Trauma, empire, rebellion – 2021 Cundill History Prize jurors reveal their finalists

The winner of the USD$75,000 prize will be announced in a live virtual event on December 2

The UK-based Canadian historian Rebecca Clifford, Professor of Transnational and European History at the University of Durham; Marie Favereau, Associate Professor of History at Paris Nanterre University; and Marjoleine Kars, a native of the Netherlands and history professor at the University of Maryland, are the 2021 finalists for the world’s leading history prize — the US$75,000 Cundill History Prize.

  • In The Horde, Marie Favereau chronicles the three-hundred-year reign of the Mongol Horde and shows how their empire left a lasting trace on the history of Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.
  • Rebecca Clifford’s Survivors studies the child survivors of the Holocaust from 1945 to the present day, using archives and oral interviews to understand how these children recovered from trauma, rebuilt their lives, and sought to recover their terrible past.
  • Blood on the River is the story of a 1763 slave rebellion in Berbice, a Dutch colony in present day Guyana. Using 18th-century Dutch sources, Marjoleine Kars recounts the rebellion and its bloody suppression from the perspectives of both the Dutch colonists and, uniquely, the slaves themselves

Michael Ignatieff, 2021 Chair of the Jury, announced the titles as part of a special conversation with Margaret MacMillan, hosted by Dan Snow. Broadcast in partnership with Frankfurt Book Fair, History Hit, Literary Review of Canada and Fane Productions, the event was live-streamed onto the prize YouTube channel and the Frankfurt Book Fair website, and simultaneously shown on-site at the Fair. It is now available for viewing here.

Working with partners in Canada, the US and the UK, the prize is once again rolling out an innovative digital programme this year. Following the announcement, the finalists are now being celebrated on the Cundill History Prize website, with juror videos, extracts, author interviews and more. See

After a summer of intensive reading and re-reading, the 2021 jurors — Eric Foner, Henrietta Harrison, Sunil Khilnani and Jennifer L. Morgan — joined their Chair via webconference to pick the three finalists from their shortlist of eight, previously announced on September 23.

“The 2021 Cundill History Prize finalists are three outstanding works of history,” said Ignatieff. Rebecca Clifford’s Survivors transforms our understanding of historical trauma and its impact on children. Beautifully written, intensively researched, unsentimental and profound, it makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust and its unending impact on those who survived it. Marie Favereau’s The Horde is a vividly written history on a vast canvas that enables us to see the Mongol conquerors of Asia and Europe through the eyes of the Mongols themselves. An amazing picture emerges of a mobile empire whose very flexibility, ability to integrate and work with alien peoples, accounts for their extraordinary historical impact. Marjoleine Kars is a marvellous writer and scholar, using untapped sources to breathe life into both the oppressors and the oppressed in a colony built on slavery and savage violence. In Blood on the River she presents us with a quite unforgettable narrative.”

The three historians will be awarded US$10,000 each, and are now vying for the grand prize, which raises the reward for the winner to US$75,000, making the Cundill History Prize the largest purse for a work of non-fiction in English.

“The Cundill History Prize finalists provide a brilliant mix of innovative historical writing and engaging prose,” said Mary Hunter, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Arts. “Impeccably researched and skillfully argued, these three books offer fresh insights that will spark conversation and debate amongst historians and non-specialists alike.”

The Cundill History Prize Festival returns, fully digitally, in the first week of December (Wednesday, 1 and Thursday, 2), featuring:

  • The Cundill Lecture, delivered by last year ’s winner, Camilla Townsend (Fifth Sun: a New History of the Aztecs). Wednesday, December 1, 1 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. GMT.
  • Returning for its third year, the Cundill Forum sparks fresh thinking by bringing together the three finalists in a conversation on a theme of global, current relevance. Further details of this special event will be released soon.  Wednesday, December 1.
  • The 2021 Winner Announcement, featuring the three finalists; Michael Ignatieff and jurors Eric Foner, Henrietta Harrison, Sunil Khilnani and Jennifer L. Morgan; with special hosts and more details to be announced shortly. Thursday, December 2, 2021, 1 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. GMT.