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Bilder Wins Bancroft Prize

BC Law Professor and Lee Distinguished Scholar Mary Sarah Bilder has won the Bancroft Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history.

Bilder’s latest book, Madison’s Hand: Revisiting the Constitutional Convention, 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. The book was also named a George Washington Prize Finalist.

Bilder was recently a featured guest speaker at major events at the Library of Congress and National Archives.

According to a Columbia University press release, Columbia Provost John H. Coatsworth will present the award at the Bancroft Prizes dinner next month, hosted by the Department of History and Columbia University Libraries. The Bancroft Prizes, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, are administered by Vice Provost and University Librarian, Ann Thornton.

“We congratulate these scholars for their exceptional achievements,” Thornton said in the release. “We are thrilled to award the Bancroft Prizes to three extraordinary works, all of which demonstrate excellence in research, writing, and thought.”

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 Bancroft Prize was established at Columbia University in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, a preeminent historian, librarian, author, and Columbia University lecturer. It is considered one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history.



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