Winners Announced for Dan David Prize, a Mac Arthur-Style Grant for HistoriansHistorians in the News
tags: grants, prizes, awards
Natalia Romik had just returned to Warsaw from a five-week research trip through Kyiv’s sewers and caves, where she studies Jewish hiding places during the Holocaust, when she learned she had won the Dan David Prize. Now, a few weeks later, she’s doing everything she can to help the Ukrainian refugees flooding into Poland after Russia’s invasion.
“It’s a shadow on such a joyful moment,” she said.
Kimberly Welch was home with a breakthrough case of covid-19 when she learned that she, too, was a recipient, for her work unearthing lawsuits from free and enslaved African Americans in the antebellum South.
“It felt like getting hit by lightning,” Welch said.
Romik and Welch are two of the first nine winners of the reimagined Dan David Prize, which aims to be a MacArthur-style “genius grant” for early and midcareer researchers and artists studying the human past.
The prize is big — each winner will receive $300,000 — and broad. Although recipients must agree to spend the money for purposes that will help them continue their work, if that means using funds to pay rent or student loans, that is perfectly fine, said Ariel David, the son of the prize’s namesake and the leader of its redesign.
Dan David was a Romanian Jewish immigrant to Israel who made a fortune on photo booths all over the world. When he started the prize in 2001, there were three winners per year, but each year focused on a different discipline; in 2021, the focus was on public health, and one of the winners was Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
David died in 2011, and his son took over the foundation that awards the prize. Over time, it became more of a “lifetime achievement award,” Ariel David told The Washington Post. Plus, “I felt that the prize could use more focus in a sense that, with it changing fields every year, it took out the focus and identity and impact of the prize.”
So, he said, he sat with members of the prize’s board and started brainstorming. What would the new focus be? What would have the most impact?
They zeroed in on history for many reasons, David said. For one, his father loved the subject. The field also is under threat. He pointed to British universities shutting down entire history departments and to a 2018 American Historical Association study showing that since the economic downturn in 2008, the number of history majors at U.S. colleges has dropped by a third, more than any other major.