UNH history professor a finalist for book prize
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 01:02
Eliga Gould, Ph.D., professor of history at UNH and author of the book “Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire,” has been selected as one of four finalists for the George Washington Book Prize.
A $50,000 dollar check and prestige as “the year’s best book(s) on the nation’s founding era” are awarded to the George Washington Book Prize recipient.
“No nation ever fully makes its own history,” Gould said, echoing a central tenet of his book: that the interconnectivity of the historic world poised our then-fledgling country to recede from Britain’s control – not to abandon the mother country, but to join ranks. “The Declaration of Independence was Congress’s bid to the world to be accepted among the powers of the earth,” Gould said.
“Among the Powers of the Earth” is Gould’s third book, following “The Persistence of Empire” (2000), winner of the Jamestown Prize, and “Empire and Nation,” (2005) which he co-edited with Peter Onuf.
The writing process for “Among the Powers of the Earth” was nothing like his other books, Gould said. The advancement in technology, specifically with expansive collections of online databases, allowed Gould’s research to deepen in both quality and quantity. He likened the difference in research to crafting a stained glass window: “You’d have little pieces of glass” he said of the research for his first book. “And then you’d try to figure out what the rest of the picture looked like.”
With his most recent book, he described the process as much more complex: “You might have forty-five stained glass windows and had to figure out what little part of one you needed.”
Nearly 11 years of assiduous research culminated in “Among the Powers of the Earth,” a historical text that is gifted a more personal touch through first-person narratives. Gould found these anecdotes while researching the revolution and placed them at the beginning of each chapter to illustrate the quiet human element often muffled under the politics of the revolution.
“These are high concept issues to us,” Gould said of Revolutionary War America. “But they matter to everyone, and you can illustrate this through ordinary people.”
Gould relayed a story he came across involving two poor loyalists who fashioned a restaurant on a ship docked in the Charleston Harbor. When war broke out, the couple was separated; the woman became a servant and the man was sent to debtors’ prison. Though their story is a ripple in the wave of a revolution, it serves as an important microcosm of the intercontinental cleaving of brotherhood between the United States and Great Britain. Gould’s ability to graft simple truths onto high-concept topics is likely one of the reasons he is being recognized for his work. As a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize, one must, by definition of its website, “advance broad public understanding of American history.”
Within Gould’s writing process was a conscious reminder of what good storytelling is. A colleague of Gould gave him advice on writing historical non-fiction: “After you’ve finished the research and before you start to write, go and read a great novel, because the great danger is you’ll write a book in the voice of Thomas Paine.” He read “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett and credited the novel with helping him shake the tunnel vision of academic writing.
With a $50,000 prize afforded to the winner, Gould was imaginative in what he would like to spend the money on, but the real prize – for him – is an audience for his book, he said.
“The big challenge that every author of a book faces is getting people to read it…and what this (the nomination) means is that the book is going to get more attention.”
The winner will be announced over dinner on May 22 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens in Virginia.