Professor Patrick Wright FBA
Chair of Judges
Professor Patrick Wright FBA is the Chair of Judges for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. He is Emeritus Professor of Literature, History and Politics at Kings College, London and his books include The Village that Died for England, A Journey Through Ruins and The Sea View Has Me Again: Uwe Johnson in Sheerness.
2022 is the 10th year of the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. In order to mark the occasion, and to celebrate the many memorable books to which we have been introduced through the annual Prize, we have invited seven authors of winning and shortlisted titles to contribute to this anthology.
‘Globalisation’ may have seemed more confident in its grip on the future when the Prize was first launched. Even in 2012, however, the idea was attended by an urgent sense of foreboding and injustice as well as of promise. The Prize’s founder, Prof. Nayef Al-Rhodan, emphasised the need to address certain perennial problems regarding the relation between different cultures’ as well as the importance of highlighting ‘the many ways in which apparently distinct cultures in fact overlap at numerous points’.
Given the Prize’s potentially enormous theme, its judges may be asked to consider studies of decolonisation and the present situation of indigenous peoples; on climate change and the power of stories in the age of social media; on aspects of diplomacy, psychology, architecture and the politics of religion; on diverse aspects of economics, the law, the history of trade and settlement, prehistoric culture and the ways in which sports like football and cricket may have shaped understanding around the world. Fortunately, some working principles have emerged to help the changing panel of judges as they set out each year to select a shortlist from such a wide range of submitted titles.
While the books selected onto our shortlists may well draw on specialist knowledge, we are looking for authors who are also imaginative when it comes to making their work engaging to non-specialists.
While we have been looking for books that demonstrate the value of original research in illuminating some of the outstanding issues of our time, we also recognise that ‘research’ doesn’t have to be conventionally academic. Alongside investigations that may, quite properly, have been carried out in archives and libraries, we have also welcomed enquiries emerging from the more searching and informed kind of journalism. While the books selected onto our shortlists may well draw on specialist knowledge, we are looking for authors who are also imaginative when it comes to making their work engaging to non-specialists. To be ‘global’, in the Prize’s terms, may sometimes involve creating an overview of patterns that have unfolded across large geographical areas, but we have learned that it can also be achieved through more localised or personal investigations in which wider dynamics are addressed from the ground.
While we are only able to reward a single winner each year, the British Academy works to promote our shortlists as evidence of the wide range of excellent writing going on in the year in question. We try to include books by writers of various backgrounds and present situations, and to consider titles submitted by independent presses as well as the more mainstream academic and trade publishers.
The writers whose reflections follow are:
Sujit Sivasundaram, Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire, published by William Collins (winner, 2021)
Cal Flyn, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape, published by William Collins (shortlisted in 2021)
Priyamvada Gopal, Insurgent Empire – Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent, published by Verso (shortlisted in 2020)
Toby Green, A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution, published by Allen Lane (winner, 2019)
Aanchal Malhotra, Remnants of Partition: 21 Objects from a Continent Divided, published by Hurst (shortlisted in 2019)
Ed Morales, Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture, published by Verso (shortlisted in 2019)
Kapka Kassabova, Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, published by Granta Books (winner, 2018).
We would like to thank each of these authors for submitting such interesting contributions to this publication. Meanwhile, if you’ve enjoyed reading their essays, and would like to learn more about the books and the Prize, please feel free to visit www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/prizes-medals/british-academy-book-prize-global-cultural-understanding