Pauline Maier, MIT's William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American History, has won the 2011 George Washington Book Prize for her book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788.
Maier, author of five previous books on the history of revolutionary America, received the $50,000 prize Wednesday, May 25, at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, near Washington, D.C. The award was presented by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
The debates over drafting the Constitution that took place in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 have long been enshrined in American history. But, according to the award citation, Maier's book reveals an equally dramatic and essential — though almost forgotten — series of debates that played out during the year that followed, as citizens, journalists and politicians argued state-by-state over whether to ratify the nation's founding document.
"This book will really prove to be an eye-opener to many people who think that drafting the Constitution was the end of a long road to creating a strong and effective government," said Mount Vernon's president, James C. Rees. "Getting the document ratified was an uphill struggle most historians ignore, and on more than one occasion, the entire unification process was almost doomed to failure."
The George Washington Book Prize, created in 2005 and co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, honors the year's best book about America's founding era. The jury that chose Ratification as a finalist from among 59 entries called it "a tour de force of extraordinary research and scholarship."
Maier has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1978, teaching courses such as 21H.112 (The American Revolution) and 24H.104 (Riots, Strikes and Conspiracies in American History). Ratification was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010. The book also won the 2011 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award earlier this year.