Books about Lincoln, Douglass, Lee Win 2008 Lincoln Prize

Historians in the News

Two books offering new insights into the lives of three of the Civil War era's most compelling figures will share the 2008 Lincoln Prize, which is endowed by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman and administered by Gettysburg College.

For their books about Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Robert E. Lee, the winners are James Oakes, a professor at the City University of New York, for "The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics," and diplomat/historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor for "Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters." Each author will receive $20,000 and a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens life-size bust, "Lincoln the Man." An honorable mention and $10,000 prize will go to Chandra Manning, a professor at Georgetown University, for his book "What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War." A formal ceremony will take place April 1 in New York City. The Lincoln Prize is one of the nation's most generous awards in the field of American history.

"It is a rare moment in American history when three such iconic figures are illuminated in studies of such power and originality," said Gilder and Lehrman in announcing the prize Feb. 12. "With the works for which we honor them, James Oakes and Elizabeth Brown Pryor have made major contributions to our understanding of leaders who - by their writing, political leadership, and military genius, and by either their capacity for, or resistance to, change - altered the way America regards both itself and its people. We are proud to recognize and celebrate these superb literary and historical achievements."

"So much has been written about Lincoln, Lee, and Douglass that it is difficult to imagine the appearance of new contributions of unmistakable significance - much less the arrival of two such signal achievements in a single year," said Gettysburg College Prof. Gabor Boritt, who serves as chair of the Lincoln Prize. "Moreover, these works possess not only originality of thought and depth of research, but elegance of writing. The fine books by Oakes and Pyror have made a significant impact on the field - as has Chandra Manning's stunning examination of Civil War soldiers' attitudes toward slavery and emancipation - and they all richly deserve the honors they have earned."

Oakes is graduate school humanities professor in the history department at the City University of New York. He is the author of "The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders" and "Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South." He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley, and has written many scholarly articles, encyclopedia entries and book chapters. The Lincoln Prize jury commended Oakes for using a "new comparative framework to analyze the careers of the wartime president and the nation's most important black leader."

Pryor, author of "Clara Barton, Professional Angel," has enjoyed distinguished careers as a historian and senior diplomat in the American Foreign Service, most recently working as senior advisor to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe of the United States Congress. The Lincoln Prize jury praised her for "tackling a familiar subject in an unconventional way," adding that the book "captures Lee's central importance and the far-reaching impact of his decisions in a way that no other scholar has accomplished."

Manning, who has taught at Harvard and Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., is currently a professor of history at Georgetown University. "What This Cruel War Was Over" is her first book. Calling it "a signal contribution to Civil War literature," the Lincoln Prize jury said her book "shows that slavery was not only central to understanding the causes and consequences of the Civil War but is equally vital to understanding why and how the soldiers fought."

Gilder and Lehrman, together with Gettysburg College Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies Gabor Boritt, established the Lincoln Prize in 1990. The Gilder Lehrman Institute has amassed one of the nation's greatest private collections of American historical documents and devotes itself to education by supporting magnet schools, teacher education, curriculum development, exhibitions and publications. The three-member Lincoln Prize jury - comprised of University of Alabama professor George C. Rable; Loren Schweninger, professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; and Colby College professor Elizabeth Leonard - considered 120 submissions.

Past Lincoln Prize winners include Ken Burns in 1991 for his documentary, "The Civil War," James M. McPherson in 1998 for his book, "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War" and Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2006 for her book, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Last year's winner was Douglas Wilson for his book "Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words."

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with approximately 2,600 students. It is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The college was founded in 1832.

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