Maier Named WC Book Winner: ‘The story our country needs more than anything’

By Kimberly Uslin
Elm Staff Writer

Dr. Pauline Maier won the George Washington Book Prize for “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788.”
- Photo courtesy of Jessica Brennan

On Sept. 16, Washington College hosted the seventh annual George Washington Book Prize celebration in honor of Dr. Pauline Maier, author of “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788.”

Co-sponsored by WC, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, The George Washington Book Prize is a $50,000 award for the best book each year written on the Founding era of the United States.

The prize was founded in 2005 after the realization that there was no prize for that particular era in history.

“There was a Lincoln Prize for books about Lincoln and the Civil War era, and someone thought there should be a Washington prize for General Washington and the Founding era,” said Book Prize Coordinator Lois Kitz.

According to Kitz, the prize “acknowledges people who really approach history with fresh eyes, fresh scholarship, and good writing.”

This is important on both the national level and specifically at WC, as the prize underlines the college’s emphasis on writing and its historical connection to George Washington and the Founding era.

Past winners of the GWBP have won other notable prizes such as the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Frederick Douglass Award. Kitz is enthusiastic about this year’s winner, calling Maier’s work “terrific,” a “fascinating book that gave a whole new insight into an area of history not given much thought before.”

The Book Prize Celebration began at 4 p.m. with a book signing in the Gibson lobby, where attendants were able to view a replica of the ship Federalist, which was sailed to Moun Vernon as a gift to George Washington after the Constitution’s ratification, as well as Maryland’s original parchment copy of the Constitution.

The main event, entitled “Making History: A Conversation with Pauline Maier,” followed. Maier discussed her book, which chronicles the ratification of the Constitution in each of the 13 states following the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention.

President Mitchell Reiss introduced the author, explaining how Maier “brings to life the lesser-known story, or rather 13 stories.”

These 13 stories were represented by the flag march at the beginning of the event, in which students, professors, and deans from each of the 13 original states carried in their respective state’s flag.

Maier is a historian of Early America, but had never previously studied the ratification in such depth. She said she was interested after her agent mentioned that no one had written a narrative about the ratification for the general reader.

“It took me about six seconds to decide that I would do it,” she said.

Maier sees this type of book as extremely important, citing her writing as “accessible,” with the hope that it will “make historical research and writing more broadly known.”

“We as Americans need to know how we began,” Maier said. “Not just the myths, but reality.”

The prize itself “means everything in the world” to the author, who had been active in the historical field for a long time without winning a major book prize. She takes “great pride” in the award, but said that she would have continued to write historical books even without the recognition she received from the award.

Dr. Adam Goodheart, director of the C.V. Starr Center, joined Maier onstage. He engaged the author in lively debate ranging from the questionable secrecy of the Constitutional Convention to the Constitution’s significance in contemporary society. This debate was followed by a brief question-and-answer session with the audience.

Although the ratification story is not traditionally studied at length, Maier’s final point was to stress its importance in the context of contemporary political affairs.

“This is the story our country needs more than anything else today,” she said.

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