The Cundill History Prize has revealed a longlist that ranges from Vietnam to the Islamic world and from Russia to North America to be in contention for the international prize that rewards the best history writing in English.
US$75,000 are given to the winner, making the prize the richest non-fiction prize for a single work in English. The two runners up each receive a Recognition of Excellence Award worth US$10,000.
The eminent jury of five, under the chair of Margaret MacMillan, has chosen ten historians from five countries to be in the running for the prize in its 10th anniversary year.
Margaret MacMillan said: “Our longlist reflects the exciting and varied state of history today. The books on it cover subjects from Vietnam to Native American history and range in time from prehistory to the present. Their outstanding men and women authors come from around the world. It certainly wasn’t easy for our jury to whittle down over 300 entries into 10 but I am happy that we have come up with such a strong and interesting selection.”
Margaret MacMillan is joined by the British-American historian and author Amanda Foreman, the award-winning Oxford Professor Roy Foster, the decorated Canadian journalist and author Jeffrey Simpson, and the Oxford Professor of Modern China Rana Mitter to judge the prize.
Rana Mitter said: “As a historian of China I’m particularly delighted at how wide the geographical range of these books are. All are outstanding in quality. I note in terms of range that we have a long study of Vietnam, a major country in Southeast Asia that is little understood in the west; an examination of Islam over several centuries; and an analysis of inequality that draws on material from China as well as the west. In addition, North America and Europe are richly represented. This is a very global list.”
Amanda Foreman said: “The quality of history writing for general audiences has never been higher, which made choosing the longlist for the Cundill History Prize both a pleasure and an incredibly daunting task. The list reflects the great breadth, topicality and originality that we’ve seen this year. It also reflects some of the deeper preoccupations our current times, particularly in the histories of marginalized peoples, both the good (and bad) impact of religion, and the power of ideas. Every one of the books on the Cundill longlist combines immense scholarship with tremendous narrative skill. This is a list that will inform, entertain, and provoke.”
Roy Foster said: The Cundill History Prize longlist reflects, first, how the parameters of ‘history’ subjects have been extended in challenging and innovative ways; and second, how subjects which were once thought more relevant to ‘the past’, such as religion, nationalism and inequality, are now of urgent relevance to the world today. The books we have listed explore these and other issues by analysing the past in a sophisticated, interrogative but accessible way - which is exactly the kind of work which this prize sets out to recognise and reward.”
Jeffrey Simpson said: “‘The past is not dead,’ observed American novelist William Faulkner. ‘It is not even past.’ The history of history must therefore evolve, as is evident in this year’s longlist of books nominated for the Cundill History Prize. Religion, far from being past, remains a force in the world today, as evidenced by three Cundill nominated book. The place of indigenous peoples; the injustices of the prison systems; the Bolshevik Revolution of a century ago; Vietnam with its long history that neither the French nor Americans understood: these are among the subjects of contemporary relevance rooted in history that the books on the Cundill History Prize longlist explore in detail but with admirable accessibility for the alert reader.”
Seven publishers from three territories are represented on the longlist, including two imprints of Penguin Random House UK and one of Penguin Random House US. Publisher of the 2016 Cundill Prize winner (The Work of the Dead by Thomas W. Lacquer), Princeton University Press, return with Walter Scheidel’s The Great Leveler. With six titles, the US is most strongly represented on the list. Four titles originate from the UK, one from Canada.
The three finalists will be announced by Margaret MacMillan at a press conference at Canada House in London on October 25/26. All three authors will attend the Cundill History Prize Gala in Montreal on November 16, where the winner will be announced.
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