U.Va. historian wins American History Book Prize

Book approaches American Revolution from British perspective


Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy (above) recently won the New York Historical Society’s American History Book Prize

“When you study the Revolution, the British side can be kind of faceless,” History Prof. Edelson said. “What [O’Shaughnessy] shows is that these are real people.”

History Prof. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy will receive the New York Historical Society’s American History Book Prize, the University announced Wednesday. O’Shaughnessy will receive a $50,000 prize, a medal and the title of “American History Laureate.”

O’Shaughnessy is the director of the International Center of Jefferson Studies and specializes in the history of the British Atlantic. He will receive the award for his book, “The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire.”

“I’m really very thrilled about the award,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It’s marvelous company to be among, and this is a really major honor. … I heard [the New York Historical Society] was urgently trying to get ahold of me while I was in Britain. I imagined it was for speaking engagements; I didn’t know I was a contender for the award; I didn’t even know I was shortlisted.”

The book gives accounts of different personalities of the British generals.

“This is a book that, although it seems to be on a really specialized topic, would be broadly accessible to a wide audience,” History Prof. Max Edelson said. “It is a great study of leadership and how so-called great men can still change the course of history.”

O’Shaughnessy said he believes this wide accessibility has made the book successful.

“I think a lot of these awards are often given for books that both engage the broad public and inform [the] public, but have a good foundation for scholarship,” said O’Shaughnessy. “They, in fact, are very well regarded within the university system, but they’re also books that people enjoy reading on planes, that people who aren’t specialists might actually buy.”

He had intended on making the book a documentary, but, because of the expenses, O’Shaughnessy instead wrote the book, incorporating a strong sense of personalities, narratives, anecdotes and humor.

In his book, O’Shaughnessy looks at the British side of the American Revolution — a perspective rarely taken in American history.

“When you study the Revolution, the British side can be kind of faceless,” Edelson said. “What he shows is that these are real people.”

The book has been very well received in Britain, and O’Shaughnessy has made presentations at the U.Va. Club and British Library in London, according to a University press release. He will continue to give several talks all throughout the year. He has dual citizenship in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The book also won the Cincinnati History Prize, and is being considered for several other awards, including the George Washington Book Prize and Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History.

O’Shaughnessy has been a part of the University faculty for more than 10 years. He co-chairs the early American seminar along with Edelson and History Prof. Alan Taylor.

“I hope to get back into the classroom, but my primary role is running the research at Monticello,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I’m always glad to do service [for the University]. I’m really proud of the association and being acknowledged by the University.”

O’Shaughnessy said he appreciates the student body’s eagerness to learn and openness to exploring academic pursuits.

“I’ve been asked by the University PR department what I like so much about the University,” O’Shaughnessy said. “My answer always is that the student body has a joie de vivre; it doesn’t seem weighed down or totally oppressed by education, which sometimes happens at a lot of colleges,”

O’Shaughnessy said the University has given him a “community of scholars,” who are among the best in their fields. The views of English and art history researchers at the University add to his understanding of the 18th century. Edelson said O’Shaughnessy has been valuable asset to the University’s history department

“He’s one of the reasons we have such a strong focus on early America,” Edelson said. “He is very much a part of the group of senior historians of early America who trained graduate students and built an intellectual community here. I don’t think this honor could have [been given] to a nicer or more well-deserved person.”

O’Shaughnessy will officially receive the award in April.

Published March 6, 2014 in FP test, News

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