ABINGTON, Pa. — Distinguished scholar Friederike Baer, who leads the Division of Arts and Humanities and serves as an associate professor of history at Penn State Abington, was honored this summer with the 2023 Society of the Cincinnati Prize for her book “Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War” (Oxford University Press, 2022). The prize is given annually to an author who advances understanding of the American Revolution and its legacy.
Between 1776 and 1783, Britain hired around 30,000 German soldiers to help put down the American rebellion. The German soldiers and accompanying civilians penned a large body of private and official records that provide detailed accounts of the war, as well as descriptions of the built and natural environment, local customs and manners, slavery, and encounters with Native Americans.
Based largely on these records, most of which are in German and unpublished, Baer’s book offers a reimagining of Britain’s war against American independence from the perspective of the German soldiers. The award letter describes the text as “a landmark work that expands and enriches our understanding of this fascinating and important aspect of the American Revolution.”
“It is not a military history in the traditional sense,” Baer said. “The book draws on first-person impressions and descriptions of the American land and the people. It presents aspects of the German role that have never really been addressed. I tried to go back and figure out how people who participated in the war felt.”
For the book project, Baer conducted extensive research in more than two dozen archives in the United States and Europe.
“The book covers the time from the troops’ recruitment to their experiences in North America between 1776 and 1783. The study moves beyond the common Trenton-Saratoga-Yorktown narrative of the Revolutionary War. I tried to give justice to the range of experiences and backgrounds of these participants in the war,” she said.
Baer hopes that this award will draw more attention to the participation of the German soldiers in the American Revolution.
“German soldiers played a major role in the conflict, on and off the battlefield, and their descriptions and insights broaden our understanding of this momentous period in American history,” she said.
Baer will accept the award early this fall at a reception in her honor at the Anderson House in Washington, D.C., the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati. The Society of the Cincinnati was founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army who served together in the American Revolution.
Baer maintains a companion website where she posts annotated transcriptions and translations of archival records created by members of the German corps.
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education to its diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers bachelor’s degrees in 25 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.