Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" Selected as a Finalist for the George Washington Book Prize

Needless to say, I am surprised, flattered, and honored to be one of three finalists for this prestigious award, one of the largest literary prizes in America.

Joy and I now get to attend a gala black-tie event in June at Mount Vernon where the winner will be announced.  I must admit that I have a deeper understanding of the phrase, "It is an honor just to be nominated."

I am also honored to be part of a group that includes Benjamin Irvin and Maya Jasanoff.  Their books are outstanding and I have learned a great deal about the Revolutionary-era from their scholarship and writing. 

Here is the press release:

CHESTERTOWN, MD, Feb. 22, 2012—Since his birth 280 years ago today, George Washington has received no small amount of attention from authors and publishers. The Library of Congress catalogue lists almost 1,200 books about the Father of Our Country, including more than 100 full-scale biographies, 60 volumes of letters and diaries, and entire works on topics such as Washington’s teeth, a chair he once owned, and his rescue of a British general’s stray dog in 1777. Countless more books have been published about the Revolutionary era on which he made his mark.

Each year, however, the George Washington Book Prize honors – with a $50,000 award – a single recent work on Washington or his times that stands above the others. In honor of George Washington’s Birthday, Washington College announces the three finalists for the 2012 prize.

The honored books, all of them published in 2011, are John Fea’s Was America Founded As A Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press), Benjamin H. Irvin’s Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors, (Oxford University Press), and Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf).

The award—which is co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon—recognizes the past year’s best books on the nation’s founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history.

“This prize is, of course, about history that happened 200 years ago, but it’s also about the present,” says 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. “From the Tea Party movement to this year’s presidential debates, Americans still refer to the nation’s founding era when they talk about current events. This year’s finalists reflect on some of these enduring questions, including the role of religion in politics, the relationship between politicians and the general public, and the fate of dissident minorities.”

The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced June 4 at a black-tie dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens in Virginia.

This year’s finalists were selected by a jury of three distinguished historians: Richard Beeman, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the 2010 winner of the George Washington Book Prize, who served as chair; Thomas Fleming, distinguished historian and author; and Marla R. Miller of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. They selected the finalists after reviewing nearly 50 books published last year on the founding period in American history, from about 1760 to 1820, the time of the creation and consolidation of the young republic.

In John Fea’s Was America Founded As A Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, the author asks – and answers – one of the most controversial questions of contemporary public debate. The jury praised the book for its “balance and nuance” and “real, even pressing, contemporary importance.” Fea is Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and has written extensively for both scholarly and popular audiences. He is also the author of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America and co-editor of Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.

Benjamin H. Irvin’s Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors, is, in the jury’s words, a “well-researched and imaginatively conceived work” that “provides a lively narrative and a fascinating window onto the relationship between America’s political leaders in the Congress and the people.” Irvin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arizona. He has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where he held an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. He is the author of the young adult biography, Samuel Adams: Son of Liberty, Father of Revolution.

In praising Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, the jury applauded the book’s “impressive archival research, its sweeping conceptualization, perspectives and aims, its enviable prose style and the penetrating insights it yields into its characters’ lives.” Jasanoff was educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Yale, and is currently Associate Professor of History at Harvard University. Her first book, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850, was awarded the 2005 Duff Cooper Prize and was a book of the year selection in numerous publications, including The Economist, The Observer, and The Sunday Times. She has contributed essays to The London Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and other publications. Liberty’s Exiles is also a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction.

More information about the George Washington Book Prize is at