Severe doubts about a book on guns in the United States have led Columbia University to rescind the prestigious Bancroft Prize for history.
"Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture," by Michael Bellesiles, had received the award in 2001.
In a statement yesterday, Columbia said that the school's trustees had concluded "his book had not and does not meet the standards . . . established for the Bancroft Prize."
Bellesiles, who could not be reached for comment, resigned in October as a professor at Emory University, after an independent panel of scholars strongly criticized his research, saying Bellesiles was "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."
Bellesiles has acknowledged some errors, but defends his book, published by Knopf, 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.
"Arming America" 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. Only after the Civil War, he contends, did guns become vital.
"Arming America" was praised in both the New York Times and the New York Review of Books and won the Bancroft Prize, presented to works of "exceptional merit and distinction in the fields of American history and biography."
Many cited it as a devastating statement against America's alleged historical love affair with firearms.
Gun advocates quickly attacked the book. Scholars and critics also became skeptical. "The Bancroft judges operate on a basis of trust," said Eric Foner, a past winner and a history professor at Columbia who has served as a prize judge, although not in 2001. "We assume a book published by a reputable press has gone through a process where people have checked the facts. Members of prize committees cannot be responsible for that."
Knopf said in a statement Friday it regretted "the circumstances that prompted Columbia University to rescind the Bancroft," but respected the committee's decision. The paperback edition from Vintage Books, which already includes corrections, will remain in print.