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Release date: May 2, 2001
Contact: Nancy Seideman, Director, 404-727-0640, or

Bellesiles Receives Bancroft Prize For His Book On American Gun Culture

History professor Michael Bellesiles has received the 2001 Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy, which is presented annually by the trustees of Columbia University to authors of books of exceptional merit and distinction in the field of American history. Two other books, one a depiction of the social world of the California Gold Rush and the second a biography of William Randolph Hearst, also were honored.

Bellesiles' book, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture," explores how and when Americans developed their obsession with guns. The book asks the question: is gun-related violence so deeply embedded in American historical experience as to be immutable? The currently accepted answers to theses questions are "mythology," says Bellesiles, an expert in American Colonial history.

According to Bellesiles, the national passion for gun ownership did not begin in America’s frontier days. Through sophisticated research, Bellesiles has put together probate reports on what people owned in the 18th and early 19th centuries, government surveys of gun ownership, and records of the number of guns produced in America and imported from abroad. Contrary to the romantic idea that the frontiersman relied upon his weapon, Bellesiles establishes the fact that up until 1850, fewer than 10 percent of Americans owned guns, and half of those weapons were not functioning.

Bellesiles received his Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Irvine, in 1986, and has published extensively on early American history, including his book "Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier." He has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, and served as director of undergraduate studies in history at Emory from 1991-98, where he also is founding director of the violence studies program.

The Bancroft Prizes were established at Columbia in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, the historian, author and librarian of the Department of State, to provide steady development of library resources, to support instruction and research in American history and diplomacy and to recognize exceptional books in the field. Books eligible for the 2001 prizes were published in 2000.

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