CHESTERTOWN, PA (February 25, 2011)—Washington College has announced the three finalists for the 2011 George Washington Book Prize. President Mitchell B. Reiss revealed the news during the College’s annual George Washington’s Birthday Convocation held Friday afternoon, February 25.
The honored books include the first comprehensive account of the political contests behind the ratification of the Constitution, a new analysis of the American Revolution, and an illuminating history of the War of 1812. They are Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788 (Simon & Schuster), Jack Rakove’s Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (Knopf).
The $50,000 award—co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon—is the largest prize nationwide for a book on early American history, and one of the largest literary prizes of any kind. It recognizes the year’s best books on the nation’s founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history.
“The United States was born amid debates and conflicts that engaged not just a few so-called ‘Founding Fathers,’ but also millions of ordinary men and women,” said 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. “Each of this year’s finalists captures how Americans participated in the often fractious—and sometimes dangerous—process of creating a new nation.”
The winner will be announced at a dinner on May 25 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens in Virginia.
The finalists were selected by a jury of three distinguished historians: Mary Beth Norton, the Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University, who served as chair; David Armitage, the Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard University; and Daniel Walker Howe, the Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. They selected the finalists after reviewing 59 books published last year on the founding period in American history, from about 1760 to 1820, the time of the creation and consolidation of the young republic.
Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution 1787–1788, “demonstrates the author’s mastery of a subject that has not previously received such sustained treatment, despite its importance,” noted the jurors. Maier is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at M.I.T. She is the author of several books and textbooks on American history, including From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765–1776 (W.W. Norton, 1992); The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams (Knopf, 1980); and American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, (Knopf, 1997), which was on the New York Times Book Review “Editor’s Choice” list of the best 11 books of 1997 and a finalist in General Nonfiction for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award.
In praising Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, the jury wrote, “One can readily imagine a reader who loves history curling up in bed with Jack Rakove’s engaging, accessible, and well-written book,” adding that it “imaginatively integrates his narrative of the Revolution and its aftermath with a series of biographical sketches of leading American revolutionaries.” Rakove is the W.R. Coe Professor of History and American Studies and professor of political science at Stanford University. He has taught at Colgate University and has been a visiting professor at the New York University School of Law. Rakove won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for History for Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (Knopf, 1996). He is also the author of The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (Knopf, 1979); James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic (revised edition, Addison, Wesley, Longman, 2001); and Declaring Rights: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford Books, 1997).
Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies is “the most illuminating and original history of the conflict ever written,” the jurors wrote. “Taylor’s masterly effort to rethink the War of 1812 is strikingly successful in its own terms, as a balanced, superbly grounded, analytically rich, and literarily compelling account of a conflict which, as Taylor says, ‘looms small in American memory.’” Alan Taylor teaches American and Canadian history at the University of California, Davis. His books include The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderground of the American Revolution (Knopf, 2006); American Colonies (Viking, 2001); and William Cooper’s Town (Knopf, 1996), which won the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes for American history. He is a contributing editor to The New Republic.
The 2011 George Washington Book Prize Jurors
Mary Beth Norton, chair, is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University. Norton’s book Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (Knopf, 1996) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. She is also the author of The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789 (Little, Brown & Co., 1972); Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800 (Cornell University Press, 1980); and In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (Knopf, 2002), which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in History and which won the English-Speaking Union’s Ambassador Book Award in American Studies. She has received four honorary degrees, and in 1999 was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Starr Foundations, and the Henry E. Huntington Library. In 2005–2006, she was the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge and Newnham College.
Daniel Walker Howe is a historian of the early national period of American history and specializes in the intellectual and religious history of the United States. He is Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University in England and Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. He won the Pulitzer Prize for History for What Hath God Wrought (Oxford University Press, 2007). Other books include The Political Culture of the American Whigs (University of Chicago Press, 1979) and Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Harvard University Press, 1997.) He has been president of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In 1989–1990, he was Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at Oxford and a Fellow of Queen’s College. In 1992, he became a permanent member of the Oxford History Faculty and a Fellow of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford until his retirement in 2002.
David Armitage is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard and an Honorary Professor of History at the University of Sydney. Among his eleven books to date are The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (2000), which won the Longman/History Today Book of the Year Award, and The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (2007), which was chosen as a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year. He is co-editor of the Cambridge University Press series Ideas in Context, co-chair of the International Conference for the Study of Political Thought, and a member of the Steering Committee of the Center for the History of British Political Thought at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In 2006, the National Maritime Museum in London awarded him its Caird Medal for “conspicuously important work . . . of a nature that involves communicating with the public,” and in 2008, Harvard named him a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for “achievements and scholarly eminence in the fields of literature, history or art.”
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, organizes seminars and programs for educators, produces print and electronic publications and traveling exhibitions, sponsors lectures by eminent historians, and administers a History Teacher of the Year Award in every state. The Institute also awards the Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and George Washington Book Prizes, and offers fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. The Institute maintains two websites, www.gilderlehrman.org and the quarterly online journal www.historynow.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.