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Untold story of a slave rebellion wins the 2021 Cundill History Prize

Find out about the winner and runners-up of the 2021 Cundill History Prize, a leading international prize that recognises the best history writing in English…

Published: December 2, 2021 at 7:20 pm
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Marjoleine Kars has been named winner of the 2021 Cundill History Prize for Blood on the River: a Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (The New Press), taking the US$75,000 prize.


The US-based Dutch historian accessed a previously untapped Dutch archive to reveal the little-known story of a 1763 slave rebellion in Berbice, a Dutch colony in present-day Guyana. The event, Kars shows, revises our understanding of the actions of enslaved people at the dawn of the age of revolution.

“It transforms our understanding of two vitally important subjects— slavery and empire—and it tells a story so dramatic, so compelling that no reader will be able to put the book down,” said Michael Ignatieff, 2021 Chair of the Jury. “It was the unanimous choice of our jury.”

The two runners up are Rebecca Clifford for Survivors: Children’s Lives after the Holocaust (Yale University Press) and Marie Favereau for The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World, (Belknap Press of Harvard), and each receive a Recognition of Excellence Award of US$10,000.

Following the 2020 winner Camilla Townsend, Kars becomes the fifth historian to win the prize since it was relaunched in 2017.

Listen: Marjoleine Kars tells the HistoryExtra podcast about a little-known 1763 rebellion by enslaved people in Berbice, in present-day Guyana:

(Find interviews with all the shortlisted authors below)

What is the Cundill History Prize?

The Cundill History Prize, awarded annually since 2008, is an international prize of US$75,000, that rewards the best history writing in English. Books awarded the annual prize embody "historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal". Any historical period or subject is eligible, and translations into English are welcomed.

The 2021 chair and jurors

The jurors will be reading the 2021 submissions over the summer months, before meeting in a series of video conference calls to deliberate on the longlist, the shortlist of eight, the three finalists and, ultimately, the one winner of the US$75,000 prize, administered by McGill University.

The 2021 prize is chaired by Michael Ignatieff, a historian, author, university professor and former Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Joining Ignatieff on this year's panel is Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University; Henrietta Harrison, Professor of Modern Chinese History, Oxford University; Sunil Khilnani, Professor of History and Politics at Ashoka University, Sonipat; and Jennifer L. Morgan, Professor of History in the department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.

Cundill History Prize 2021 shortlist

An examination into the lives of the children who survived the Holocaust, a new perspective on the struggle for women's rights in the United States, and an exploration of global influence of the Mongols are among the books nominated for the 2021 Cundill History Prize

The shortlist for Cundill History Prize 2021 was revealed on 23 September in a virtual event hosted by chair of the jury Michael Ignatieff and jurors Eric Foner, Henrietta Harrison, Sunil Khilnani and Jennifer L Morgan.

This year’s nominated books include Rebecca Clifford’s Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust, The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World by Marie Favereau and Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insistedon Equality for All by Martha Jones.

HistoryExtra is a media partner of the prize, and we’ll be featuring some of the shortlisted authors on our podcast over the coming weeks.

The full shortlist is as follows:

The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India

by Manan Ahmed Asif (Harvard University Press)


Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

by Rebecca Clifford (Yale University Press)


The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World

by Marie Favereau (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)


Underground Asia: Global Revolutionaries and the Assault on Empire

by Tim Harper (Penguin Press, Penguin Random House)

Underground Asia

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

by Martha Jones (Hachette Book Group)


Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast

by Marjoleine Kars (The New Press)

Blood on the river

An Infinite History: The Story of a Family in France over Three Centuries

by Emma Rothschild (Princeton University Press)

Infinite History

White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea

by Tyler Stovall (Princeton University Press)

White Freedom

Who has won the Cundill History Prize before?

The winner of the 2020 Cundill History Prize was Camilla Townsend's Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs, a new look at the lives of the Aztecs in their own words, and 2019's winner was Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell. Lovell followed Harvard Professor Maya Jasanoff (2018), and British historian Daniel Beer (2017). Find out more about the previous winners.


HistoryExtra is a media partner for the Cundill History Prize. Find out more at www.cundillprize.com, or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Listen: We speak to historian Camilla Townsend, who won the Cundill History Prize 2020 for her book Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast

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