March 18, 2014
A University of Virginia history professor and his colleague are among the three finalists for one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize, which recognizes the year’s best new books on early American history.
Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, a professor in the Corcoran Department of History and Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, is the author of “The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire.”
Alan Taylor, who joined UVa.’s faculty this year as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor and will begin teaching this fall , has written “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”
O’Shaughnessy’s book disputes a theory that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain were to blame for the empire’s defeat during the American Revolution. Bringing together personal stories of 10 prominent men who directed the British forces, O’Shaughnessy – who holds dual British and American citizenship – uncovers the reasons that rebellious colonials were able to achieve their surprising victory.
“I was born in Britain and was always very aware of the seeming neglect of the British perspective of the American Revolution,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It was generally not taught in high schools in Britain, and the British often seemed to be caricatured in the films and popular histories in the U.S. This dimension not only makes the war more fascinating but much more intelligible and easier to comprehend.”
Taylor’s book concentrates on slavery and war within Virginia.
“‘The Internal Enemy’ tells the story of about 3,000 enslaved Africans from the Chesapeake region who escaped slavery by fleeing to the British and helping them to wage war on the United States during the War of 1812,” said Taylor. “The book sets that story in the context of the shifting nature of slavery after the American Revolution.”
Both books have already won plenty of notice.
“The Internal Enemy” is currently also a finalist for the history prize from the Los Angeles Times, the Merle Curti Prize in social/intellectual history and the Library of Virginia nonfiction prize. It was also on the short list for a National Book Award.
O’Shaughnessy’s book won the New York Historical Society’s annual American History Book Prize and the Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award for histories of the Revolutionary period. It won the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival in the Regional Literature category and the 2014 Cincinnati History Prize.
“We are very excited about Taylor and O’Shaughessy because their books show the depth and breadth of the UVa. faculty,” said Ted Maris-Wolf, , deputy director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College . “These are two distinguished scholars who are doing ground-breaking early American history in military, politics, diplomacy, race and freedom. This is rare and very good for the students.”
Maris-Wolf said that it was uncommon to have two candidates from one faculty.