Sudhir Hazareesingh

Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture was announced the winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2021 on June 9, 2021.

The Wolfson History Prizes, worth £40,000, are literary awards given annually to promote and encourage standards of excellence in the writing of history for the general public in the United Kingdom. Prizes are given annually for two or three exceptional works published during the year, with an occasional oeuvre prize (a general award for an individual’s distinguished contribution to the writing of history). They are awarded and administered by the Wolfson Foundation, with winning books being chosen by a panel of judges composed of eminent historians. Some previous winners of the prize first handed out in 1972 have been David Abulafia, Mary Fulbrook, and Christopher de Hamel.

The judges for the 2021 edition of the prize were David Cannadine, Richard Evans, Carole Hillenbrand, and Diarmaid MacCulloch. This team announced their shortlist on April 21 with six books in the running for the award. The award winner selected at the ceremony was British-Mauritian historian Sudhir Hazareesingh for Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture.

Black Spartacus tells the story of Toussaint Louverture, leader and hero of the Haitian Revolution, providing an intimate study of “the first black superhero of the modern age”, a revolutionary leader whose experiences speak to many of the debates currently taking place around colonialism, heritage and the re-evaluating of historical narratives. Through a wealth of archival material, much of which has been left uncovered by previous biographers, Hazareesingh creates the portrait of a former slave who confronted some of the dominant forces of his time – slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism, and racial hierarchy.

David Cannadine, chair of the Wolfson History Prize Judging Panel commented: “Black Spartacus vividly re-creates the extraordinary career of the leader and hero of the Haitian Revolution, which reverberated far beyond that island and far beyond the Caribbean. This is an erudite and elegant biography with a message that resonates strongly in our own time, and we extend our warmest congratulations to Sudhir Hazareesingh.”

Hazareesingh said on winning: “Completing this book made me realise more acutely than ever how much the writing of history is a collective effort, resting on the accumulated wisdom from current and previous generations, and I would like to dedicate this award to the Haitian people, and to all the scholars who have helped give the Saint-Domingue revolution, this landmark event in the fight for emancipation and dignity, the prominence it deserves.”