Historian Marjoleine Kars wins $95K historical writing prize for book about a 'dramatic' 1763 slave revolution

The Cundill History Prize honours the best history writing in English. It is open to books from anywhere in the world, as long as they are available in English.

The Cundill History Prize honours the best history writing in English

Blood on the River is a nonfiction book by Marjoleine Kars. (The New Press)

Marjoleine Kars, a Dutch American historian of slavery, has won the 2021 Cundill History Prize for her book Blood on the River: a Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast.

Administered by McGill University, the prize annually awards $75,000 US ($95,494 Cdn) to a book that demonstrates historical scholarship, literary excellence and broad appeal. It is open to books from anywhere in the world, as long as they are available in English.

On Feb. 27, 1763, thousands of slaves in the Dutch colony of Berbice — in present-day Guyana — led a rebellion that came extremely close to succeeding. The rebellion eventually collapsed and the Dutch prevailed. Blood on the River draws on 900 interrogation transcripts buried in Dutch archives to tell the story of this revolution.

Kars grew up in the Netherlands and is a professor of history at the University of Maryland. She is also the author of Breaking Loose Together. Kars lives in Washington, D.C.

"Superbly researched and narrated, Marjoleine Kars' Blood on the River achieves something remarkable: it transforms our understanding of two vitally important subjects — slavery and empire — and it tells a story so dramatic, so compelling that no reader will be able to put the book down," said Michael Ignatieff, jury chair of the 2021 Cundill History Prize, in a statement.

The winner ceremony took place on Dec. 2 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It was hosted by Nahlah Ayed, host of CBC Ideas.

The two runners-up are the UK-based Canadian historian Rebecca Clifford for Survivors: Children's Lives after the Holocaust, and the French historian Marie Favereau for The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World.

Each finalist will receive US $10,000 ($12,672 Cdn).

Past winners include Camilla Townsend, Julia Lovell, Maya Jasanoff and Daniel Beer.

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