Subject of Empire dominates shortlist for £25,000 British Academy book prize

Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize goes to best work of non-fiction that has contributed to global cultural understanding

Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize shortlist
Powered by automated translation

The five books shortlisted for a prestigious £25,000 (Dh120,640) international prize for non-fiction have been revealed, with the subject of Empire predominant.

This year's shortlist features some of the most important global issues of the day, with the authors telling stories about the legacies of Empire around the world. The writers also cover colonialism, the plight and resistance of indigenous people as well as the role of pioneering cultural anthropologists – almost all women – during the early 20th century.

The shortlist for the British Academy’s eighth Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2020 was selected from a record number of more than 100 submissions.

The prize for the best work of non-fiction that has "thrown new light on the interconnections and divisions shaping cultural identity worldwide" will be announced on Tuesday, October 27, after an online meet-up on Thursday, October 1, that will be open to the public.

It is sponsored by the Saudi neuro-philosopher, author and international relations scholar, Dr Nayef Al-Rodhan.

"Our jury has selected a shortlist of five distinguished books exploring issues of urgent global significance," said jury chairman professor Patrick Wright.

"This year's titles converge in their concern with the legacies of Empire and the things that have been – and still need to be – done to create a genuinely post-imperial understanding of how different cultures have and might in future interact with one another."

The five shortlisted books are:

  • Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands by Hazel V Carby (Verso)
  • Insurgent Empire – Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal (Verso)
  • Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hamalainen (Yale University Press)
  • The Reinvention of Humanity: A Story of Race, Sex, Gender and the Discovery of Culture by Charles King (The Bodley Head)
  • All Our Relations: Indigenous trauma in the shadow of colonialism by Tanya Talaga (Scribe)

Sir David Cannadine, president of the British Academy, added: “As we live through extraordinary times, writing such as this helps us to understand the complexities and wonders of our world.”

Wright was joined on the jury by Channel 4 News presenter, Fatima Manji; professor Rana Mitter, a historian and political scientist; professor Dame Henrietta Moore, a social anthropologist; and writer Madeleine Bunting.

Of each of the books the panel said:

Hazel V Carby. British Academy/Verso
Hazel V Carby. British Academy/Verso

"In Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands, Hazel V Carby summons her memories of growing up in post-war England and Wales, as the daughter of a Jamaican father and Welsh mother, to trace the history of her family as it was shaped under the British Empire. For three decades, Carby taught at Yale University as the Charles C and Dorothea S Dilley professor of African-American studies and professor of American studies."

Priyamvada Gopal. British Academy/.Verso
Priyamvada Gopal. British Academy/.Verso

"Continuing the theme of Empire, Priyamvada Gopal, university reader in anglophone and related literatures in the faculty of English and fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, is shortlisted for Insurgent Empire – Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. In this important study of anti-colonialism, Gopal makes the point that the imperial project was fiercely resisted outside Britain and in that resistance emerged the ideas of what it means to be free."

Pekka Hamalainen. British Academy/Yale University Press
Pekka Hamalainen. British Academy/Yale University Press

"With Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, Pekka Hamalainen, Rhodes professor of American history and fellow of St Catherine's College at the University of Oxford, delivers a highly original and long-overdue history of the Lakotas – the tribe of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse – and their profound role in shaping America's colonial and indigenous histories. The book argues that without the Lakotas we cannot truly understand early American history and European colonialism in North America."

Tanya Talaga. British Academy/Scribe
Tanya Talaga. British Academy/Scribe

"Indigenous history and the impact of colonisation is further explored by the award-winning Canadian journalist Tanya Talaga who is shortlisted for All Our Relations: Indigenous trauma in the shadow of colonialism. In this sharply presented analysis, she explores inter-generational trauma, the alarming rise of youth suicide among Indigenous people in Canada, and the enduring impact of separation of First Nation peoples from their land."

Charles King. British Academy/Bodley Head
Charles King. British Academy/Bodley Head

"Meanwhile, in The Reinvention of Humanity: A Story of Race, Sex, Gender and the Discovery of Culture, Charles King, professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University, explores how a group of pioneering cultural anthropologists – mostly women – shaped our interpretation of the modern world."

Previous winners of the prestigious prize include Toby Green for A Fistful of Shells – West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (2019); Kapka Kassabova for Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe (2018); Timothy Garton Ash for Free Speech (2017); Carole Hillenbrand for Islam: A New Historical Introduction (2016); and Dr Neil MacGregor for A History of the World in 100 Objects and Germany: Memories of a Nation (2015).