Allen Lane has two titles shortlisted for the £40,000 Wolfson History Prize, which celebrates excellence in research and historical writing combined with readability for a wider audience.
Allen Lane's chosen titles are Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which explores the role of the Haitian revolutionary leader, and Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin, a work detailing "the beacon of creativity" in the early Middle Ages in Europe which has already won the 2020 Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize.
Also on the six-strong short list is Survivors: Children’s Lives after the Holocaust (Yale University Press) by Rebecca Clifford, which follows the lives of 100 Jewish children who survived the Holocaust, using oral testimonies to challenge assumptions about trauma. And Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood (Bloomsbury) by Helen McCarthy explores modern attitudes to working mothers, exploring the discourse in the context of the pandemic and gender-pay gap.
In Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack (John Murray Press) by Richard Ovenden, the 25th librarian at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, attacks on libraries and archives are examined as a feature of history, but also a modern reality. It was described by judges as "a call to arms to protect and preserve knowledge". Atlantic Wars: From the Fifteenth Century to the Age of Revolution (Oxford University Press) by Geoffrey Plank explores how warfare shaped human experience around the Atlantic from the late Middle Ages to the 19th century, spanning Vikings in the north, slavery along the North American coastline and the Caribbean, and indigenous cultures on both sides of the Atlantic.
David Cannadine, chair of the judges and president of the British Academy, said: “This year’s shortlist shows us that, despite the unprecedented challenges of the past year, the diversity and quality of history writing in the UK continues to endure. As judges we were absorbed and impressed by these six books and the commitment of their authors to uncover some of the lesser-known narratives of the past. It is with great enthusiasm that we announce the shortlist for 2021.”
Paul Ramsbottom, c.e.o. of the Wolfson Foundation, which awards the prize, commented: “The Wolfson Foundation has awarded the Wolfson History Prize for nearly 50 years but its mission – to champion the importance of high-quality, accessible history writing – is as critical now as it has ever been. This past year has revealed much about how history is valued (and contested) in today’s society and why it is vital for us to engage carefully and thoughtfully with the experiences of those who came before us. These six books offer the opportunity to hear often forgotten or neglected voices from the ancient world to the modern day. The Wolfson History Prize serves as a reminder of the importance of historical research and writing to British society – a reminder that is as important as ever in these turbulent times.”
The winner will be announced on Wednesday 9th June in a virtual ceremony and will receive £40,000, making the prize the most valuable non-fiction writing award in the UK. Each of the shortlisted authors will also receive £4,000, and are due to discuss their books and historical writing in a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s "Free Thinking", with details to follow at a later date. They will also discuss their work at an inaugural Wolfson History Prize event at Hay Festival on Wednesday 2nd June at 1 p.m., with further details to follow.