Books that won British Academy prizes in 2016

15 Jan 2017

Published in British Academy Review, No. 29 (January 2017).

The print version of this article can be downloaded as a PDF file.

A British Academy Medal was awarded to Professor Tim Blanning FBA, for Frederick the Great: King of Prussia

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Professor Blanning is one of the leading historians in the world of European history in the ‘long’ 18th century. He has written seminal works on the political, social cultural and intellectual history of Germany and Austria. He has produced pioneering comparative work relating developments in Britain to those in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. His writing on European musical culture in the same period is also regarded as seminal. Th roughout his career he has written books that appeal to both general readers and specialists; translations have appeared in several languages. His biography of Frederick the Great exemplifi es all his virtues as an historian. It is a marvellous analysis of a complex and notoriously elusive monarch, whose intellectual and cultural achievements were as signifi cant as his military prowess and his achievements as ruler of Brandenburg-Prussia for four decades. He dominated the European diplomatic stage; he was regarded as an equal by many of the major thinkers of the age, including Voltaire, Diderot and Kant. In German historiography his reputation has been ambivalent: some have praised him as a military genius who laid the foundations for the later German nation state; others have blamed him for reinforcing attitudes that led to the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Blanning’s book is the first study that transcends all these older prejudices and presents us with a nuanced biography of a remarkable human being, writer, musician and intellectual, as well as one of the most important rulers of 18th-century Europe.

Frederick the Great: King of Prussia, by Tim Blanning, was published by Allen Lane in 2015, and reissued as a Penguin paperback in October 2016.

A British Academy Medal was awarded to Professor David Lowenthal FBA, for The Past is a Foreign Country – Revisited

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David Lowenthal embarked on his illustrious career with a Harvard degree awarded in 1943: today he remains active in scholarship and debates over history, heritage and landscape on both sides of the Atlantic. His celebrated work The Past is a Foreign Country (1985) appeared at a moment of intense controversy over heritage policy, and Lowenthal’s advice was sought by bodies such as English Heritage, UNESCO, ICOMOS and the British Museum. Thirty years later, Cambridge University Press have published the successor volume, The Past is a Foreign Country – Revisited. I cannot think of any scholar in the UK today whose work has had such enduring influence in both academic and policy arenas, both nationally and internationally.

The Past is a Foreign Country – Revisited, a 660-page tour de force, is much more than a second edition. Nonetheless it bears the hallmarks of its erudite and inspiring predecessor so acclaimed by reviewers. The new book invites readers to contemplate the manifold ways in which history engages, illuminates and deceives us in the here and now: Lowenthal shows us what it means to come to terms with a past that is always in the process of being re-made. The book is a magnificent achievement, and the culmination of a remarkable career.

The Past is a Foreign Country – Revisited, by David Lowenthal, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.

A British Academy Medal was also awarded to Dr Susan E. Kelly for her latest two titles in the British Academy’s own Anglo-Saxon Charters series: Charters of Chertsey Abbey and Charters of Christ Church Canterbury. The latter title was jointly edited with the late Professor Nicholas Brooks FBA, and an article by him about the Canterbury archive was published in British Academy Review, Issue 24 (Summer 2014) [more].

The Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for 2016 was awarded to Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge, for The Judicial Imagination: Writing After Nuremberg.

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This highly distinguished book is a powerfully original work of scholarship and thought. Stonebridge juxtaposes six women writers not commonly associated with one another – Hannah Arendt, Rebecca West, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Bowen, Martha Gellhorn and Iris Murdoch – all of whom attended post-war judicial processes in Europe. Th eir response to the Nuremberg trials (West), Eichmann (Arendt, Spark), and the Paris Peace Conference (Bowen and Gellhorn attended all three events, while Murdoch was on the continent at this time) is in diff erent ways to attempt to forge a new reading of justice and a new language of the law that went beyond trauma. Th is was outside the rhetoric of human rights, the nation state and the language of witnessing. She argues that this Anglo-American cosmopolitanism founded ‘a new kind of human being’ through its insight that the blinding nature of war crime ‘perpetuates itself in the discourses intended to put it on trial’, and turns both to philosophical writing and to the novel to explore statelessness, and the ‘unpredictable hazards’ of the liberal self, to consider whether the genre can ground a new political and ethical order. Th is is an intellectually gripping work of enormous range and depth.

The Judicial Imagination: Writing After Nuremberg, by Lyndsey Stonebridge, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2011.

At the British Academy Prizes and Medals Ceremony held on 27 September 2016, Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge said:

‘In The Judicial Imagination I was interested in how writers, women writers (which is why winning the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize is so particularly meaningful for me) responded to new ideas about justice and human rights in the wake of the Second World War. Reading Rebecca West on the Nuremberg Trials, Hannah Arendt (and Muriel Spark!) on the Eichmann Trial, and Iris Murdoch on working with Yugoslav refugees taught me a lot about how crucial the imagination – storytelling – is to thinking about justice in the face of appalling violence and cruelty.

‘This morning I flew back from Sicily where I’ve been at a workshop organised by Fellow of the British Academy, Professor Dame Marina Warner. Italy, like Greece and Turkey, is bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. The workshop brought together academics, writers, musicians, performers with young refugees, to tell stories – to narrate our present darkness. I’m honoured to accept this prize in the name of all those storytellers committed to imagining new forms of justice today.’

(List of all the British Academy prizes and medals awarded in 2016.)

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