Stephen Platt, Christopher Manfredi and the Hon. Michael Meighen
Author Stephen Platt, winner of the 2012 Cundill Prize in History, with Arts Dean Christopher Manfredi (left) and the Hon. Michael Meighen.

Rewarding the write stuff

It’s been said that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. The late Peter Cundill, BCom’60, was a strong proponent of the study of history, so it was fitting that, in 2008, with a $1.25-million gift to Campaign McGill, he created the world’s most important non-fiction literary prize to recognize the area’s finest scholars.

The Peter Cundill Prize in History, based in the Faculty of Arts, is awarded annually to an author who has published a book that has a profound literary, social and academic impact on the subject of history. The richest book honour in the discipline, it consists of one $75,000 U.S. award and two runner-up awards of $10,000 each.

The prize was such a success that, before he passed away in 2011, Cundill ensured that that it would exist in perpetuity through a transformative $6.7-million donation made through the Cundill Foundation. “Peter’s philanthropic investment will cement McGill’s position as an academic leader in the area of history and transform the lives of deserving students and scholars for years to come,” says the Hon. Michael Meighen, BA’60, Campaign McGill Co-Chair.

Another initiative created during the course of Campaign McGill will also bolster the University’s reputation as a hub of literature. Established in part through the philanthropy of Donna Hayes, BA’78, Publisher and CEO of Harlequin, the Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence Program offers talented scribes a chance to hone their craft at McGill while teaching a class each semester.

The residency gave author Élise Turcotte, one of two writers admitted last year, the opportunity to reflect on the literary self-portrait. She was happy to work alongside students with creative aspirations.

“I led a writing workshop – something not every university with a writer-in-residency program has – last semester, which was excellent,” she says. “Some students will become writers and others won’t, but they all learned new ways to interpret writing and, by extension, the world we live in.”