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May 2016

May 2016: Who Will Win the 2016 George Washington Prize?

21186_bkprizemedalThe process of awarding the 2016 honor began in February, when Washington College announced seven finalists for the prestigious George Washington Prize — an annual award that recognizes the year's best-written works on the nation's founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of early American history.

Created in 2005 by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, George Washington's Mount Vernon, and Washington College, the $50,000 George Washington Prize is one of the nation's largest and most notable literary awards. Past recipients have included Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The winner of the George Washington Prize will be announced at a black-tie event on May 25.

This year's finalists represent the depth of new scholarship and the broad expanse of inquiry into the diversity of people and the political, geographic, economic, and social forces that shaped the American Revolution and the early republic.

The seven authors immerse readers into settings that include domestic life at Mount Vernon, a bloody battle on the banks of the Monongahela River, multi-ethnic settlements along the Gulf Coast, onboard ships with revolutionaries crisscrossing the Atlantic world, a depleted encampment at Valley Forge, a contentious convention in Philadelphia in 1787, and the Weehawken dueling grounds at dawn. These are places where well- and little-known stories of our nation's past unfolded; Revolutionary War leaders were forged, and the ideas of liberty, democracy, and republicanism were tested.

Scroll down to read more about the 2016 George Washington Prize finalists! — David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer, the Grateful American™ Foundation

Meet the Jurors: 2016 George Washington Prize

Who selects the 2016 winner? Distinguished historians and writers Sean Wilentz, Libby O'Connell, and James Kirby Martin served as independent jurors who selected the finalists from a field of nearly 60 books published in the past year. The winner of the 2016 prize will be announced at a black-tie gala on Wednesday, May 25, at George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Grateful American™ Series

Meet the Seven 2016 George Washington Prize Finalists

BilderThe 2016 George Washington Prize finalists include: 

“Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention”

By Mary Sarah Bilder, a professor of law and Michael and Helen Lee Distinguished Scholar at Boston College Law School. Her work focuses on the history of the Constitution, the history of judicial review, and Colonial and founding era constitutionalism. Published by Harvard University Press

Independence Lost jacket“Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution” 

By Kathleen DuVal, a professor in the History Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Author of “The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent,” DuVal has also been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and William and Mary Quarterly. Published by Random House

Fraser_Jacket“The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love” 

By Flora Fraser, author of “Beloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton”; “The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline”; “Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III”; and “Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire.” Fraser is chair of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography. She lives in London. Published by Knopf

Washington's Revolution.indd“Washington's Revolution: The Making of America's First Leader” 

By Robert Middlekauff, Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus of American History, at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include “The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728,” which won the Bancroft Prize; “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and “Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies.” Published by Knopf


“Revolutions Without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World” 

By Janet Polasky, Presidential Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of the prize-winning “Revolution in Brussels, 1787-1793”; “The Democratic Socialism of Emile Vandervelde: Between Reform and Revolution”; and “Reforming Urban Labor: Routes to the City, Roots in the Country.” Published by Yale University Press

Braddocks Defeat cover“Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution” 

By David Preston, an award-winning historian of early America, and professor of History at The Citadel. He is the author of ”The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783,” which received the 2010 Albert B. Corey Prize. Published by Oxford University Press

War of Two cover

“War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation” 

By John Sedgwick, a journalist, novelist, memoirist, and biographer who has published 12 books. He is best known for his best-selling six-generation family memoir, “In My Blood,” and his acclaimed psychological novel, “The Dark House.” He has been a regular writer for Newsweek, GQ, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair. Published by Penguin


Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was a principal donor to the college, and 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 college's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the George Washington Prize, offers creative ways to study history, culture, and politics, and it fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. For more information:

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit devoted to the teaching and learning of American history. Gilder Lehrman draws on top scholars, an unparalleled collection of original historical documents, and a national network of more than 8,000 Affiliate Schools to create and provide a broad range of resources to help teachers, students, scholars, and the general public learn about American history in a way that is engaging and memorable. The Institute's programs have been recognized by the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians. For more information:

The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, at George Washington's Mount Vernon, considers itself the preeminent center of learning about Washington, his life, character of leadership, and legacy. In addition to safeguarding original books and manuscripts, the Library serves as a center for leadership inspired by Washington's extraordinary example. Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, America's oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. For more information:

More information about the George Washington Prize is available at For details about the finalists or to arrange interviews, please contact Washington College:

This month in history

Who created the city plan for Washington, DC?

May 2, 1783 — Today, architect and civil engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant was promoted to Major of Engineers in recognition of his work in service to Colonial America. The most famous was his city plan for Washington, DC.

L’Enfant was chosen by President George Washington in 1791 to survey and design the new federal city of Washington. He designed streets in a grid pattern, and he placed major government buildings and parks in the plan. He also designed a “grand avenue” stretching west from the Capitol to the Potomac River, which we now call the National Mall. Disagreements with the city’s commissioners led to L’Enfant’s dismissal in February 1792. Never fully implemented, his vision continues to influence planners and designers.

“We take [L’Enfant’s plan] into account for virtually everything we do. I think he would be pleasantly surprised if he could see the city today. I don’t think any city in the world can say that the plan has been followed so carefully as it has been in Washington,” said John Cogbill, who chaired the National Capital Planning Commission from 2001 until 2009.


Read more…

Book Club

Meet the 2015 George Washington Prize Winner: “An Empire on the Edge,” by Nick Bunker

Written from a strikingly fresh perspective, author Nick Bunker brings us a new account of the Boston Tea Party and the origins of the American Revolution. The narrative shows how a lethal blend of politics, personalities, and economics led to a war that few people welcomed but no one could prevent.

In this powerful, fair-minded work, British author Nick Bunker tells the story of the last three years of mutual embitterment that preceded the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1775.

"It was a tragedy of errors, in which both sides shared responsibility for a conflict that cost the lives of at least 20,000 British and a still larger number of Americans," explains Nick Bunker, winner of the 2015 George Washington Prize. "It teaches us how the British and the colonists failed to see how swiftly they were drifting toward violence until the process had gone beyond the point of no return."

Read more…

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