Winners of the 2016 Wolfson History Prize announced

Winners of the 2016 Wolfson History Prize announced

June 2016

The two winners of the annual Wolfson History Prize, awarded for books published in 2015, have been announced as Nikolaus Wachsmann for KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (published by Little, Brown) and Robin Lane Fox for Augustine: Conversions and Confessions (published by Allen Lane). Both winners received a prize of £30,000.

Click here for BBC History Magazine's exclusive interview with the Prize winners and Chief Executive, Paul Ramsbottom (pictured below)

The Prize, awarded every year to British authors since 1972, promotes and encourages standards of excellence in the writing of readable and scholarly history suitable for a general audience.  Previous winners of this prestigious award have included: Antony Beevor, Ian Kershaw, Antonia Fraser, David Reynolds, Richard Overy and Mary Beard. 

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

The first historian to write a complete history of the camps, Nikolaus Wachsmann gives voice to those typically forgotten in Nazi history: the 'social deviants', criminals and unwanted ethnicities that all faced the terror of the camps. He explores the practice of institutionalised murder and inmate collaboration with the SS selectively ignored by many historians, and pulls together a wealth of in-depth research, official documents, contemporary studies and the evidence of survivors themselves.

Presenting the award to Wachsmann - professor of modern European history at Birkbeck College - Prize Judge Professor Julia Smith said: “Nikolaus consistently brings shrewd historical judgement paired with great moral integrity to wrestling with some of the hardest questions a historian can face...Commencing in 1933, he charts the evolution and politics of the [Nazi’s] entire institutional apparatus of repression and extermination of criminals, communists, the disabled, gypsies, homosexuals and others, as well as Jews. Importantly, he blends this with detailed attention to the experiences of both the sufferers and their tormenters, making this history in the round – from below as well as above. This deft balancing of competing perspectives rests upon prodigious archival research and the judicious deployment of a wealth of anecdotal detail.”

Nikolaus Wachsmann receives the Wolfson History Prize

Augustine: Conversions and Confessions

Robin Lane Fox's book has been described as "a watershed in Augustinian studies… [a] magisterial and compellingly readable narrative, which makes full and creative use of all the best recent scholarship.”  (Rowan Williams) His book is a major new interpretation of how one of the great figures of Christian history came to write one of the greatest of all autobiographies.  In it Robin Lane Fox follows Augustine on a brilliantly described journey, combining the latest scholarship with recently found letters and sermons by Augustine. Augustine’s heretical years as a Manichaean, his relation to non-Christian philosophy, his mystical aspirations and the nature of his conversion are among the aspects of his life which stand out in a sharper light. This exceptional study reminds us why we are so excited and so moved by Augustine's story.

On presenting the award, Prize Judge Professor Julia Smith said: “This book revisits one of the most influential and prolific authors in western thought, a man whose preoccupations with sin, evil, bodily pain, longing, and love lie at the heart of this scintillating analysis. In brief, the book is about one man’s life-long search for heaven in a world of abundant evil, and his strivings to make some sort of contact with that heaven in his daily life…But unlike so many interpretations of works of philosophy and theology, this study is grounded in the man’s direct experience of the world around him—the people he knew, those he loved, his emotions and intense physical experiences, whether of pain, lust, pleasure or anger…Beautifully written in a crystalline prose where not a word is out of place, it’s a book to read in a garden, or the shady courtyard of a Mediterranean villa, as well as in the study or library.” 

Prize Judge Julia Smith awards the Wolfson History Prize to Robin Lane Fox

The Wolfson History Prize judges in 2016 were Sir David Cannadine (new Chair of the Judges), Sir Richard Evans, Professor Julia Smith and, for the first time this year, Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said: “The Wolfson History Prize has for almost half a century recognised historical writing of the highest quality: books based on brilliant scholarship that are written with compelling readability. Robin Lane Fox and Nikolaus Wachsmann bring incisive new perspectives to histories we thought we already knew. They are both worthy winners in this long and eminent tradition, and tackle one of the great perennial issues: the nature of evil.”

Professor Sir David Cannadine, Chair of the Judges, said: “The Wolfson History Prize exists to promote and to proclaim that history always matters, and it matters especially when people think it doesn't.  The trouble with the past or, alternatively, the most important thing about the past, is that it's never really over, and least of all for those who misguidedly think that it is. The Foundation's commitment across nearly half a century to the Wolfson History Prize represents the strongest possible affirmation that any society that aspires to be healthy needs to understand its past.  Historical writing, like the humanities as a whole, is not just for recreation and entertainment; it is also vital for the life and well-being of public culture.”