2018 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize recipient announced

Diane Brennan's picture
February 12, 2018
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, American History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Military History, Slavery

The 2018 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize will be awarded to Edward Ayers for his work, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (W.W. Norton and Company).


Ayers will be recognized during an event hosted by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History at the Union League Club in New York City on Thursday, April 26. In addition to a $50,000 prize, he will also receive a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' life-size bust “Lincoln the Man.”


“Edward Ayers’s Thin Light of Freedom makes the Civil War vividly, unforgettable real by focusing on ordinary people, in ordinary communities, during the bloodiest crisis in American history,” said James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. “Both students of history and general readers will find this book exciting and enlightening.”


Basker is one of the six Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Board members who decided this year’s winners. In addition to Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, principals of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York and co-creators of the Gilder Lehrman Collection, other board members include Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs and Trustees Emeriti David LeVan and H. Scott Higgins.


“It is always remarkable to see the quantity and quality of scholarly work that is produced each year about Lincoln and the Civil War era, and we have special appreciation for work that will engage the public,” Riggs said. “By telling the stories of two communities spanning the Mason-Dixon line, Ayers helps us understand not only the military history of this time period, but also the political forces at work during the time of Reconstruction.”


The laureate was one of those recommended to the board by a three-person jury: James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; Elizabeth Varon, Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia; and Peter Cozzens, a prize-winning historian and former Foreign Service Officer.


“Ayers deftly blends military, social, and political history to offer a panorama of the war that both includes a wide range of actors and tells individual stories on an intimate scale,” wrote the jury in their report to the board. “Ayers’ study reflects his own deep immersion in both the primary source record and modern scholarship.  Thanks to Ayers’ accessible writing style and skill at humanizing the war, The Thin Light of Freedom expertly conveys to its readers the vibrancy of the field of Civil War studies.”


The jury also recommended six other works from 113 submissions: Ron Chernow, Grant (Penguin Press); Tera W. Hunter, Bound in Wedlock:  Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Harvard University Press); Cate Lineberry, Be Free or Die (St. Martin’s Press); Graham A. Peck, Making an Antislavery Nation (University of Illinois Press); Gordon Rhea, On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-14, 1864 (LSU Press); Adam I.P. Smith, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics: 1846-1865 (University of North Carolina Press).


About the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize


The Lincoln Prize is awarded annually by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to a work that enhances the general public’s understanding of the Civil War era.


The Prize was co-founded in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, co-chairmen of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York and co-creators of the Gilder Lehrman Collection.


About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History


Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is the leading American history nonprofit organization dedicated to K-12 education. With a focus on primary sources, the Gilder Lehrman Institute illuminates the stories, people and moments that inspire students of all ages and backgrounds to learn and understand more about history. Through a diverse portfolio of education programs, including the acclaimed Hamilton Education Program, the Gilder Lehrman Institute provides opportunities for nearly two million students, 30,000 teachers and 16,000 schools worldwide. Learn more at gilderlehrman.org.


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.



Contact Info: 

Diane Brennan, Prize Administrator, Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

Weidensall Hall,
Campus Box 413
Gettysburg College
300 North Washington Street
Gettysburg, PA 17325

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