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Remembering trailblazing historian Pauline Maier

August 14, 2013 by NCC Staff


Pauline Maier, a historian whose works on Revolutionary-era America renewed discussions about that age, is being remembered today for “making history vivid and accessible for all.”

Maier accepts the Washington prize. Image: Wikicommons user WashingtonWiki

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Maier died on Monday after a brief illness. She was 75.

Maier served as the William Kenan Jr. Professor of History at MIT and she had been a member of MIT’s faculty since 1978.

“Her work often recast conventional wisdom about 18th-century America, reconstructing long-forgotten public debates over the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution while bringing crucial figures in American political history into sharper focus,” the school said in a statement.

Maier’s most-recent book, “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788,” was published in 2010 and it won the George Washington Book Prize in 2011.

In a separate announcement on the H-Law website, her friend, constitutional scholar R.B. Bernstein, said Maier was able “to reach out – whether to colleagues, to prospective colleagues, or to a general audience – with infectious joy and excitement.”

“She was not only a role model to me, as to so many other historians, but she also brought out the sheer fun of doing history, of digging through sources and framing arguments and testing them against our colleagues and against the existing literature,” he said

MIT said that as Maier’s work caused new questions to be asked about conventional wisdom about the era of the Founding Fathers, “she herself engaged the greater public by writing new history textbooks for college students and younger students alike — part of a career-long commitment to making history vivid and accessible for all.”

In addition to her books and textbooks, MIT says Maier produced more than 30 edited volumes, articles published in scholarly journals, and other publications, and wrote book reviews for publications including The New York Times Book Review and the William and Mary Quarterly.

“Ratification” was also named as one of The Wall Street Journal’s top 10 books for 2010, and won the Fraunces Tavern Book Prize (shared with Ron Chernow’s "Washington"); the Ruth Ratner Miller Award for “excellence in American History”; the Henry Paolucci/Walter Bagehot Book Award of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and the American Historical Association’s Littleton-Griswold Prize for a book on American law and society.

Her other works included “From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776,” published in 1972; “The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams,” appearing in 1980; and “American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence” from 1997.

“American Scripture” took a new look at the Declaration and the attitude in the newly formed nation.

The New York Times said “American Scripture” was important to historians because of Maier’s “examination of some 90 other declarations of independence written by towns, associations, militias and counties in America around the same time. Each listed reasons for separating from England, and together they provided a panorama of political moods at the moment of independence.”

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