Monday, November 19, 2018

Prize Watch: Cundill Prize to Maya Jasanoff

A trend in historical writing?  Two of the nominees for the $78,000 Cundill Prize in History this year were cultural histories that combined a biography of a novelist with an exploration of the historical milieu in which they wrote.

The winner, announced in Montreal the other night, was Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff for her book, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World.
Neither Conrad nor anyone else was thinking about climate change in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when he wrote his most acclaimed novels.
But many of the issues he tackled have endured. Conrad, as Jasanoff tells it, was a witness and a participant in globalization. He was a migrant, during a time of mass migration, when a hundred million people were on the move, but before there were closed borders and even official passports.
And he witnessed the pushback to globalization, with the emergence of border controls and rising xenophobia, terrorism and the fear of the other. This, just as East European Jews were emigrating to London and France. He also observed the growing fear of what Jasanoff calls “political undesirables” — the anarchists in London, for example, as seen in Conrad’s The Secret Agent. That novel, published in 1886, has been called the archetypal novel about terrorism, and was often cited in the weeks following 9/11.
“Conrad went through global openness, which created winners and losers and created dispossession,” Jasanoff said — of non-whites and the worker class.
Jasanoff's previous book was Liberty's Exiles, a study of American loyalists "in a revolutionary world."

Notes on the Cundill short list here.

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