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OUP author wins the Cundill Prize

Released on December 4, 2020

Oxford, UK – Oxford University Press is delighted to celebrate the news that OUP author, Professor Camilla Townsend, has won the Cundill History Prize for her work, Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.

Drawing on the Nahuatl texts written by the indigenous people themselves, Fifth Sun focuses on the rich and complex history of the Mexica people, looking beyond the exoticized accounts of the Spanish conquistadors to reveal the full picture of Aztec history. The conquest, in this work, is neither an apocalyptic moment, nor an origin story launching Mexicans into existence. Instead, Camilla Townsend, Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, presents an accessible and humanized depiction of the native Mexicans who endured colonialization through realigning political allegiances, accommodating new obligations, and adopting new technologies. By going back to the previously neglected Nahuatl material, Fifth Sun rewrites the simple story of Aztec capitulation and therefore demonstrates what history writing can do at its best: enable us to examine the past in a new light.

The Cundill History Prize is awarded each year to a work of history that best embodies historical scholarship, originality, literary merit and broad appeal and OUP is delighted that these qualities have been recognized in Fifth Sun. On announcing the winner, chair of judges, Peter Frankopan, praised Fifth Sun as 'crisp and beautifully written. It shows real passion and enormous expertise...while never at any point dumbing down'. The prize committee heralded the way the way that Camilla Townsend’s work resonates with readers as the book represents a 'feat of high order, intellectually and imaginatively'.

Managing Director of the Academic Division at OUP, David Clark said: 'History has never been far from the headlines this year so it is heartening to end the year with the good news that Camilla Townsend’s Fifth Sun is the well-deserved winner of the Cundill – my congratulations to both Camilla and the OUP team who supported Fifth Sun. I hope the prize will attract new readers to pick up and enjoy this wonderful book which balances being both a gripping read and also a book of unquestionable scholarly value.'

OUP is proud of our reputation for history writing with numerous OUP books making the Cundill longlist, shortlist, and finalist list since its inception in 2008, with Mary Fulbrook’s Reckonings a runner-up in 2019, and Susan Pedersen’s The Guardians triumphing in 2015. Camilla Townsend’s work is truly inspiring, showing the value of thoroughly-researched and thought-provoking history, and how it chimes with readers today.

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