Book Prize Winners 2020

The Social History Society’s Book Prize recognises innovative scholarship the fields of social and cultural history. Each autumn we look for the best original work of historical research published by an established author in the preceding calendar year. This year’s prize recognises books published in 2018.

Our judging committee was chaired by Professor Pat Thane (our Honorary President) and included Professor Penny Summerfield (our honorary vice-president), Professor Phillipp Schofield and Professor Sasha Handley (the inaugural prize winner in 2018).

The winner of the 2020 Social History Society Book Prize is:

Khaled Fahmy, In Quest of Justice. Islamic Law and Forensic Medicine in Modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2018)

The book focuses on the place of forensic medicine, and specifically autopsy, in the modernisation of Egypt. It challenges the belief that changes were due to European influence. Instead, it traces developments in forensic medicine to Egyptian culture, Islamic law, Ottoman politics – and the ways in which ordinary Egyptians employed medical practices to insist on justice, for example in cases of murder, when they believed autopsy would be helpful.

In a strong field of contenders, our judges expressed a true sense of admiration for Fahmy’s book, commenting on its rich source-base, and the engaging depiction of both major historical processes and the experiences of ordinary people. They agreed that ‘any reader would learn a lot from this book.’

Professor Khaled Fahmy, on accepting the prize, said:

It is a great pleasure for me to see that the Social History Society has awarded my book, In Quest of Justice, its book prize. I am deeply honoured.”

His full interview with Professor Naomi Tadmor (chair of the Social History Society) is available here.

The runner-up is:

Ian Forrest, Trustworthy Men: How Inequality and Faith made the Medieval Church (Princeton University Press, 2018)

The book provides a ‘new institutional history’ of the Medieval Church, bringing together the ecclesiastics and social history of the period. It combines a wide range of approaches and lenses to address the nature of trust and inequality. In doing so, Forrest disrupts “complacent assumptions about ‘modernity’” as being wholly different from the histories of earlier societies.

Our judges described Trustworthy Men as an informed, impressive and energetic book that will be of interest to historians of all periods.

Intrigued? Professor Forrest has written a blog about the book for our Research Exchange that provides an overview of his approach.

He told us:

I’m delighted that the judges felt the book succeeded in reaching the wider historical audience I was aiming for. To write a social history of trust in the middle ages, I decided that it also had to be a religious, economic and gender history, and it had to consider what trust really was.”