Faculty Bulletin Board

History professor wins $500,000 Dan David Prize

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Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Patrick Imbert/College de France, Paris

Sanjay Subrahmanyam

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, a professor of history whose scholarship focuses on the encounters between Asians, Europeans and indigenous and colonial Americans from 1400 through 1800, has been named a laureate of the Dan David Prize in recognition of his contributions to macro history.

The international Dan David Prize is awarded annually to figures who have made outstanding scientific, technological and humanistic accomplishments in fields representing the past, present and future of human achievement. Subrahmanyam is sharing the $1 million prize with Kenneth Pomeranz, a renowned historian who is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Subrahmanyam has written 16 books and edited almost as many. Subrahmanyam’s work, steeped as it is in Western and non-Western historiography, conveys a fuller, more-rounded history than most other scholars have been able to provide.

“I greatly appreciate the international recognition afforded to my scholarship, which is a great encouragement,” Subrahmanyam said. “When I came to UCLA in 2004, I was proud to join a history department with some great and world-famous figures in it, and I have tried to live up to their example. The Dan David Prize gives me a fresh wind in my sails, to push on with the next set of projects I have in mind: whether on global historiography, Islamic history or the enigmatic figure of Michel de Montaigne.”

Subrahmanyam is particularly proud of his work over the last 15 years with UCLA graduate students, training them in a methodology he calls “connected histories,” which challenges scholars to cross conventional boundaries and define new problems.

“This has meant setting the bar high for them, too, and making serious demands on their training and scholarship,” he said.” Such history may be somewhat unfashionable in the U.S., where other trends of narrow specialization often dominate, but it is reassuring to see it has an appeal worldwide.”

The Dan David Prize’s unique approach utilizes a “roving” formula that rewards achievements in all fields of human endeavor, rather than in a fixed set of categories. Each year a new theme is selected for each of the three time dimensions, recognizing accomplishments that expand knowledge of the past, enrich society in the present, and promise to improve the future of our world. Along with the macro history awardees, the 2019 Dan David Prize will also honor Michael Ignatieff and Reporters Without Borders for their remarkable work in defending democracy, as well as Christiana Figueres for her achievements in combating climate change.

The total purse of $3 million makes the Dan David Prize one of the highest-value prizes internationally. Previous prize laureates include cellist Yo-Yo Ma (2006), HIV co-discoverer Robert Gallo (2009), novelist Margaret Atwood (2010), filmmaker brothers Ethan and Joel Coen (2011), and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (2015).

Ariel David, director of the Dan David Foundation and son of the prize founder said this year’s recipients are being celebrated for helping rewrite the history of the modern world and ensuring sure that history is not only depicted through “the triumphal prism of a western-centric narrative.”

“Rather, their work represents a deeper understanding of the complex interactions and interdependency of peoples and societies across the globe,” he said.

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