Nicholas Thomas wins the Wolfson History Prize for ‘Islanders’


'Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire' by Nicholas Thomas

Yale author Nicholas Thomas has been awarded the prestigious Wolfson History Prize for his book Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire

The Wolfson History Prizes, which were established in 1972, are awarded annually for two or three exceptional works of history writing published during the year. Nicholas Thomas (the ninth Yale author to have received this award) collected the £20,000 prize last night at a ceremony at Claridge’s alongside Dr Ruth Harris, who also received the award for The Man on Devil’s Island. Previous winners include Yale author Amanda Vickery (The Gentleman’s Daughter), and well-known historians such as Mary Beard,  Diarmaid MacCulloc, Barry Cunliffe and Ian Kershaw.

Nicholas Thomas is director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and professor of historical anthropology, at Cambridge University. His book Islanders explores the lived experience of empire in the Pacific, the last region to be contacted and colonized by Europeans following the great voyages of Captain Cook. Unlike conventional accounts that emphasize confrontation and the destruction of indigenous cultures, Islanders reveals there was gain as well as loss, survival as well as suffering, and invention as well as exploitation.

Empowered by imaginative research in obscure archives and collections, Thomas rediscovers a rich and surprising history of encounters, not only between Islanders and Europeans, but among Islanders, brought together in new ways by explorers, missionaries and colonists. He tells the story of the making of empire, not through an impersonal survey, but through vivid stories of the lives of men and women – some visionary, some vicious, and some just eccentric – and through sensuous evocation of seascapes and landscapes of the Pacific. Islanders is a fascinating re-creation of an Oceanic world, offering a new paradigm, not only for histories of the Pacific, but for understandings of cultural contact everywhere.

Read Nicholas Thomas’ article in this blog: How the Empire brought invention as well as exploitation to the Pacific

Visit the official Wolfson History Prize website

Previous Yale winners of the Wolfson History Award

Maurice Keen (Chivalry) – 1984
Professor J H Elliott (The Count Duke of Olivares) – 1986
Professor Colin Platt (The Architecture of Medieval Britain) – 1990
John Bossy (Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair) – 1991
Linda Colley (Britons: Forging the Nations 1707 – 1837) – 1992
Amanda Vickery (The Gentleman’s Daughter) – 1998
Evelyn Welch (Shopping in the Renaissance) – 2005
Margaret McGowan (Dance in the Renaissance) – 2008

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