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The Moses Coit Tyler Prize was established in 1956 for the best manuscript in American intellectual history. This biennial prize carried an award of $1,500 and publication of the winning manuscript by the co-sponsor of the prize, Cornell U. Press. The prize was named for Professor Moses Coit Tyler of Cornell U., a founding member of the American Historical Association.

In the context of this competition, intellectual history was defined as “the history of agencies of intellectual life, movements of thought, and the biographies of intellectual leaders.” The prize was awarded for the first time in 1959, the 1957 competition having proved unsuccessful; after again failing to choose a winner in 1961 Council decided to abolish the prize.