Abram Van Engen, professor of English, has won the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize for City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism (Yale University Press). The Massachusetts Historical Society awards the prize for the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year.
The judges for this year’s prize praised Van Engen’s innovative analysis of the history of Puritan thought. “Because Van Engen thoughtfully analyzes how Pilgrims and Puritans have been remembered, misremembered, denigrated, and celebrated over the centuries,” they wrote, “this book will ultimately influence how New England ‘Pilgrims’ and ‘Puritans’ are presented in textbooks and taught in classrooms at every level. This is truly an influential book.”
In City on a Hill, Van Engen shows how the phrase “City on a Hill,” from a 1630 sermon by Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, shaped the story of American exceptionalism in the 20th-century. This sermon’s rags‑to‑riches rise reveals the way national stories take shape and shows us how they continue to influence competing visions of the country — the many different meanings of America that emerge from its literary past.