Thursday, September 16, 2010

Prize-Winning Historian Beeman to Discuss the Leadership that Created the U.S. Constitution

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Author Richard Beeman, whose Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution won the 2010 George Washington Book Prize, will deliver the Book Prize Lecture Thursday, September 30 at Washington College. Hosted by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the Prize, the event begins at 4:15 with a book signing in the lobby of the Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts. Following at 5 p.m. in Decker Theatre is a special performance of the National Constitution Center’s live multimedia program “Freedom Rising.” Beeman’s talk, “The Founding Fathers of 1787: Lessons in Political Leadership,” begins at 5:15 p.m. in the same theater.

At 9:30 a.m. the following morning, Friday, October 1, the celebration continues in Hodson Hall Commons with “Making History,” an informal public conversation between Beeman and Adam Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center. The two historians will probe the relationship between the way the framers of the Constitution viewed the document they created and the way modern Americans approach and understand it today. They will also discuss the process of writing history and take questions from the audience. “Making History” will take place in Center Stage, on the first floor of Hodson Hall Commons. All events are free and open to the public.

“We invite all members of the Washington College community to join us in honoring Dr. Beeman’s important book and exploring the history that it recounts,” Goodheart said. “Almost 225 years after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention closed the doors of Independence Hall behind them, Plain, Honest Men opens their secret proceedings to view, casting new light on decisions that continue to shape our laws, our politics, and our national identity.”

Richard Beeman is professor of history and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a trustee of the National Constitution Center. He has written five other books on revolutionary America, including Patrick Henry: A Biography (McGraw-Hill, 1974), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. His prize-winning Plain, Honest Men is a dramatic and engrossing account of the men who met in Philadelphia over the summer of 1787 to design a radically new form of government. In exploring the daily debates of the Constitutional Convention, Plain, Honest Men reveals the passionate intellectual and political conflicts among the Founders.

“There has been a tendency among all Americans to regard the Founding Fathers as these mythic, carved-in-marble or cast-in-bronze figures,” said Beeman. “I wanted to make them real human beings. But I wanted to make them 18th-century human beings, not 21st-century human beings. I think that they approached the task with a humility that would be valuable in our present-day times.”

The jury of scholars who chose Beeman’s book as a finalist from among 62 nominees described it as “the best modern account of the Constitutional story,” noting that the book’s skilled narration of an event too many consider inevitable “restores that most fragile component of history – contingency.” Plain, Honest Men has received praise from innumerable reviewers and readers, including the eminent American historian Gordon Wood, who called it “the fullest and most authoritative account of the Constitutional Convention ever written.”

For more information about the George Washington Book Prize, which is co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, visit the Starr Center website at, or call 410-810-7165.

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