Maya Jasanoff Wins 2018 Cundill History Prize

The Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff has today been announced as the winner of the world’s leading history prize (US$75,000) for her genre-bending account of the life and world of the Polish-born British writer Joseph Conrad

Maya Jasanoff’s The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World blends history, biography, travelogue, and literary criticism into a unique work of scholarship. It identifies Conrad as a pioneer in understanding the modern world, as he grapples with issues such as migration, terrorism, and a communications revolution. As the winner of the 2018 Cundill History Prize (US$75,000), she joins the ranks of fellow winners including Dr Daniel Beer (2017), Thomas W. Laqueur (2016) and Susan Pedersen (2015).

When discussing this year’s literary winner, Antonia Maioni, Dean of Arts at McGill University, said,

“The Dawn Watch stands for everything the Cundill History Prize is here to celebrate: a work of global history, extremely well researched, and so well written it will be enjoyed by a very broad general readership indeed.”

Jasanoff sailed from East Asia to Europe on a cargo ship and travelled 1,000 miles down the Congo River for The Dawn Watch, which has received widespread critical acclaim. From the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times and from the Economist to the Spectator, it was equally praised by fellow writers including John le Carré, Geoff Dyer and Claire Tomalin.

Cundill History Prize Juror Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford University, founding Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research and Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, said,

“The Dawn Watch is immaculately researched, and it is innovative too: part history, part travelogue, part literary criticism. I think that is one reason why it succeeds so well – because it is constantly challenging us to think about the period, the writer, the works and the places. It is like technicolour, bursting with life on each page.”

Juror Carol Berkin, Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, Visiting Professor at Harvard Business School, Affiliated Professor at Harvard Law School, and the Founding Director of Harvard’s Center for African Studies, continued,

“Jasanoff takes us on a journey of discovery and adventure in the early years of globalisation. Using Joseph Conrad’s experiences and his observations as the lens through which she explores historical change and adaptation, Jasanoff examines the origins of many of the ills we have come to associate with our world today: terrorism, racism, and individual alienation. Through Jasanoff we better understand Conrad the writer and the adventurer; through Conrad we better understand the emergence of our modern world.”

Jasanoff is Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University. She has previously been a finalist for the Cundill History Prize for her second book, Liberty’s Exile (2011), which was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize (now Baillie Gifford Prize). Her first book, Edge of Empire, was awarded the 2005 Duff Cooper Prize.

The two runners up each received a Recognition of Excellence Award of US$10,000. In Prairie Fires, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Caroline Fraser details the first comprehensive historical account of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. In A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North AmericaSam White, Ohio State University Associate Professor of History, investigates the decisive role climate played in the success and failure of the first North American settlements.

About the Cundill History Prize

Run by McGill University, the international Cundill History Prize honours the abiding vision of its founder, the McGill alumnus F. Peter Cundill. One of the most highly regarded global investors of his time, the globetrotting philanthropist believed passionately in well-written works of history as the best foundation for a better-informed public debate.

About the 2018 Jury

Mark Gilbert (Chair) is Professor of History and International Studies at the Bologna campus of the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. Educated at the University of Durham and the University of Wales (PhD 1990), Gilbert previously taught at Dickinson College, the University of Bath, and the University of Trento.

Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History, Emerita, of Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY. She received her B.A. from Barnard College and her PhD from Columbia University where her dissertation received the Bancroft Award in 1972. She has written extensively on women’s history, the American Revolution, the creation of the Constitution, and the politics of the early Republic.

Caroline Elkins is Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, Visiting Professor at Harvard Business School, Affiliated Professor at Harvard Law School, and the Founding Director of Harvard’s Center for African Studies. She has been a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The New Republic.

Peter Frankopan is Professor of Global History at Oxford University, where he is founding Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research and Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College. He has been Stanley J. Seeger Visiting Fellow in Hellenic Studies at Princeton, Scaliger Visiting Professor at Leiden and Presidential Scholar at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Jeffrey Simpson is Canada’s most decorated journalist and the author of seven books. He has won all three of Canada’s leading literary prizes – the Governor-General’s award for non-fiction book writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column writing. He has served as a juror for the Cundill History Prize on three previous occasions.

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