Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize

The 2016 Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize has been awarded to Margaret Ellen Newell for Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery (Cornell University Press, 2015). Read the press release.

The Massachusetts Historical Society invites submissions for the 2017 Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize. One prize will be offered for a distinguished book in English on the history of Massachusetts published in 2016. The winning entry will be announced in the fall. The author of the title selected will receive a letter of award and a prize of $2,500, and the author and publisher will receive publicity through announcements made by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Eligibility

All nonfiction historical works representing any period of the history of Massachusetts are eligible for consideration. Works must represent original research. Monographs and edited collections are eligible; if scholarly in nature, the volume should also appeal to the general reader. Works that address a wider geographic region than Massachusetts should make a significant contribution to the history of the Commonwealth. Likewise, biographies should address the life of someone intimately connected with Massachusetts. Books for children’s and young adult audiences, textbooks, genealogies, and books that are primarily journalism will not be considered. Self-published works and re-publications are not eligible. The committee is seeking works of exemplary scholarship written in a clear and engaging style.

To Submit a Work

Submissions will be accepted from publishers or authors. Please provide three copies of each book by May 1 of the year following the date of copyright. Only books with a 2016 copyright date are eligible for the 2017 prize. Include the name and contact information of the author and the publisher, indicating the submitter. Books should be sent to the Massachusetts Historical Society, Attention: Gomes Prize, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA, 02215. Electronic submissions cannot be accepted. Submissions cannot be returned. Both the author and the publisher of the title selected to receive the prize will be notified of the decision. The Society may choose not to make an award if no submission is considered worthy of the prize.

For More Information

Please contact Research Coordinator and Book Review Editor Kate Viens at kviens@masshist.org or 617-646-0568.

About the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize

The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize is an annual award that honors the memory of the Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes, a Harvard scholar and a respected and beloved Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society for almost thirty-five years. Reverend Professor Gomes had a deep and enduring interest in the history of his native state, so it is only fitting that this award should recognize exemplary work on a subject that meant a great deal to him.

Past Recipients

2016

Margaret Ellen Newell, Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery (Cornell University Press)

2015

Mary J. Fuhrer, A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848 (University of North Carolina Press)

The Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes

The Reverend Professor Gomes believed profoundly in the importance of imagination, not as simple escapism or fantasy but rather as a transcendent path to a better world.

Peter Gomes was elected to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1976. He was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University. Born in 1942, he was a proud Plymouth native and had a long and fruitful career both as a scholar and a preacher. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Bates College, as well as a Bachelor’s of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School, and received dozens of honorary degrees from other institutions. In his study of history, he specialized in early America, particularly Massachusetts.  A legendary preacher and orator, he delighted in stimulating the minds of his listeners. His unexpected passing in 2011 was deeply felt by all who knew him.

Reverend Professor Gomes was a charismatic man who loved history and who loved to teach. He believed in the importance of expanding the mind and was invited to give Baccalaureate speeches at colleges and universities all over the nation. In an interview for Big Think (viewable at bigthink.com and on YouTube), he observed that he almost invariably quoted Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” In a similar vein, historical scholars, at the core of what they do, seek to understand the world as it once was. They redraw vanished landscapes and recarve ghostly paths, and are changed during that process. Quality historical engagement pulls an old world from between the leaves of dusty books and out of the pages of faded letters, to be released into modernity once again.

Above all, Peter Gomes believed in the power of imagination to create a better world. He subscribed to the belief in what the Christian scriptures refer to as a fallen world, or a world that has yet to achieve its ideals. In another Big Think interview, he said, “We are struggling, and moving towards [our ideals], and trying to manage as best we can. And certain ideals have been set before us.”  For Reverend Professor Gomes, Jesus, as a man and a prophet, provided an ideal marked by “theological power or the sense of imagination that is employed.” The study of history provides a similar opportunity. While historical figures were no more or less human than their modern counterparts, they can provide an example of conduct in perilous times that people can emulate or avoid.