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Kluge Chair Ken Pomeranz Wins 2021 Toynbee Prize

The John W. Kluge Center extends its congratulations to Kenneth Pomeranz for winning the 2021 Toynbee Prize. The Toynbee Prize is awarded biennially by the Toynbee Prize Foundation “for work that makes a significant contribution to the study of global history.” Pomeranz joins a distinguished recent Toynbee Prize recipients that include Lauren Benton, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Christopher Bayly, Michael Adas, and Jürgen Osterhammel.

Pomeranz is a University Professor of History at the University of Chicago. His work focuses on China, and on comparative and world history. He has researched and written about social, economic, and environmental history, as well as state formation, imperialism, religion, gender, and other topics. As the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North, Dr. Pomeranz worked on a book titled “Why is China So Big?” earlier this year. He shared some of his expertise on the Kluge Center’s blog recently, in an interview on early economy of China.

Pomeranz shared his thoughts about winning the prize with the Kluge Center:


It’s a wonderful surprise – who wouldn’t be honored to join the names on the list of previous Toynbee Prize winners? And I’m very grateful.

I think historians always write as part of a conversation, or really a bunch of conversations: with the people who emerge, however imperfectly, from the sources we read; with earlier scholars, who answered some questions and left others unanswered, or even unasked, or who answered in ways that don’t convince us; and  with all sorts of people in the world around us, whom we might think are taking X, Y, or Z as ‘natural,’ or ‘inevitable,’ when it isn’t, or who have questions about the present that you suspect would look different if you traced them back into the past.

Trying to write history on a large scale means engaging in a lot of those conversations at once, and connecting them to each other without drowning any of them out – which is a challenge I love.

Because the people in those different dialogues come in with different ideas, and different rules of engagement, we rarely get to a level of certainty that almost everyone accepts. But we often can get broad agreement that some answers are better than others – including some answers that we wouldn’t have suspected before.

Showing that research and reasoning will get us somewhere – that there are statements about big issues that may not be as certain as the Pythagorean theorem, but are a long, long way from “that’s just a matter of opinion” – seems to be something we have to prove to ourselves over and over, and being part of that effort is a privilege that I hope I’m putting to good use. It’s how I felt about my time as Kluge Chair as well – it’s the same project, and it’s a never-ending one. If people think I’ve been making some of these discussions better, that’s great.

Data and Surveillance in China and the United States

Aynne Kokas is a Kluge Fellow and an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Dr. Kokas testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2018, and was scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Chinese censorship of American industry on March 26. That testimony has […]

What Americans Don’t Get About Our Relationship with China and the European Union

In February, Carla Freeman, the Library of Congress Chair in US-China Relations as well as Director of the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University, participated in a conference in Madrid, Spain, looking at the relationship and power dynamics between China, the United States, and the European Union. This conference took place before COVID-19 was […]

Ivan Krastev Wins Two Prestigious Prizes

The John W. Kluge Center congratulates recent Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations Ivan Krastev on winning the prestigious 30th Annual Lionel Gelber Prize for his book The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy, co-authored with Stephen Holmes. The Gelber Prize is awarded for the year’s best […]

The Entanglement of Power, Security, and Energy Supply – Part Two

I talked with Kluge Fellow Gaetano Di Tommaso about his research project, “Petro-Modernity and Statecraft: The U.S. Energy-National Security Nexus Reconsidered (1890s-1920s).” Before coming to the Kluge Center, Tano, as we call him here, was a Teaching Fellow at Sciences Po-Paris (Reims campus), in France. This is part two of the two-part interview. Click here for part one. […]

The Entanglement of Power, Security, and Energy Supply

I talked with Kluge Fellow Gaetano Di Tommaso about his research project, “Petro-Modernity and Statecraft: The U.S. Energy-National Security Nexus Reconsidered (1890s-1920s).” Before coming to the Kluge Center, Tano, as we call him here, was a Teaching Fellow at Sciences Po-Paris (Reims campus), in France. Giselle: How did you become interested in U.S. history and […]

The Assyrians, Between the State and the Opposition

Alda Benjamen is a Kluge Fellow, and was most recently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. She studies the Modern Middle East and Iraqi history, focusing on minoritization and pluralism in bilingual communities, as well as identity, memory and cultural heritage, and women and gender issues. Her current project is titled Negotiating […]

Watch: Chair in US-Russia Relations Breaks Down Whether Sanctions on Russia are Working

In February, the John W. Kluge Center brought together experts on US-Russia relations to discuss the efficacy of the ongoing sanctions on Russia. Jim Goldgeier, the most recent Library of Congress Chair in US-Russia Relations, started off the talk by explaining the significance of the topic. “Given the role of Congress in this, and given […]