The 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 will be announced at a black-tie event on May 25.
Each 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.
This year’s seven authors immerse readers into 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.
The 2016 George Washington Prize finalists are:
“Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention,” Harvard University Press; 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.
“Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution,” Random House; 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.
“The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love,” Knopf; 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.
“Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader,” Knopf; 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.”
“Revolutions Without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World,” Yale University Press; 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.”
“Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution,” Oxford University Press; 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.
“War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation,” Penguin;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.
ABOUT THE JURORS
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 will be announced at a black-tie gala on Wednesday, May 25, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
ABOUT THE SPONSORS OF THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PRIZE
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: www.washcoll.edu.
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: www.gilderlehrman.org.
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: www.mountvernon.org.
More information about the George Washington Prize is available at washcoll.edu/gwbookprize.