George Washington Book Prize of $50,000 goes to Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World

MOUNT VERNON, VA (June 4, 2012)—One of the nation’s largest literary awards, the annual George Washington Book Prize, has been awarded to Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf, 2011). Jasanoff, a professor of history at Harvard University, received the $50,000 prize on Monday evening, June 4, at a black-tie dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens.

While it has long been said that history is written by the victors, Jasanoff vigorously challenges that idea in her powerful account of the lives of those who fought against the American Revolution. Liberty’s Exiles is a riveting story of the losers in America’s struggle for independence: loyalists who found themselves in a world turned upside down. Yet Jasanoff also describes how these exiles—who fled their lost colonies for the distant corners of the globe, from Nova Scotia to West Africa to India—helped shape the future of the British Empire.

The Washington Prize, honoring the year’s best book about America’s founding era, is sponsored by a partnership of three institutions devoted to furthering historical scholarship: Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. It particularly recognizes books that speak to general audiences and contribute to a broad public understanding of the American past.

“Maya Jasanoff vividly tells the stories of individual people swept up the treacherous—and sometimes fatal—currents of history,” said Adam Goodheart, director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the prize. “She brings the past to life by putting readers in the shoes of these characters, from wealthy merchants to African-American slaves.”

“Told through the eyes of American loyalists, Liberty’s Exiles is a masterful combination of archival research and narrative storytelling. Jasanoff delivers brilliant insight into the lives and motives of the 60,000 loyalists who sought refuge around the world after independence, depicting the global impact of that mass exodus and providing a fresh and engaging perspective of the American Revolution,” says James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which funds the award.

Liberty’s Exiles has received many accolades since its publication, including the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, as well as being shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize in Nonfiction. Jasanoff was educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Yale, and is currently Professor of History at Harvard University. Her first book, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 17501850, 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.

In praising Liberty’s Exiles, the Washington Prize 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.”

The Mount Vernon event also celebrated the works of the two other finalists for this year’s prize: John Fea’s Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) and Benjamin H. Irvin’s Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors (Oxford University Press, 2011). Finalists were selected by a three-person jury of distinguished American historians: Richard Beeman, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History emeritus 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. Jasanoff’s book was named the ultimate winner by a panel of representatives from each of the three institutions that sponsor the prize, plus historian Barbara Oberg of Princeton University.

For more information about the George Washington Book Prize, please go to www.gwbookprize.washcoll.edu.

About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize:

Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also 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 C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, founded at the College in 2000, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture, and politics, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. www.washcoll.edu

Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization devoted to the improvement of history education. The Institute has developed an array of programs for schools, teachers, and students that now operate in all fifty states, including a website that features the more than 60,000 unique historical documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection, www.gilderlehrman.org. Each year the Institute offers support and resources to tens of thousands of teachers, and through them enhances the education of more than a million students. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians.          

Since 1860, over 80 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens the most popular historic home in America. Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events, and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. A picturesque drive to the southern end of the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, Mount Vernon is located just 16 miles from the nation’s capital. www.MountVernon.org

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