Maine youngsters who are considering careers in history might want to study up on Alan Taylor.
The Bonny Eagle High School and Colby College graduate won his second Pulitzer Prize for history Monday for his book about runaway slaves who helped the British military, “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”
The Pulitzer committee called the book “a meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.”
“Growing up in Maine, I spent a lot of time exploring and hiking and was drawn to stories about the 18th and 19th century, when the country was heavily forested,” Taylor, 58, said in an interview Tuesday. “Exploring the woods of Buxton, I used to imagine a time when all of America looked like that.”
Taylor, a history professor at the University of Virginia, said he was “astonished” to learn of his second Pulitzer Prize. He had no idea that he was even a finalist – the finalists aren’t announced beforehand. He wasn’t even sure that his publisher, W.W. Norton, had submitted his book for the prize.
He found out when people started emailing him congratulations.
“Hundreds of books on American history, of a very high quality, come out every year,” said Taylor, who grew up in Windham and Buxton. “So really, no one can expect to win (a Pulitzer Prize). Certainly, no one can expect to win two.”
He said he plans to donate “a big chunk” of the $10,000 prize to the graduate studies program at the University of Virginia.
Taylor won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic.”
Taylor is known for finding new stories in history and looking at them in ways that other historians might not, said historians in Maine. He’s also known as someone who is generous with his time and comes back to Maine often.
“What he does is bring a fresh look and fresh eyes to key periods in history,” said Earle Shettleworth Jr., Maine’s state historian. “He researches and writes previously unwritten chapters in American history.”
Elizabeth Leonard, chair of the history department at Colby College in Waterville, called Taylor a “real historian’s historian” and “a wonderfully creative thinker.”
Taylor comes to Maine every summer to spend time at a family cottage in the Rangeley area, and often speaks at college or town events when he’s here. He was a featured speaker when the small town of Whitefield, near Augusta, celebrated its bicentennial in 2009.
“He’s a decent, modest man,” said Leonard, who has invited Taylor to speak at Colby a couple of times.
Taylor remembers poring over history books at the Portland Public Library as a youngster. He got interested in historical research as a career while at Colby College, where he graduated in 1977. His senior thesis, on Maine during the War of 1812, involved lots of research at the Maine Historical Society. He got his doctorate in American history from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
Taylor taught history at Colby, Boston University and the University of California-Davis, before heading to the University of Virginia.
His first book, “Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier, 1760-1820,” came out in 1990. It focused on Maine’s early settlement, before statehood.
Taylor said Tuesday that his next book research project will focus on the time of the American Revolution.
“Working at a research university as I do, there’s always another project to do,” said Taylor. “And I delight in that.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: