Kalamazoo College History Professor James Lewis has been named a finalist for the George Washington Prize, a $50,000 annual award that recognizes the authors of the past year’s most influential books about the nation’s founding era.
Lewis’s 2017 book, “The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis,” explores former Vice President Aaron Burr’s travels through the Trans-Appalachian West in 1805 and 1806, gathering support for a mysterious enterprise, leading to his arrest and trial on treason charges in 1807. Rumors at the time stated Burr had enticed some people with plans to liberate Spanish Mexico, others with promises of land in the Louisiana Purchase, and others with talk of building a new empire beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
The book, available through many bookstores and online sites, also examines the political and cultural forces that shaped how Americans made sense of Burr’s intentions and movements, and the crisis after his arrest including concerns about the nation’s fragile union and uncertain republic.
Lewis has taught courses in U.S. history, Native American history, American environmental history, Revolutionary America, the American frontier and Western history, the history of U.S. foreign relations, post-World War II America, American political culture, the trial in American history and a senior seminar in history at K. He is a professional member of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.
Lewis’s other books include:
- “The Louisiana Purchase: Jefferson’s Noble Bargain?” (2003);
- “John Quincy Adams: Policymaker for the Union” (2001); and
- “The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States and the Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1783-1829” (1998).
The George Washington Prize was created in 2005 through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Washington College. A news release from Washington College says the honor is one of the nation’s largest and most notable literary awards. In addition, “The finalists’ books combine depth of scholarship and broad expanse of inquiry with vivid prose that exposes the complexities of our founding narrative. Written to engage a wide public audience, the books provide a ‘go-to’ reading list for anyone interested in learning more about George Washington, his contemporaries, and the founding of the United States of America.”
The other six authors named as finalists for the 2018 award are:
- Max Edelson for “The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence;”
- Kevin J. Hayes for “George Washington: A Life in Books;”
- Eric Hinderaker for “Boston’s Massacre;”
- Jon Kukla for “Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty;”
- Jennifer Van Horn for “The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century America;” and
- Douglas L. Winiarski, “Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England.”
The winner of the 2018 George Washington Prize will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at a black-tie gala May 23 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.