Chestertown, MD, February 19, 2007 — In commemoration of George Washington's birthday, Washington College today announced three finalists for the 2007 George Washington Book Prize.
The $50,000 award—co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Historic Mount Vernon—is the largest prize nationwide for a book on early American history, and one of the largest for nonfiction.
The finalists are A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (Holt), by Catherine Allgor; In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery and the Making of a Nation (Penguin), by François Furstenberg; and Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution (Simon & Schuster), by Charles Rappleye.
"For more than 200 years, Americans have been engaged in an ongoing—and sometimes contentious—conversation about the meaning and significance of our founding era," says historian 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. "The Washington Prize recognizes books that contribute fresh ideas to that national conversation, and approach American history in new ways, as all of this year's finalists do. All three of our nominees can be characterized as 'rising stars' in the field."
The winner will be announced at a gala celebration May 22 at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia. Previous winners were Stacy Schiff for A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America, in 2006; and Ron Chernow forAlexander Hamilton, in 2005.
This year's finalists were selected by a jury of three historians: Richard Bushman of Columbia University, Theodore J. Crackel of the University of Virginia, and Pauline Maier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They reviewed more than 60 books published last year on the founding period in American history, from about 1760 to 1820—time of the creation and consolidation of the young republic.
The jurors called Catherine Allgor's second book about the famously gracious Washington hostess, Dolley Madison, "elegant" and "sympathetic." Allgor "captures Dolley Madison's charm and charisma, and spells out in new, impressive detail the political role she played," they wrote. An associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, Allgor won two prizes for her first book, about the political influence of early Washington wives, before it was even published. Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (University of Virginia, 2000) was awarded Yale University's George Washington Egleston Prize and the Organization of American Historian's Lerner-Scott Prize. Later, it also won the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic's James H. Broussard's First Book Prize.
François Furstenberg's book about the myth-making that helped unite the young American republic is an "artfully composed, accessible study of the post-revolutionary period," the judges opined, and "brings to center stage the invention and celebration of the founding fathers, and particularly of George Washington." Furstenberg brings alive both the popular texts—schoolbooks, almanacs, and newspapers—of the era and their authors, from Noah Webster to the Eastern Shore bookseller Mason Locke Weems, unauthorized biographer of Washington and inventor of the cherry tree myth. These are the men who composed the Gospel of the new republic, Furstenberg argues, canonizing Washington and the other Founding Fathers and touting the new religion of "consent of the governed," while whitewashing that discordant element of the story of consent—slavery. Furstenberg earned his Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University in 2003 and, after doing postdoctoral work at Cambridge, joined the faculty at the Université de Montréal, where he is an assistant professor of history. In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation is his first book.
Charles Rappleye is an award-winning journalist, a former crime reporter who spent most of the past decade as news editor and columnist for the LA Weekly. The jurors attribute some of the power of Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade, and The American Revolution to his reportorial and story-telling instincts. "Rappleye, a journalist, spotted the ideological polarity represented by Moses and John Brown and turned the greatest contradiction in the Revolutionary period into the history of two men: one a Baptist-turned Quaker opponent of slavery and the other a passionate revolutionary who was a major actor in the slave trade," they wrote. "Rappleye's book shows how this contradiction was not a conflict between North and South but a battle waged in the North, within a state thought to be one of the most independent and liberal of any in the Union, and in fact within one family."
Richard Lyman Bushman is Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University. His first book, From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765, won the Bancroft Prize in 1968. Before he joined the faculty at Columbia, he taught at Harvard University, Brigham Young University, Boston University, and the University of Delaware. The Portland, Oregon, native received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University. A leading authority on early American cultural and religious history, his books include Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (University of Illinois, 1984), King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (University of North Carolina Press, 1985), and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (Knopf, 1992). The Mormon History Association named his most recent work, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Best Book of 2006.
Theodore J. Crackel is editor of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia and a renowned early military historian. He was previously editor of Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, at East Stroudsberg University and was a visiting professor at West Point during the school's bicentennial (2001-2002). His books include Mr. Jefferson's Army: Political and Social Reform of the Military Establishment, 1801-1809 (New York University Press, 1987) and West Point: A Bicentennial History (University Press of Kansas, 2003).
Pauline Maier is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her B.A. in American History and Literature from Radcliffe College, was a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics, and earned her Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. She is widely recognized as an authority on the American Revolution. Her books include From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Resistance to Britain (Knopf, 1972), The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams (Knopf, 1980), and American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (Knopf, 1997). She also wrote the first eight chapters of a college textbook, Inventing America (Norton, 2002). She has contributed to history programs on PBS and the History Channel. She is writing a book about the ratification of the U.S. Constitution for Simon & Schuster.
Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize
The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience was founded at Washington College in 2001 to promote new scholarship in American history, culture, and politics. Founded in 1782 in colonial Chestertown, Md., Washington College is the only college George Washington supported personally, donating both his money and his name to the project, and serving on its board.
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is located in midtown Manhattan and promotes the study and love of American History, both nationally and internationally. It creates history-centered schools and research centers, and enrichment programs for teachers, including the Teaching American History grants it co-sponsors with public school districts. It produces print and electronic publications and traveling exhibits, and sponsors lectures by eminent historians. It also funds the Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Book Prizes and offers fellowships for scholars to work in history archives, including its own Gilder Lehrman Collection.
The oldest national preservation organization in America, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has owned and managed George Washington's home for nearly 150 years, opening its doors annually to about one million people. The George Washington Book Prize is an important part of its many outreach programs to teachers and students nationwide.
For more information, visit gwprize.washcoll.edu.