History prize rescinded for book on gun culture

Associated Press

Severe doubts about a book on guns in the United States has led Columbia University to rescind the prestigious Bancroft Prize for history.

“Arming America,” by Michael A. Bellesiles, received the award in 2001.

In a statement released Friday, Columbia said that the school’s trustees had concluded “his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize.” Columbia has asked Bellesiles to return the prize money, $4,000.

It was the first time in the 54-year history of the Bancroft award that Columbia has taken such actions. Phone and e-mail messages left by the Associated Press with Bellesiles were not returned.


Bellesiles resigned in October as a professor at Emory University after an independent panel of scholars strongly criticized his research. In May, the National Endowment for the Humanities withdrew its name -- although not its funding -- from a fellowship given to Bellesiles.

Bellesiles has acknowledged some errors but defends his book as fundamentally sound. “I have never fabricated evidence of any kind nor knowingly evaded my responsibilities as a scholar,” he said after announcing his resignation.

The historian spent 10 years working on “Arming America,” published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2000. The book challenges the idea that the United States has always been a gun-oriented culture and that well-armed militias were essential to the Revolutionary War.

Relying on numerous sources, Bellesiles wrote that only a small percentage of people possessed firearms in colonial times and that militias were mostly ineffective. Only after the Civil War, he contended, did guns become vital.