Tiya Miles

Tiya Miles was announced the winner of the 2022 Cundill History Prize for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake in Montreal, Canada on December 1, 2022

The Cundill History Prize, which recognises and promotes literary and academic achievement in history, was founded by Peter Cundill in 2008. The prize is presented annually to an author who has published a non-fiction book in the prior year that is likely to have a profound literary, social, and academic impact in the area of history. At a value of US$75,000, the Grand Prize is said to be the richest non-fiction historical literature prize in the world. Some of the previous winners of the prize have been Camilla Townsen, Marjoleine Kars, and Maya Jasanoff.

The judging panel for the prize for 2022 comprised J.R. McNeill (Chair) Professor, Georgetown University, Misha Glenny Rector, Institute for Human Sciences, Martha S. Jones Professor of History, The John Hopkins University, Yasmin Khan Associate Professor of British History, University of Oxford, and Kenda Mutongi Professor of History, MIT.

The finalists for this year’s prize were Ada Ferrer’s Cuba: An American History, Vladislav Zubok’s Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union, and Tiya Miles’ All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.

The winner was revealed at a ceremony in Montreal in Canada with Tiya Miles getting the nod in a unanimous decision. The jurors decided to award the Harvard Professor for her ‘superbly written’ story of an enslaved mother and her daughter, which traces the lives of three generations of Black women through one object: a cotton sack. Facing a scarcity of archival sources on these women’s lives, Miles turns to material culture, art, and the environment to piece together a singular history of slavery that has ‘the narrative propulsion of a novel.’

Chair of the Jury J.R. McNeill said: ‘Tiya Miles’ All That She Carried is the winner, in a field of superb books, because of its clear and moving prose, its imaginative research, and the way the author illuminates the human condition through a family story. The world of enslaved women in the antebellum South is, by the standards of U.S. history, extremely poorly documented, but Miles has risen to that challenge in ways that show the best of the historian’s craft. For me, the vividness and immediacy of the writing is the strongest suit of this powerful book.’

Juror Kenda Mutongi said: ‘Simply praising All that She Carried for its textured examination of heartfelt love between a mother, daughter, and enslaved family members is to underrate its value. Tiya Miles provides an innovative and visionary way to reconstruct family history using meager sources. Her book is at once a literary and academic achievement, and it will be read widely for years to come.’

Tiya Miles is a professor of history, Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Harvard-Radcliffe Institute, and director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University. Commenting on the win she said, “I feel that the work I do, and the work many of us do on studies of slavery, Black and Indigenous people, women, and all marginalized groups, has been affirmed by the awarding by this prize. I’m very moved, honoured and overwhelmed by the recognition.”