CHESTERTOWN - George Washington as a feisty young frontier soldier, the U.S. as an infant world power, the founding era as seen through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson's favorite daughter, and Jefferson himself as an American nationalist - these are the subjects of four new works named finalists for the 2013 George Washington Book Prize, a $50,000 award that recognizes the best recent book on the nation's founding era.
Washington College recently announced this year's finalists as Stephen Brumwell's "George Washington: Gentleman Warrior" (Quercus), Eliga H. Gould's "Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire" (Harvard), Cynthia A. Kierner's "Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times" (UNC) and Brian Steele's "Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood" (Cambridge). All four books were published in 2012.
Co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington's Mount Vernon, the award is the largest nationwide for a book on early American history, and one of the largest literary prizes of any kind. It recognizes the past year's best books on the nation's founding, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history.
"Though it may seem as if the founding era has receded in time, it is actually very much with us, informing the way we think about ourselves as Americans and citizens of the world today," said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold director of Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the prize. "This year's finalists bring that seminal period alive in new ways, as the best history does, and shed new light on our own lives in the process."
The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced at a dinner on May 22 at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia.
"There is a misperception about early-American history - that the era has been explored to its capacity," said Curt Viebranz, president of Mount Vernon. "Which is why it is so important to recognize the groundbreaking work of the scholars nominated for the George Washington Book Prize."
A jury of three distinguished historians selected the finalists from nearly 50 entries. It was chaired by Carol Berkin, presidential professor of History Emerita at Baruch College and a member of the history faculty at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She was joined by fellow jurors Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, the Kathe Tappe Vernon professor in Biography and professor of English at Dartmouth College and Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation professor Emeritus in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and Senior Research Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.
The jury praised Stephen Brumwell's "George Washington: Gentleman Warrior," which focuses more on Washington as soldier than as elder statesman, as "well-written and engaging," and wrote that, "In the hands of this fine biographer, Washington emerges as a flesh and blood man, more impressive than the mythical hero could ever be." Born in England, Brumwell is a former newspaper reporter who is now a distinguished 18th-century historian and award-winning author. He lives in Amsterdam, where he also works as an historian on television and radio programs.
Eliga H. Gould's "Among the Powers of the Earth," "offers a fresh interpretation of the international history of the American Revolution," the jurors wrote. His "transnational approach enables students of the founding to escape the tunnel vision of national - and nationalist - historiography." Gould is chair of the history department at the University of New Hampshire. His previous books include "Persistence of Empire: British Political Culture in the Age of the American Revolution," which won the Jamestown Prize of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.
"A fine departure from the wealth of books that center on Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers," Cynthia A. Kierner's "Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello," "has a great deal to say about the conflicted lives of slave-holding women and mothers, and how a great man's legacy may be historic while at the same time leaving his descendants to struggle," the jurors wrote. Kierner, who is a professor of history at George Mason University, is the author and/or editor of six previous books, including Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America (Virginia, 2006).
In "Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood," Brian Steele brings to life a man "we now call an' American exceptionalist' who believed that the American people were uniquely capable of embracing principles of self-government that were 'self-evident' to them alone," the jurors wrote. An associate professor of history - and award-winning teacher - at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Steele has published essays in t he Journal of American History and the Journal of Southern History. "Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood" is his first book.
More information about the George Washington Book Prize is available at gwprize.washcoll.edu.