Canada’s International Cundill History Prize Names Its 2023 Jury

In News by Porter Anderson

Philippa Levine chairs the 2023 Cundill History Prize jury, and the prize’s shortlist is expected in late September.

Tiya Miles in her 2022 Cundill History Prize acceptance commentary at Montreal’s McGill University. Image: Cundill History Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Gopnik: ‘Passion for the Past, Concern for the Present’
Historians Marie Favereau, Eve M. Trout Powell, Sol Serrano, Coll Thrush, and The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik join chair Philippa Levine, on the Montreal-based 2023 Cundill History Prize jury.

In a prepared statement, Levine is quoted saying about her fellow jurors, “The depth and the range of their knowledge and expertise is humbling, and their enthusiasm for the job ahead of us is infectious.”

Levine, born in the United Kingdom, is based in the United States as the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas at the University of Texas at Austin. Her writings include The British Empire: Sunrise to Sunset (Pearson, 2007), Prostitution, Race and Politics (Routledge, 2003), Victorian Feminism (Hutchinson 1987), and most recently Eugenics: A Very Short Introduction (2017).

Levine was announced chair of the Cundill jury in February, and here at Publishing Perspectives we opted to hold that announcement until the rest of the jury was named, as part of our effort to keep book and publishing contest stories from crowding out other news coverage.

This program is among the world’s richest in nonfiction, based at McGill University in Montreal and awarding US$75,000 to its annual winner, and $10,000 to each of two shortlistees.

As Publishing Perspectives‘ internationally positioned industry-professional readership will recall, author Tiya Miles was named the winner of the 2022 honor for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake from Penguin Random House.

For Americans, the title and Miles’ work may ring a bell because Miles won the 2021 National Book Award in nonfiction for All That She Carried. She has also been given the American Historical Association’s Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, which recognizes work in women’s history and/or feminist theory.

Levine: ‘Something New About Ourselves’

In describing the Cundill’s place among the myriad book and publishing awards programs in so many international markets, this year’s chair, Levine said in February, “The Cundill History Prize shines a spotlight on works of the highest scholarly standards that are not only compelling reads, but also tell us something new about ourselves.

Philippa Levine

“In 2023, that has never been more important, and I am honored to be chairing this year’s jury and diving into extraordinary works of scholarship that will also guide our understanding of the contemporary world.

“I look forward to working with my fellow jurors.”

One of those now-known fellow jurors, Favereau, a former Cundill History Prize finalist and an associate professor of history at Paris Nanterre University, says, “Writing is a deep and hard commitment.

Marie Favereau

When I feel overwhelmed by the task, I turn to history books which nourish and uplift me, and give me the strength to go on. …

“[Being on the Cundill jury] offers me the chance to explore and discuss with fellow jurors the best nonfiction prose but also the most ethical and rigorous ways of producing new scholarship.

“I know it will help me to face the fundamental act of writing other people’s lives.”

Adam Gopnik

Gopnik has been with the New Yorker since 1986, and is the author of 11 books.

On his second appointment to the Cundill History Prize jury, he says: “Nothing matters more to me than the health of popular history—not history written casually, but genuinely popular history that corresponds to the highest standards of scholarship and analysis but is still accessible to any amateur reader with a passion for the past rooted in a concern for the present.

“I hope we can find and celebrate such books for the Cundill History Prize in 2023.”

Eve M. Trout Powell

Powell is the University of Pennsylvania’s the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History and Africana Studies. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.

She says she’s glad to having “the opportunity to read the newest and best historical writing in English from all over the world, about the entire world.

“As I continue to teach graduate history methods classes, this kind of deep reading helps me better understand the craft and the art (and the magic) of historical writing at its best.

“History writing at this moment in North America and in many parts of the world has become a choice of speaking truth to power, of ascertaining where that power is and how to reveal it.”

Sol Serrano

Serrano is the first woman to have won Chile’s National History Award (2018) and she’s vice-chancellor for research at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

“Being a member of this jury means I have a window through which I can contemplate a magnificent landscape of historiography at this moment in time.

“Especially because this window is framed by great excellence around the ways to think about and write about history. In other words, [it is] a completely unique experience.”

Coll Thrush Brown

Thrush is a professor of history and Killam teaching laureate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He’s also a faculty associate with the university’s Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies.

“With all the various pressures of the academic life—teaching, administration, and service—it can sometimes be difficult to find time to just read. Being a member of the Cundill Prize jury is thus a gift: a chance to dive into the very best historical scholarship of the past year.

“I look forward to experiencing the best our discipline has to offer.

“History is all about offering a story of how we got where we are today. Particularly as the humanities face challenges on many fronts, the Cundill Prize is an opportunity to remind the general public—and ourselves—of the vital importance of historical thinking and deep context.”

Dates in this year’s Cundill History Prize schedule include a shortlist announcement anticipated in the week of September 25, the customary news of three finalists in the week of October 16, and the Cundill History Prize Festival, as the program calls its winner-announcement events, on November 7 and 8.

Previous winners of the award are:

  • Tiya Miles (2022)
  • Marjoleine Kars (2021)
  • Camilla Townsend (2020)
  • Julia Lovell (2019)
  • Maya Jasanoff (2018)
  • Daniel Beer (2017)
  • Thomas W. Laqueur (2016)
  • Susan Pedersen (2015)
  • Gary Bass (2014)
  • Anne Applebaum (2013)
  • Stephen Platt (2012)
  • Sergio Luzzatto (2011)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch (2010)
  • Lisa Jardine (2009)
  • Stuart B. Schwartz (2008)

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Cundill History Prize is here. More on the international industry’s publishing and book awards is here, more on the Canadian book market is here, and more on nonfiction is here.  

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.