David Abulafia’s ‘The Boundless Sea’ wins Wolfson History Prize 2020

David Abulafia’s ‘The Boundless Sea’ wins Wolfson History Prize 2020

  • The Boundless Sea
    The Boundless Sea

David Abulafia's The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans, a global history of humankind told through our relationship with the world’s oceans has won the Wolfson History Prize 2020, the most prestigious history prize in the UK. 

The winner was announced in a virtual ceremony on 15 June featuring guest appearances from previous Wolfson History Prize winners including Mary Beard (2009), Peter Marshall (2018), and Mary Fulbrook (2019). The ceremony is available to watch online. The Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually to a work of historical non-fiction which combines excellence in research and writing, with readability for a general audience. It is the most valuable non-fiction prize in the UK.

David Abulafia is Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History and former Chair of the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and Papathomas Professorial Fellow, Gonville and Caius College.

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (Allen Lane) reveals the importance of the sea to all of our stories, highlighting how it has shaped human societies and cultures for millennia. Abulafia takes readers around the globe and through thousands of years of history, exploring the earliest Polynesian seafarers, who navigated by stars; Viking raids in Northern Europe; piracy in the Caribbean; the Atlantic slave trade; naval skirmishes; through to the realities of modern-day super-shipping.

David Cannadine, chair of the Wolfson History Prize Judging Panel, commented 'The Boundless Sea tackles a world encompassing subject: humanity’s constantly changing relationship with the seas that cover most of our planet and on which our very lives depend. This is a book of deep scholarship, brilliantly written and we extend our warmest congratulations to David Abulafia.' 

The Wolfson History Prize celebrates books that communicate what we know about the past to a wider audience than experts in the field.  It is so important that historians do this and I am very proud and amazed to have received this prize.

Professor David Abulafia

About the prize

The Wolfson History Prize is run and awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants in the fields of science, health, heritage, humanities, and the arts.

This year’s Prize ceremony was virtual for the first time but the essence of what the Prize has stood for across nearly five decades remains constant. We celebrate the importance to society of outstanding and accessible history writing. David Abulafia’s book is magnificently ambitious, brilliantly examining the changing, extraordinary connections between the vast oceans and humanity. While broad in chronological sweep, this clearly has a strong contemporary resonance — as our relationship with the natural world (including the oceans) is under scrutiny as never before.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation