By Taylor Patterson
Elm Staff Writer
$50,000. That is how much one writer will be awarded if they are chosen to be the recipient of the George Washington Book Prize. This prestigious book prize is awarded once a year to an author whose book shows the potential to expand the knowledge and understanding of early American history.
On Thursday, Feb. 22, the seven finalists and their respective books were announced for the book prize: S. Max Edelson, “The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence;” Kevin J. Hayes, “George Washington: A Life in Books;” Eric Hinderaker, “Boston’s Massacre; Jon Kukla, Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty;” James E. Lewis, Jr., “The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis;” Jennifer Van Horn, “The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century America;” and Douglas L. Winiarski, “Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England.”
“One of the more exciting things about this year’s finalists is that their books cover a diverse range of subjects, broadening American history beyond George Washington and the Founding Fathers to societal and cultural aspects,” said Jean Wortman, assistant director of Washington College’s Starr Center for the American Experience and the College’s liaison for the book prize.
The standard criteria for the Book Prize said that the book must have been published in the preceding year—in this case, 2017—and be focused on the time period of the Founding Fathers. Beyond that, it is at the author’s discretion what their book discusses. The topics for this year’s books range from religious awakenings, to objects and material culture in the revolution, to mapping the revolution, and to Washington’s library.
In a press release, Adam Goodheart, director of the Starr Center, said that, “Understanding the first chapter of our national story is more essential today than ever. These books reconnect us with ideas that made the United States a beacon for democratic movements around the world.”
The Book Prize was created in 2005 as a national contest, and it is one of the biggest contests in the country. This prize is supported by three partners: the College, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“It is really great for the College to have the opportunity to partner with other acclaimed institutions in order to promote the reading of well written history and embrace it,” Wortman said.
These authors are some of the most prominent historians in the U.S. The finalists have managed to combine a broad range of scholarship with rich writing, earning them a spot in the top seven chosen out of the 50 plus books considered for the Book Prize, by three judges who are independent scholars and not affiliated with any of the three partners.
In early April, the judges will convene with representatives of each of the partnering institutions and declare a winner. The winner of the Book Prize will be announced on Wednesday, May 23, at a black-tie gala at Mount Vernon.