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The Final Four
George Washington as a feisty young frontier soldier, the U.S. as an infant world power, the founding era as seen through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite daughter, and Jefferson himself as an American nationalist — these are the subjects of four exciting new works named finalists for the 2013 George Washington Book Prize, a $50,000 award that recognizes the best recent book on the nation’s founding era.
Washington College today announced this year’s finalists as Stephen Brumwell’s George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (Quercus), Eliga H. Gould’s Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Harvard), Cynthia A. Kierner’s Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times (UNC) and Brian Steele’s Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood (Cambridge). All four books were published in 2012.
Co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the award is the largest nationwide for a book on early American history, and one of the largest literary prizes of any kind. It recognizes the past year’s best books on the nation’s founding, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history.
“Though it may seem as if the founding era has receded in time, it is actually very much with us, informing the way we think about ourselves as Americans and citizens of the world today,” says Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the prize. “This year’s finalists bring that seminal period alive in new ways, as the best history does, and shed new light on our own lives in the process.”
The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced at a dinner on May 22 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens in Virginia.
“There is a misperception about early-American history — that the era has been explored to its capacity,” says Curt Viebranz, president of Mount Vernon. “Which is why it is so important to recognize the groundbreaking work of the scholars nominated for the George Washington Book Prize.”
A jury of three distinguished historians selected the finalists from nearly 50 entries. It was chaired by Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History Emerita at Baruch College and a member of the history faculty at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She was joined by fellow jurors Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography and professor of English at Dartmouth College, and Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor Emeritus in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and Senior Research Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.
The jury praised Stephen Brumwell’s George Washington: Gentleman Warrior, which focuses more on Washington as soldier than as elder statesman, as“well-written and engaging,” and wrote that, “In the hands of this fine biographer, Washington emerges as a flesh and blood man, more impressive than the mythical hero could ever be.” Born in England, Brumwell is a former newspaper reporter who is now a distinguished 18th-century historian and award-winning author. He lives in Amsterdam, where he also works as an historian on television and radio programs.
Eliga H. Gould’s Among the Powers of the Earth “offers a fresh interpretation of the international history of the American Revolution,” the jurors wrote. His “transnational approach enables students of the founding to escape the tunnel vision of national—and nationalist—historiography.” Gould is chair of the history department at the University of New Hampshire. His previous books include Persistence of Empire: British Political Culture in the Age of the American Revolution, which won the Jamestown Prize of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.
“A fine departure from the wealth of books that center on Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers,” Cynthia A. Kierner’s Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello “has a great deal to say about the conflicted lives of slave-holding women and mothers, and how a great man’s legacy may be historic while at the same time leaving his descendants to struggle,” the jurors wrote. Kierner, who is a professor of history at George Mason University, is the author and/or editor of six previous books, including Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson’s America (Virginia, 2006).
In Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood, Brian Steele brings to life a man“we now call an ‘American exceptionalist’ who believed that the American people were uniquely capable of embracing principles of self-government that were ‘self-evident’ to them alone,” the jurors wrote. An associate professor of history — and award-winning teacher — at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Steele has published essays in the Journal of American History and the Journal of Southern History. Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood is his first book.
More information about the George Washington Book Prize is available at gwprize.washcoll.edu.
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The 2013 George Washington Book Prize Jurors
Carol Berkin, chair, is the Presidential Professor of History Emerita at Baruch College and a member of the history faculty at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books, including First Generations: Women of Colonial America; A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution; Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence; Civil War Wives: the Life and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant; and, most recently, Wondrous Beauty: The Extraordinary Life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. She is currently working on a book on the Bill of Rights. Berkin is a frequent contributor to PBS and History Channel television documentaries on early American and Revolutionary Era history and serves on the boards of several professional organizations, including The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the National Council for History Education.
Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography and professor of English at Dartmouth College. She is also professor of English at Brunel University in London. She is the author and editor of seven books, including Mr. and Mrs. Prince, about the former slaves Lucy Terry and Abijah Prince, and biographies of Dora Carrington and Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Peter S. Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor Emeritus in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and Senior Research Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (Monticello). A specialist in the history of the early American republic, Onuf was educated at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his A.B. in 1967 and Ph.D. in 1973, and has taught at Columbia University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Southern Methodist University before coming to Virginia in 1990. In 2008-2009 Onuf was Harmsworth Professor of American History at the University of Oxford. His recent work on Thomas Jefferson’s political thought, culminating in Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (University Press of Virginia, 2000) and The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2007, also Virginia), grows out of earlier studies on the history of American federalism, foreign policy and political economy. With Ed Ayers, President of University of Richmond, and his Virginia colleague Brian Balogh, Onuf is co-host of the public radio program “Backstory with the American History Guys.” For more information see the program website: www.backstoryradio.org.
About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize
Washington College was 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, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. www.washcoll.edu.
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History promotes the study and love of American history. The Institute serves teachers, students, scholars, and the general public. It helps create history-centered schools and oversees a network of 2700 affiliates, organizes seminars and programs for K-12 teachers, produces print and electronic publications and traveling exhibitions, sponsors lectures by eminent historians, and administers a History Teacher of the Year Award nationally and in every state. 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. For details on the Institute’s programs see, www.gilderlehrman.org.
Since 1860, over 80 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens the most popular historic home in America. Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. www.mountvernon.org.