly research and educational outreach, The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. “As we work more closely with scholars who are authoring new works, it becomes increasingly clear that there are many discoveries yet to be made about our country’s founding,” says Mount Vernon’s president, Curt Viebranz. “By honoring these finalists with such a prestigious prize, we are encouraging scholars and researchers to continue learning and sharing more.”
A jury of three distinguished historians, chaired by Gordon S. Wood and joined by Joyce Appleby and Annette Gordon-Reed, selected the finalists from among 40 books published in the past year. All three jurors are themselves renowned experts in the history of the founding era.
Although each finalist selection touches on Washington’s influence on American and world history, the three books explore decidedly different topics. In The Men Who Lost America,Andrew O’Shaughnessy follows the course of the American Revolution from the “enemy’s” perspective, and corrects popularly held misconceptions of the British. “In a series of deeply researched and clearly written chapters focused on the major British political and military figures,” the jury commented, “he persuasively demonstrates that the British leadership was remarkably talented and able. But he also shows the tremendous limitations under which these leaders had to operate, and in the process, he helps readers understand the eventual American victory.”
A dual citizen of Britain and the United States, O’Shaughnessy is the Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean and is a popular lecturer with both scholarly and general audiences.
Jeffrey Pasley provides new insight into how the first contested presidential election set the stage for the democratic electoral process. “Pasley captures with verve and wit the frothy politics that emerged unexpectedly at the end of the eighteenth century,” the jury noted. “The First Presidential Contest makes it very unlikely that the 1796 presidential campaign will ever be thrust into the shadows again.”
Pasley is a professor of history at the University of Missouri. He is the author of a prize-winning book on the early American press, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Before entering academia, he was a journalist and a speechwriter on Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. He blogs extensively about early American history for Common-Place.
Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy is “a tour de force that is also a complete delight to read,” the jurors wrote. “With great insight and sensitivity, Taylor focuses on the War of 1812 and unveils the heretofore-understudied story of black people’s involvement in that conflict, creating a seamless, and quite rare, melding of social, military, and political history.” Taylor was recently appointed to the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia, after teaching at the University of California, Davis for 20 years. He is an award-winning author of seven books including William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic (1995), which won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Beveridge prizes.
More information about the George Washington Book Prize is available at washcoll.edu/gwbookprize.
The 2014 George Washington Book Prize Jurors
Joyce Appleby is professor emerita at University of California, Los Angeles. As past president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society for the History of the Early Republic, she has long taken an interest in bringing history to a larger public. Her research on the 17th and 18th centuries in England, France, and America has focused on the impact of an expanding world market on the way people understood and talked about their society. Among her principal publications are The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010), Thomas Jefferson (2003), Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans (2000), and Telling the Truth about History (1994).
Annette Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School, a professor of history in Harvard University’s History Department, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute. A renowned law professor and scholar of American history, she has published six books, among them The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), which won the Pulitzer Prize in history, the National Book Award for nonfiction, and the George Washington Book Prize. Her earlier Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997) examines the scholarly writing on the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. Gordon-Reed’s honors include the National Humanities Medal for 2009, a Guggenheim Fellowship in the humanities (2009), a fellowship from the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library (2010–2011), and a MacArthur Fellowship (2010).
Gordon S. Wood, Jury Chair,is Alva O. Way University Professor Emeritus at Brown University. He is the author of many award-winning works, including The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969), which won the Bancroft Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize, and The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize. His 2004 book, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, was awarded the Julia Ward Howe Prize. His volume in the Oxford History of the United States, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (2009), won the Association of American Publishers Award for History and Biography, the American History Book Prize, and the Society of the Cincinnati History Prize. In 2011, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama and the Churchill Bell by Colonial Williamsburg. He has also received the Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Award from the Society of American Historians and the John F. Kennedy Medal from the Massachusetts Historical Society.
About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize
Washington Collegewas founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also a member of its original governing board. He received an honorary degree from the college in June 1789, two months after assuming the presidency. The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, founded in 2000, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture and politics. It fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. www.washcoll.edu.
Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization devoted to the improvement of history education. The Institute has developed an array of programs for schools, teachers, and students that now operate in all fifty states, including a website that features more than 60,000 unique historical documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. Each year the Institute offers support and resources to tens of thousands of teachers, and through them enhances the education of more than a million students. The Institute also awards the Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Book Prizes, sponsors “History Scholar” awards for outstanding undergraduates, and offers fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. Our programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians. www.gilderlehrman.org.
Since 1860, more than 85 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernonthe most popular historic home in America. With its latest initiative, The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, Mount Vernon is affirming its status as the preeminent center of learning about George Washington, his life, character of leadership, and legacy. In addition to safeguarding original books and manuscripts, the Library serves as a center for leadership, where scholars, influencers, and other luminaries come together to talk about the past as well as the future, inspired by Washington’s extraordinary life, achievements, and character. Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. www.mountvernon.org