By Conor Hodges, Georgia Appleyard and Olivia Ek
This year’s Cundill History Prize jury has been announced, with five jurors joining chair Philippa Levine. The prize, administered by McGill University, seeks to encourage public debate through the spread of history writing to a worldwide audience. It rewards the best history writing in English, offering $75,000 to the book that best exemplifies historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal. There is also a chance for two runners-up to win $10,000 each.
Spanning a huge breadth of historical fields, including North-American Indigenous Studies, the Mongol Empire and the modern Middle East, the jury will deliberate over a record number of submissions to determine this year’s prize winner.
Marie Favereau is an Associate Professor of History at Paris Nanterre University. Her book, The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World, was a finalist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize, and she has also been a member of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. Favereau said that her involvement with the prize gives her the chance to “face the fundamental act of writing in other people’s lives” through history books, which “nourish and uplift” her.
Adam Gopnik, author of eleven books and writer for The New Yorker since 1986, returns to the jury after previously being a part of the 2010 prize. He said that “nothing matters more to me than the health of popular history,” stating that he wants books that are “accessible to any amateur reader with a passion for the past rooted in a concern for the present.”
Eve M. Trout Powell is a Harvard-educated Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History and Africana Studies, and currently teaches the history of the modern Middle East. She primarily works with cultural history, and has written books on slavery and colonialism in the Middle East. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020. On her appointment to the jury, Powell said that history writing “has become a choice of speaking truth to power, of ascertaining where that power is and how to reveal it,” and is eager to be a part of the “magic” of historical writing through the prize.
Sol Serrano was the first woman to obtain the National History Award (Chile) in 2018, and is Vice Chancellor for Research at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Her research in the wake of the 2010 Chile earthquake laid the foundations for the School Archives Program, which supports the heritage recovery of archives in dozens of Chilean establishments. Serrano describes her appointment to the jury as “a window through which I can contemplate a magnificent landscape of historiography at this moment in time.”
Coll Thrush is a professor of history and Killam teaching laureate at the University of British Columbia and faculty associate with UBC’s Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. Professor Thrush, whose most recent book is Indigenous London: Native Travellers
at the Heart of Empire, said that “history is all about offering a story of how we got where we are today. Particularly as the humanities face challenges on many fronts, the Cundill Prize is an opportunity to remind the general public—and ourselves—of the vital importance of historical thinking and deep context.”
This year’s winner will join the prize’s alumni of world historians, such as the 2022 winner Tiya Miles, whose book All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake (Random House), traces the journey of a cotton sack handed down by three generations of Black women to unfold their stories. Previous winners include Julia Lovell (2019), Anne Applebaum (2013) and Lisa Jardine (2009).
The Cundill History Prize 2023 gala will be held in Montreal on Wednesday 8 November, and will be available through platforms such as CBC Ideas, Literary Hub and BBC History Extra. For more information on the prize and to join the conversation, visit www.cundillprize.com | twitter.com/CundillPrize | facebook.com/cundillprizemcgill | instagram.com/cundill.prize