Cambridge historian Caputo wins £25k Ideas Prize

Cambridge historian Caputo wins £25k Ideas Prize

The Ideas Prize for non-fiction has been been awarded to historian Sara Caputo for her proposal Tracks on the Ocean

Formerly known as the Profile Aitken Alexander Nonfiction Prize, the award, now in its second year, is a £25,000 prize for a first trade book proposal by an academic, which will now be published by Profile. 

Caputo is the Lumley Research Fellow in History at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and her book will describe the influential development of “journey lines”, markings on maps that indicate individual journeys, from Magellan's explorations in the 16th century to the routes we follow on our smartphones today. Profile plans to publish the finished book in 2023 or 2024.

Caputo said: "In this book, I want to look at how a simple representational device has gradually transformed our understanding of the world, and of our own movement across its surface. Tracks on the Ocean tells a cartographical and environmental history of maritime travel, Western colonial mobility, instrumental science and “modernity”. Winning the Ideas Prize was a complete, fantastic shock, and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to let my research speak to a larger audience."

Caputo has also won the Prince Consort & Thirlwall Prize and Seeley Medal for a doctoral dissertation submitted at Cambridge and involving original historical research, the Boydell & Brewer Doctoral Prize for best PhD thesis in maritime history submitted to a UK university, and the Sir Julian Corbett Prize in Modern Naval History for an article, now due to appear in the journal Historical Research.

Science historian Philip Ball, who sat on this year’s prize judging panel, said Caputo’s proposal offered "everything we were looking for: a captivating topic that made you say 'I never thought of that!', a historical narrative of global scope that remains relevant today, an insightful approach, and a clear, engaging style".

Catharine Morris, associate editor and commissioning editor of the Times Literary Supplement, who, along with Aitken Alexander’s Chris Wellbelove and Profile’s Ed Lake, completed the judging panel, said: "Caputo offers exactly what you'd want in a book such as this: meticulous research, thoughtful analysis and an excellent eye for good stories and striking detail."

In February 2022, Profile books will publish the first winner's title, Strandings, a memoir by Herman Melville scholar Peter Riley, recounting his decades-long infiltration of a British subculture of clandestine whale scavengers.

Entries for the prize’s third edition are now open. Academics who have never published a trade book before are invited to submit a 3,000 to 4,000-word pitch for their trade debut to The deadline for entries is 31st October. Further details and terms and conditions can be found here.