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It's fitting that a McGill grad who chose to advance the field of history has ended up making some of his own. Renowned finance investor Peter Cundill has established the world's largest non-fiction historical literature prize at McGill.
The inaugural prize, officially known as the Cundill International Prize in History at McGill, will be awarded Nov. 25, to an author who has published in English or French, book judged to have a profound literary, social and academic impact on the subject. Once a year, the University will grant the equivalent of one full prize of US $75,000 and two "Recognition of Excellence" awards of US $10,000. The Cundill Foundation has also created two graduate fellowships, worth $25,000 each, to be awarded to outstanding doctoral candidates in the history department.
Cundill, a 1960 McGill commerce grad, has an innate interest in history despite one of his first not-so-positive experiences with the subject. Following one of "Prof. Cooper's exams" at McGill, Cundill explains, "I thought I had done very well in the exam, so it was a shock to find out I had failed. He was not particularly forthcoming when I followed up with him as to the reasons for not passing. In any case, I passed the supplemental."
Given his affinity to history and the fact that there are no major prizes in the subject, the impetus to create such a prize came naturally. "I'm an investment researcher of finance and I think there's an analogy between the two disciplines – both study the past to understand the present and predict the future," Cundill said.
Each year an independent jury composed of at least five internationally distinguished individuals will select the award recipients. The recently named 2008 jury includes Timothy Aitken, former journalist and president of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation; Denise Chong, Canadian author; Natalie Zemon Davis, Professor of Medieval Studies and Senior Fellow, Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto and Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton; Serge Joyal, Canadian senator and lawyer; Angela Schottenhammer, Professor of Chinese and East Asian History at the Department for Asian Studies, Munich University; and Roger Chartier, Directeur d'Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Professor at Collège de France and Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.
Cundill has spoken of fellow financier and philanthropist Sir John Templeton's influence on him in the world of investments. It seems Templeton's influence has inspired him beyond the realm of finance, to as well making a major contribution toward enriching society at large.
A native of Montreal, Cundill has lived in London, England since 1984.