Two Princeton University Press books shortlisted for the 2023 Wolfson History Prize

Two Princeton University Press books are included on the shortlist for the 2023 Wolfson History Prize, announced today. The World the Plague Made: The Black Death and the Rise of Europe, by James Belich, and The Perils of Interpreting: The Extraordinary Lives of Two Translators Between Qing China and the British Empire, by Henrietta Harrison, are among the six titles recognized this year.

In The World the Plague Made, James Belich—the Beit Professor of Global and Imperial History at the University of Oxford and cofounder of the Oxford Centre for Global History—takes readers across centuries and continents, illuminating one of history’s greatest paradoxes: why did Europe’s dramatic rise begin in the wake of the Black Death? The answer is a groundbreaking, panoramic story of how the bubonic plague unleashed revolutionary change across the medieval world, ushering in advents in labor, trade, and technology that set the stage for of the emergence of the modern age.

Praised for its “fantastic display of scholarship” (The Lancet) and as “global history at its most serious and thrilling” (Rana Mitter), it was named a Book of the Year by the Spectator, a Best History Book of the Year by Prospect, a Best Economics History Book of the Year by FiveBooks, and was a Finalist for the PROSE Award in European History, given by the Association of American Publishers.

Told through the lives of Li Zibao and George Thomas Staunton, the interpreters who facilitated the 1739 British embassy to China, The Perils of Interpreting tells a fascinating history of China’s relations with the West. Throughout Henrietta Harrison, who is professor of modern Chinese studies at the University of Oxford and the Stanley Ho Tutorial Fellow in Chinese History at Pembroke College, casts a nuanced portrait of the two men and their exchanges. From Galway to Chengde, and from political intrigues to personal encounters, Harrison reassesses a pivotal moment in diplomatic history and offers an empathetic argument for cross-cultural understanding in a connected world.

Shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize and winner of the Kenshur Prize, given by the Bloomington Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies, The Perils of Interpreting was named a History Today Book of the Year and has been celebrated for offering an “invigorating re-vision” to the history of Sino-British relations and for prose that is “pictorial and vivacious, effortlessly carrying the reader into a new domain of empathy and historical awareness” (Journal of Chinese History).

The Wolfson History Prize has been awarded annually by the Wolfson Foundation since 1972, in recognition of books that promote and encourage standards of excellence in the writing and research of history for the public. Prior PUP books recognized by the Foundation include John Blair’s Building Anglo-Saxon England, shortlisted in 2019; Marion Turner’s Chaucer: A European Life, shortlisted in 2020; and Judith Herrin’s Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe shortlisted in 2021.

The winner of the 2023 prize will be announced on November 13, in London.