Cambridge historian shortlisted for 2021 Wolfson History Prize

Cambridge historian shortlisted for 2021 Wolfson History Prize

  • Helen McCarthy (photo credit Jonathan Ring)
    Helen McCarthy (photo credit Jonathan Ring)
  • Double Lives cover
    Double Lives

Helen McCarthy's book, Double Lives, is one of six finalists for the prize

The Wolfson History Prize serves as a reminder of the importance of historical research and writing to British society – a reminder that is as important as ever in these turbulent times.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation

With discussions around historical legacy and context growing louder over the past twelve months, this year’s Wolfson History Prize shortlist highlights the importance of careful analysis of our past. The six shortlisted titles showcase how key historical figures and events can help shape our understanding of the concerns and conflicts facing us today.  Topics featured in the shortlist include: an exploration of working motherhood; the child survivors of the Holocaust; the crucial role of Haitian Revolutionary leader, Toussaint Louverture; a history of the fight for the preservation of knowledge; the impact of warfare on human experience around the Atlantic in the early modern period; and the city of Ravenna, a beacon of creativity in Europe during the early Middle Ages.

Helen McCarthy is University Lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St John’s College. Her first book wasThe British People and the League of Nations and her second book, Women of the World: The Rise of the Female Diplomat, won Best International Affairs Book at the Political Book Awards 2015. Her shortlisted book, Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood,  comes amidst conversations around the Gender Pay Gap and the experience of working mothers during the coronavirus pandemic. McCarthy forces us not only to re-evaluate the past, but to ask anew how current attitudes towards mothers in the workplace have developed. The judges described the book as "A stylish, lively account of the emotionally-charged issue of working mothers. Based on intensive research, it displays a deeply-felt respect for the subject’s significance.” 

Chair of the judges and President of the British Academy, David Cannadine, said of the shortlist: “This year’s shortlist shows us that, despite the unprecedented challenges of the past year, the diversity and quality of history writing in the UK continues to endure. As judges we were absorbed and impressed by these six books and the commitment of their authors to uncover some of the lesser-known narratives of the past. It is with great enthusiasm that we announce the shortlist for 2021.” 

The winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2021 will be announced on Wednesday 9 June 2021 in a virtual ceremony. The winner of the Wolfson History Prize, the most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, will be awarded £40,000, with each of the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000.  The authors will discuss their books and historical writing in a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking and take part in an inaugural Wolfson History Prize event at Hay Festival on Wednesday 2nd June at 1pm. Further details of both events to follow.  

About the Wolfson History Prize 

First awarded by the Wolfson Foundation in 1972, the Wolfson History Prize remains a beacon of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability for a general audience and excellence in writing and research. The most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, the Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually, with the winner receiving £40,000, and the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each. Over £1.3 million has been awarded to more than 100 historians in the prize’s 49-year history. Previous winners include Mary Beard, Simon Schama, Eric Hobsbawm, Amanda Vickery, Antony Beevor, Christopher Bayly, and Antonia Fraser. 

Adapted from a release published by the Wolfson History Prize

To learn more about the Wolfson Foundation, please contact:

Niamh O’Mahony

Senior Associate Director – Trusts and Foundations

+44 (0)1223 766200