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Bilder in Running for Virginia Literary Award

Adding to a string of awards and accolades, Boston College Founders Professor and Lee Distinguished Scholar Mary Sarah Bilder has been selected as a finalist for the Library of Virginia Literary Award in the nonfiction category for her book Madison’s Hand: Revisiting the Constitutional Convention. 

Madison’s Hand, winner of the Bancroft Prize, the James C. Bradford Prize for Biography from the Society of Historians for the Early Republic, and a George Washington Prize Finalist, has garnered wide praise from a number of constitutional convention experts and legal historians, including Heather K. Gerken, the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School; Saikrishna Prakash, the James Monroe Distinguished Professor of Law and Horace W. Goldsmith Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law; and David Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. The book was featured in a front page Washington Post article and called “superb” in a Wall Street Journal review.

Ever since their publication in 1840, four years after their author’s death, James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention have been treated by historians and constitutional lawyers as if they were impartial and uniformly accurate. Madison’s Hand will likely give the historians and lawyers pause. Bilder’s painstaking analysis reveals for the first time the extent to which Madison revised the notes during the time between the 1787 Convention and his death, in 1836. It also reveals the self-serving nature of some of the revisions. Madison tried to reshape perceptions around his own position on slavery, for example (for additional content, see earlier Q&A with Professor Bilder in BC Law Magazine online).

The Library of Virginia Literary Award honors Virginia authors or works on a Virginia topic. While the topic of Bilder’s book is the primary link to Virginia, she also clerked for Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr., who served on the Richmond-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

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