MHS for the Media

MHS Researcher Wins 2009 Pulitzer Prize

  The Society holds the largest collection of Thomas Jefferson personal memorabilia in the nation

BOSTON, April 21, 2009—The Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to add Annette Gordon-Reed to the list of prize-winning scholars who have used the Society’s collections as primary sources for their research. Gordon-Reed was honored with the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for History for her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Her tome previously won the 2008 National Book Award for Non-Fiction. Since high-school, Gordon-Reed had dreamed about physically seeing Thomas Jefferson’s original Farm Book which contains concise account information about daily activities on several of his estates. As an adult, researching Jefferson at the Massachusetts Historical Society afforded her the opportunity to finally do so. Waiting for a librarian to bring out a book was nothing new to Gordon-Reed but this time was different. Her anticipation was intensified by the knowledge that her dream was about to come true.

The Massachusetts Historical Society collections have been the basis for many of the greatest works written on the American story. In recent years these have included David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning John Adams, the basis for a widely-viewed, Emmy Award-winning HBO series; McCullough’s 1776; Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, a best-seller and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Unruly Americans by Woody Holton, a finalist for the National Book Award; and We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters by Cokie Roberts.

Like many researchers before her, Gordon-Reed discovered the Massachusetts Historical Society is home to the most comprehensive collection of Thomas Jefferson’s personal manuscripts. Beginning in 1898, three generations of direct Jefferson descendants residing in the Boston area donated Jefferson’s papers to the Society. This material included correspondence (nearly 8,800 pages of both incoming correspondence and Jefferson's retained copies of outgoing correspondence), manuscript volumes including his Garden Book, Farm Book, almanacs, accounts, law treatises, the manuscript volume listing the books in Jefferson's personal library, architectural drawings and family correspondence. A highlight is the manuscript of his only major published work, Notes on the State of Virginia. Much of the Coolidge Collection has been digitized and may be viewed at

The Society is accessible to anyone with an interest in the events that shaped our country and the peoples of this nation. 2500 visitors conduct research at the Society each year. Many more send written research queries, primarily through e-mail. Approximately 25 percent of the Society’s visitors are from outside of Massachusetts including foreign countries. While the Society continues to provide unparalleled resources and opportunities for scholars, researchers, and students at the high school, collegiate, and doctoral level, it is also seeing a welcome and new trend of non-academic affiliated researchers coming to the library. The Massachusetts Historical Society is here to remind people that history is not something that happened to people in the past—history happens every day.


  About the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. The Society holds an extraordinary assembly of personal papers from three presidents—John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson—as well as accounts of the lives of thousands of ordinary Americans and their families.  With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the Society offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day.

Since its founding in 1791, the Society has fostered research, scholarship, and education.  Its mission is to enhance the understanding of our nation’s past and its connection to the present.  Through fellowships for scholars, meticulous research volumes, seminars, conferences, teacher training programs, as well as lectures, tours, open houses, and exhibitions, the Society demonstrates that history is not just a series of events that happened to individuals long ago, but is integral to the fabric of our daily lives.