British Academy Book Prize Guidelines

Useful guidelines and pointers to help you with your British Academy Book Prize nominations.

What does Global Cultural Understanding mean?

The purpose of this prize is to recognise and award a book that contributes to public understanding of world cultures. It is designed to illuminate the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide, and to foster more positive inter-cultural relations.

On the theme, the current Chair of Judges Patrick Wright commented:

“It may sometimes be clearer to talk about economic facts and institutional arrangements, but culture shapes how people make sense of all that. In a way, it is as vital as food to defining who we are and how we may in very different ways understand and face challenges and problems. We’re not seeing culture only in artistic terms here. We have nothing against literature, film or painting, but we’re interested more broadly in how people make sense of a world in which they may feel increasingly connected, albeit by abiding injustices as well as by things held in common more equitably.”

Past winners have included Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire by Sujit Sivasundaram (2021), an exploration of the age of the British Empire through the eyes of the indigenous people of the Pacific and Indian oceans; Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands by Hazel V. Carby (2020); Fistful of Shells (2019), a ground-breaking history of West Africa by Toby Green; and Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe (2018), a close study of how borders shape people’s lives by Bulgarian-born writer Kapka Kassabova.

What are the judges looking for?

The British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding is awarded annually to an author for an outstanding and accessible book of non-fiction that will encourage the reader to grow their global, cultural knowledge. In a recent blog, Patrick Wright said: “We’re looking for books that help us understand where we are now, that help readers grasp what is going on in the world and how people, whatever their lineage and situation, are facing contemporary reality. We’re not at all against studies that dig deep into a problem or initiative as it’s manifested in a particular place or context, but the books that reach our shortlist tend to keep a wider perspective in mind. We like research, of course, but we understand that it doesn’t always have to be done in archives. We also like books that aren’t entirely confined to the internal arguments and, indeed, jargon of their specialism.”

What kind of research is eligible?

As the national academy for the humanities and social sciences, the British Academy champions scholarship in these disciplines and as such is looking for books that are thoroughly underpinned by research. They may be written by scholars, but also journalists and independent writers. Research must be carefully balanced with accessibility – judges are looking for a book that can be read by an interested but non-specialist reader.

The British Academy is particularly keen to discover new and exciting work that pushes boundaries and shines a spotlight on the lesser-known stories of other cultures around the world.

Why do you have a strict timeline for publication?

We are keen to recognise fresh perspectives on the theme of global cultural understanding and to ensure that the prize feels current and relevant.

Please check full eligibility criteria for details.

Who runs the prize?

The Book Prize is run by the British Academy, an independent fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers; a funding body for research, nationally and internationally; and a forum for debate and engagement.

The British Academy appoints an independent jury to select a shortlist and winner, from the longlist of nominations.

The Book Prize provides a platform for discussion and debate on which to promote dialogue around the important global issues of the day, through a programme of events and media and retail partnerships.

It supports writers financially through prize money and through increased book sales.

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