Book prize winner reveals George Washington’s scholarly life

edited.Kevin Hayes _ George Book Talk_ Tori ZieminskiBy Mai Do

Elm Staff Writer

Washington College addressed the love of its namesake, George Washington, at a recent book talk.

This year’s George Washington Prize winner, Emeritus Professor at the University of Central Oklahoma Kevin J. Hayes, presented his book “George Washington: A Life in Books” on Tuesday, Oct. 23 in Hynson Lounge as part of the 13th annual George Washington Prize celebration.

In 2008, Hayes received a fellowship from the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which allowed him to spend weeks researching Washington’s personal library. This research resulted in the drafting and eventual publishing of “George Washington: A Life in Books.”

The George Washington Prize, which includes a $50,000 cash award, is awarded to the year’s best new books on the nation’s founding era by Mount Vernon, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and WC, according to the Starr Center website.

The book includes observations and analysis of Washington’s immense personal library of more than 1,300 books.

According to Hayes, this new research dispels the common misconception of the nation’s first president as an unscholarly man through an examination of Washington’s notes on his vast collection of literature.

Adam Goodheart, director of the Starr Center, introduced Hayes, and discussed the research process for his book. Goodheart and Hayes then discussed Hayes’s research process for the book, including the importance of Washington’s signature on the pages of his reading materials.

“One of the great mysteries about Washington has always been his early years,” Goodheart said. “You do so much with the book that you found with his signature on the title of a book.”

“Especially with Washington, there’s a lot of gaps in his early years,” Hayes said. “Now, Washington’s signature changed a couple different times in his life. You can identify which books he had when he was young by looking at the signature.”

Hayes also discussed the difficulty in initially determining whether Washington actually read from his massive collection of books.

“Washington did not often write in his books,” Hayes said. “But one thing that he did do is that he was a perfectionist. If he found a typo, he would correct it. I was looking at Washington’s copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ with a typo correction, which proves that he read it.”

Goodheart framed the book through the lens of current WC students.

“George Washington lacked what many WC alums have — namely, a college education,” Goodheart said. “Imagine what he would have accomplished with an undergraduate education.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.