The Royal Historical Society is pleased to announce the winners of its Gladstone and Whitfield book prizes, and the Alexander article prize, for 2023.
RHS Gladstone Prize, 2023
Awarded to a first book in the field of European or World History.
Jennifer Keating, On Arid Ground: Political Ecologies of Empire in Russian Central Asia
(Oxford University Press)
Jennifer Keating’s On Arid Ground is a path-breaking study of the way empire and environment interacted in Central Asia through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This book innovates on a number of fronts, not least by showing the importance of ecology and environment in forcing the Russian Empire to adapt its long-term geopolitical strategy. It significantly changes the way we think of Russian Empire-building and outlines a fascinating picture of land reclamation, settlement and commodity development, while often putting to the fore actors beyond the human, from sandstorms to termites.
Inspiring and important, it will be influential for historians working on other imperial contexts, and above all for our thinking about environment and human social and political organisation today.
RHS Whitfield Prize, 2023
Awarded to a first book in the field of British or Irish History.
Síobhra Aiken, Spiritual Wounds. Trauma, Testimony & the Irish Civil War
(Irish Academic Press)
Síobhra Aiken’s Spiritual Wounds offers a fascinating approach to understanding testimonies of the Irish Civil War, revealing through a range of sources what has remained ‘hidden in plain sight’. It challenges the prevailing idea of an enduring silence about the conflict which has sought to forget in order to repair rather than to remember in order to bear witness and grieve.
Through works of autobiography, memoir and fiction in a variety of forms, Aiken explores the manner in which the terrible experiences of war were placed into the public domain by pro- and anti-Treaty men and women, and thus became part of the cultural milieu in the decades that followed.
The book shows how the code of silence around the Irish Civil War was culturally constructed, and it adopts and historicises the framework of ‘trauma’ for its study, offering a model for others to follow. Aiken’s afterword presents fascinating comments on the researcher’s own subjectivity, and the challenges of writing about topics which ‘defy straightforward empathic identification’. It is a powerful contribution to our understanding of the legacy of war, and of historical practice and the role of the historian.
RHS Alexander Prize 2023, joint winners
Awarded for an article by an early career historian writing, or within two years of completing, a History PhD.
Jake Dyble, ‘General Average, Human Jettison, and the Status of Slaves in Early Modern Europe’, Historical Journal, 65 (2022), 1197-1220
Jake Dyble tackles a major question regarding the history of the Transatlantic slave trade: how different was this trade to earlier types of enslavement? This is not only a problem for historians but a key issue in modern political debates—particularly with regard to restorative justice.
Dyble uses an ingenious method to uncover a clear answer to the conundrum. He uses legal cases regarding the jettison of cargo, including living animals or people, to determine that there was a significant shift in attitude towards the enslaved. The panel were impressed with the use of legal history but also the way in which the author was able to make a difficult technical topic comprehensible to non-specialists.
Roseanna Webster, ‘Women and the Fight for Urban Change in Late Francoist Spain’, Past & Present (October 2022)
Roseanna Webster’s work on Francoist Spain is a classic account of history from below. She focuses on female activists in new housing estates whose concerns were to gain the necessities of life, such as a regular supply of running water. Webster’s use of oral histories shows how the role of activist jarred with traditional gender roles, and how this caused the women themselves some unease.
Webster’s unusual choice of subject matter and her careful handling of her source material has produced a nuanced account of life under Franco, which focuses not on soldiers or dissidents but on ordinary women and their ambivalence about their new roles.