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

  • 16 June 2020

Professor David Abulafia’s The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans has won this year’s Wolfson History Prize, announced in a virtual ceremony on 15 June. 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, recognising the best factual history writing from the past year.

The Boundless Sea is an exploration of the relationship between mankind and the seas throughout history, tracing our interaction with the oceans from the Polynesians of the Pacific, one of the earliest seafaring societies, to now. 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.”

“I am very proud and amazed to have received this prize. I could not have written the book without the support and stimulus provided by Caius.”

- Professor David Abulafia

Professor Abulafia, Papathomas Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, and Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History and former Chair of the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge commented: “The Wolfson History Prize celebrates books that communicate clearly and readably 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. I could not have written the book without the support and stimulus provided by Caius."

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. Although this year’s prize ceremony was virtual for the first time, Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said, “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.”

Watch the 2020 virtual winner announcement below. 



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