Camilla Townsend wins $75k Cundill History Prize

Camilla Townsend wins $75k Cundill History Prize

Camilla Townsend has won the 2020 Cundill History Prize for her work on Aztec history, Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs (Oxford University Press).

The award, which recognises the best history writing in English, is the highest monetary value non-fiction award in the world. 

Townsend will receive $75,000 (just under £58,000), while runners-up Vincent Brown, nominated for Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave (Harvard University Press) and William Dalrymple, recognised for The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury) are awarded $10,000 (£770). 

The synopsis of Fifth Sun reads: "Using previously obscure and rarely consulted Nahuatl language sources – texts written by the indigenous people of Mexico – Townsend shifts the viewpoint on Aztec history from the only one accessible up until now – the Spanish – and gives an authentic historical voice to the native Mexicans of centuries ago."

This year's judging panel included Anne Applebaum, Lyse Doucet, Eliga Gould and Sujit Sivasundaram. 

Peter Frankopan, 2020 chair of the panel, made the announcement during the virtual winner ceremony today (3rd December) administered by McGill University.

He said: “Fifth Sun is a work of breathtaking originality, accomplishment and importance. Camilla Townsend revolutionises how we should look at Aztec society before, during and after the arrival of Europeans in Central America. After more than 500 years, we are finally able to see history through the eyes of the indigenous people themselves rather than those of their conquerors. Not many books completely transform how we look at the past. This is one of those that does.”

Townsend is Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University. She is the author of among others, Malintzin’s Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, and The Annals of Native America: How the Nahuas of Colonial Mexico Kept Their History Alive. She works in numerous languages, including Spanish and Nahuatl.

The event was broadcast live in partnership with online TV channel History Hit, and hosted by Dan Snow. It concluded the inaugural Cundill History Prize Festival, a two-day programme of virtual events that delivered the prize to its global audience.

British author and translator of Chinese literature Julia Lovell won the 2019 Cundill History Prize for Maoism: A Global History (The Bodley Head).