Friday, February 19, 2010

Washington College Announces $50,000 George Washington Book Prize Finalists

In commemoration of George Washington’s birthday, Washington College today announced three finalists for the 2010 George Washington Book Prize.

The books, which were chosen from 62 entries, include a masterful account of the Constitutional Convention, an insightful reconsideration of the Founding Fathers, and a lively and dramatic narrative of one of the most remarkable partnerships in American history.

The finalists are: Richard Beeman’s Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (Random House), R.B. Bernstein's The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (Oxford), and Edith B Gelles’ Abigail & John: Portrait of A Marriage (William Morrow).

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.

“Each of this year’s finalists tells the stories of some of the men and women who participated in the nation’s founding,” 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. “These books are not simple biographies: they are group portraits that bring to life, in personal and immediate ways, an extraordinary era in American history.”

The winner will be announced at a gala celebration May 20 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens in Virginia.

The finalists were selected by a jury of three distinguished historians: Theodore J. Crackel, Editor in Chief, The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia, who served as chair; Catherine Allgor, Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside; and Andrew Cayton, University Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University, Ohio.

They selected the finalists after reviewing 62 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.

Richard Beeman “has long been a jewel in the historical profession’s crown,” and in
Plain, Honest Men, he has written what could be considered his “magnum opus,” the jurors wrote. They praised the book for its “clear, accessible prose” and its “willingness to engage the reader in a public conversation,” calling the work “the best modern account of the Constitutional story.” Beeman is Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of several books on the revolutionary America, including Patrick Henry: A Biography (1974), a finalist for the National Book Award. He serves as a trustee and vice-chair of the Distinguished Scholars Panel of the National Constitution Center.

R.B. Bernstein’s
The Founding Fathers Reconsidered “is the product of a genius for concise analysis” that in its relatively few pages “has synthesized a generation of scholarship into an extended essay about the nature and meaning of the American Revolution,” the jurors reported. “He provides a straightforward account of men who were neither demi-gods nor scoundrels, but rather talented, imperfect human beings.” Bernstein is a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law at New York Law School and has written, edited or co-edited nineteen books on American constitutional and legal history, including Thomas Jefferson (2003).

Edith B. Gelles’
Abigail & John: Portrait of a Marriage is the judges noted, “not only a lively telling of a most important chapter in our nation’s history, but also – and appropriately – a romance.” In this most recent exploration of the famous duo, Gelles “has added new dimensions, capturing the husband and wife in a truly multi-dimensional construct.” Gelles is currently a Senior Scholar at the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Studies at Stanford University. She began her research into the Adamses over thirty years ago and is the author of two books about Abigail:Portia: The World of Abigail Adams (1992), a co-winner of the American Historical Association’s Herbert Feis Award, and Abigail Adams: A Writing Life (1998), an examination of Abigail’s life through her letters.

You can read more about the George Washington Book Prize at

The 2010 George Washington Book Prize Jurors

Theodore J. Crackel, chair of the 2010 Washington Prize jury, is Professor and Editor in Chief of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia. In 2005, the project received a National Humanities Medal from President Bush; in 2007 it launched a digital edition, and in 2009 it undertook the online publication of Washington’s extensive financial papers. A renowned scholar of early military history, Professor Crackel previously served as Director and Editor of Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. He was a visiting professor at West Point during the school’s bicentennial year (2001-2002). Among his books are 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, 2002).

Catherine Allgor is a Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside, where she teaches classes on early America, gender and politics. She has been awarded a prestigious Presidential Chair at the University of California. She attended Mount Holyoke College as a Frances Perkins Scholar and received her Ph.D. with distinction from Yale University, where she also won the Yale Teaching Award. Allgor began her teaching career at Simmons College and has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a Visiting Professor of History at Harvard University. Her book, Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (University Press of Virginia, 2000), won the James H. Broussard First Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, and she has written on politics, women and religion for national publications. Her latest book, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (Henry Holt, 2006), was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.

Andrew Cayton earned a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Brown University. He has been the John Adams (Fulbright) Professor of American Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands; a Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation Center at Bellagio, Italy; and a Resident Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Jefferson’s Monticello. He is currently Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University, Ohio, where he has received several teaching awards. Cayton is currently collaborating with Fred Anderson on Imperial America, 1672-1764, a volume in the Oxford History of the United States. His previous books include The Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780-1825 (Kent State University Press, 1986), which won the Ohioana Book Award for History; Ohio: The History of a People (Ohio State University Press, 2002); and, co-authored with Fred Anderson, The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (Viking, 2004). The Dominion of War was named a Washington Post Best Book of 2005.

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.

Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization supporting the study and love of American history through a wide range of programs and resources for students, teachers, scholars, and history enthusiasts throughout the nation. The Institute creates and works closely with history-focused schools; organizes summer seminars and development programs for teachers; produces print and digital publications and traveling exhibitions; hosts lectures by eminent historians; administers a History Teacher of the Year Award in every state and U.S. territory; and offers national book prizes and fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection as well as other renowned archives. Gilder Lehrman maintains two websites that serve as gateways to American history online with rich resources for educators: and the quarterly online journal , designed specifically for K-12 teachers and students.

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.

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