March 14, 2017 — In today’s issue of The New York Times, reporter Jennifer Schuessler writes:
Jane Kamensky, a professor at Harvard University, will take on the unofficial title “American historian laureate” in April when the New-York Historical Society presents her with its annual book prize in American history, for “A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley.”
The book, published by W. W. Norton, used Copley — who is celebrated for his portraits of Paul Revere and other Revolutionary War-era patriots, despite the fact that he was a loyalist who spent the war years in London — as a window onto the complexities of Revolution-era America. Virginia DeJohn Anderson, writing in The New York Times Book Review in December, praised the book’s vivid depiction of a man who “remained conflicted to the end.”
The prize, which was recently renamed in honor of the philanthropists Barbara and David Zalaznick, carries a $50,000 cash award and an engraved medal, as well the unofficial laureate title. (The historical society is a private organization.) Past winners include Eric Foner, Drew Gilpin Faust, Gordon S. Wood and Jill Lepore.
Ms. Kamensky, who is also the academic director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women, said in an email that she was pleased that the jury had responded to Copley’s “unheroic, sometimes antiheroic” experience of the war, which she called “a tale for our own revolutionary times.”
“Unlike most of the protagonists of doorstop biographies of that age, Copley found the patriot cause vexing, even terrifying,” she said. “His politics were family politics, his revolution an intimate epic.”
The prize will be awarded on April 21, as part of the historical society’s annual “Weekend with History” event.