This April, UC Davis history professor Alan Taylor made a little history himself: He won a Pulitzer Prize.
Taylor won the prestigious prize, which includes a $3,000 cash award, in the history category for his book, William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. Columbia University annually awards the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism and in arts.
The prize came just two weeks after Taylor received a Bancroft Prize in American history for the same book. The Bancroft Prize, annually awarded by Columbia University since 1948, honors exceptional books in American history, biography or diplomacy.
Taylor, who says he knew he'd been nominated for the Pulitzer, said he is delighted about the prize because "it reflects so well upon my department, the university and Jane Garrett, my editor at Alfred Knopf. They supported the book even though it may have seemed an idiosyncratic project."
His book chronicles the life of William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown, N.Y., and the father of the 19th-century American novelist James Fenimore Cooper. William Cooper advanced his fortunes after the Revolutionary War by gaining control of large tracts of land and subdividing them, and improved his prospects in life through a program of self-education and political aspiration.
Written in a style that is unusual for a scholarly history book, the book weaves back and forth between three themes: a biography of William Cooper, a community study of Cooperstown, N.Y., and literary criticism of James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Pioneers, a book based on the life of the Cooper family in frontier Cooperstown.
"I wrote it as an attempt to reach a broader audience in addition to my fellow scholars," Taylor says. He has received letters from people outside of academia who've enjoyed the book as a "good read."
Taylor, 40, has been a professor at UC Davis since 1994, specializing in early American history and the history of the American West. Previously he taught at Boston University, the College of William and Mary and Colby College. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Early American History and Culture at William and Mary and received research fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the National Humanities Center and the Huntington Library. He is also the author of Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier, 17601820.