Prize Writers


Robert Bickers, who wrote for History Today in August on the subject of the British and the Boxers, has just been awarded an imaginative new prize for a book proposal on Maurice Tinkler, a Lancashire man who joined the Shanghai Municipal Police and was killed by Japanese soldiers in 1939.

The prize is awarded jointly by the Institute of Historical Research and Weidenfeld & Nicolson Publishers, and consists of a publishing contract worth 10,000 [pounds sterling]. The idea is to encourage young professional historians to write their first book for a general readership. Entrants were required to submit a synopsis for the book, which had to be an original account of some aspect of history, and a sample chapter from it. The judges, who included David Cannadine, Roy Porter, Lady Antonia Fraser and Toby Mundy, editorial director of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, described Dr Bickers's potential as `brilliant'.

Dr Bickers describes his planned book, to be entitled Empire Made Me, as `the biography of a nobody'. `Tinkler was an ordinary man living at the centre of events in the extraordinary twentieth century,' he explains. `This is partly the history of a wayward policeman, but it is primarily the history of a man constructing his life in the world created by empire, a life with great resonance for the present. The book looks at Tinkler, the Shanghai detective, and Tinkler the man, strutting the lobbies of Shanghai hotels, feasting himself on the opportunities of empire, it looks at how empire made him, and how men like him made empire. We have no end of biographies of senior or prominent colonial figures, and studies and nostalgic celebrations of colonial lives. Sometimes in passing they turn their attention to the Other Ranks and to `poor whites'. We have few studies of the British or any other nation's `servants of empire', and fewer still which are as detailed as this and which place at their centre such usually anonymous figures.'

Meanwhile, the Royal Historical Society has also announced its prizes for books published in 1999.

The entry for the Whittield Prize -- for an author's first book on an original topic of British history -- was very strong, and the final decision was between two outstanding studies in early modern social history, providing models of local history, the use of a sense of place in order to address large questions of social change. Eventually the 1,000 [pounds sterling] prize went to John Walter for his Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers (Cambridge UP). …

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