Yes! I just won the largest history prize in the world. It’s $300,000. For me, alone. One lump sum. 220 million, in Nigerian currency. I have just received the highest financial reward for excellence in the historical discipline, on planet earth. It’s a Prize, not a grant. I don’t think there is any history prize worth $100,000 in cash—much less $300,000. While 300k is a lot of money in any strong global currency, the true value of the Dan David Prize is not the cash per se but what it would help me do for my students and mentees, institutions, global infrastructure of knowledge, and communities of practice. Hence, the award is about my scholarly achievement as much as about the people, institutions, and communities I represent.
Fifteen minutes ago, the Dan David Foundation announced the nine recipients of the 2023 Dan David Prize. Each of the nine winners, including Ìṣọ̀lá Ojúrábẹmásàá, will receive $300,000. Total $ 2.7 million for nine outstanding historians, across the globe. The Washington Post described the Dan David Prize as “the new MacArthur-style ‘genius grant’ for history.” Selection is by nomination. Awards ceremony will hold in Israel in May.
The Dan David Prize “recognizes outstanding scholarship that illuminates the past and seeks to anchor public discourse in a deeper understanding of history.” Recipients must be engaged in “outstanding and original work related to the study of the human past, employing any chronological, geographical and methodological focus.” They “should exhibit strong potential for future excellence, innovation and leadership that will help shape the study of the past for years to come.” While the Prize winners “must have completed at least one major project, the prize is not given for that project, but rather in recognition of the winner’s overall achievements as well as their potential for future excellence.”
The selection committee lauded my work “for situating African history at the cutting edge of diverse literatures in the history of sexuality, nonhumans, and violence, noting that it is exceptional to see a single person leading scholarship in all of these fields.”
The Dan David Prize was founded in 2000 with an endowment by Romanian-born Israeli businessman and philanthropist Dan David. Between 2001 and 2021, it awarded $1 million, each, to three very senior extraordinary humans in science, medicine, public health, politics, economics, art, and literature. Past recipients include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the public face of the US fight against COVID-19, former American Vice-President Al Gore, and MIT economics professor and Nobel Prize Winner Esther Duflo, among others. In 2022, the Dan David Prize was redesigned to become the largest history prize on earth to recognize nine exceptional historians with $300,000, each. $ 2.7 million in total. Recipients’ Ph.D. mustn’t be older than 15 years. I received my Ph.D. 13 years ago. I’m among the second cohort of the new history-focused Dan David Prize.
To all young and up-and-coming people out there—how hard are you working towards extraordinary rewards that don’t exist today, but will emerge tomorrow? Do you spend more on depreciable like cars, owambe, clothes, and phones, than on appreciable like knowledge, technology, skills, or a living condition that would enhance your creativity, increase your productivity, and strengthen your problem-solving abilities?
Are you seeking selfless mentors/sponsors who would help you get off the ground so you can fly beyond limits—with your own wings, on your own terms, at your own pace? Are you investing selflessly in your subordinates? Do you believe in and work for a cause that is bigger than you and your name, and that places people and institutions at the center of collective growth, shared honor, and democratized progress? Are you real to yourself, people, and circumstances? Are you building sustainable personal and professional relationships across gender and sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ideology, race, ethnicity, generation, e.t.c.? Are you learning the art of leadership within your community, profession, or network?
How strong is your faith in God or whatever you believe in? Do you have the discipline to wait, and wait, and wait—while also maintaining consistently high productivity—until your labor and investment begin to yield the best results? Do you believe in an instant or delayed gratification? How intentional, audacious, conscientious, and gritty are you? Do you have friends, colleagues, and family who would say—Mafo, mo wa pelu e—even at the peak of your failures and vulnerabilities? If you have honest and self-reflective responses to these questions, then you can achieve something bigger than the largest history prize on planet earth.
On Friday January 27—three days after I wrote a short appreciation note on my 44th birthday and admonished all of us to individualize or self-define our happiness and what constitutes success, and a week after I wrote another note about the need for every generation to define its own normal or regular—I received a call that I have won the $300,000 Dan David Prize. It was around 12:55PM. I was grading students’ assignments from my undergraduate African history class. I was told to keep the news to myself and my family until February 28 when the award would be officially announced. I lost my breath throughout the five-minute call. After hanging up, I screamed, severely. $300k wetin? Shey u dey whine me ni? Aje, they didn’t whine me. It’s real. As in, for real, real!
The entire house couldn’t contain me after the call. I wandered, aimlessly, around the neighborhood and received some understandably unpleasant stares from passersby. By 8:00 pm, I retired home to the backyard, this time, calming down. While blasting Sikiru Ayinde Barrister’s “Maturity”—a 1987 album that celebrates Agbajelola’s rise to true artistic stardom—it dawned on me that I have achieved something incredible. I made a writer’s meaning out of the first verse of the song, and adapted it to the long list of my nicknames. Itandola captured the rare moment in the life of his father and family in a 21-second video. I sent the video to a few friends and mentees, with a short note: “Save this video. E get why.” Some of them pressured to know why. Because I try to be fair to all my mentees since I don’t know which of them would buy me amala when they all become successful, I refused to say anything to anyone of them about the prize. I mustn’t spill the beans. And I didn’t—for 31 days!
O ṣe é Ọlọ́run, O ò bojú mi jẹ́
Yours Sincerely in History,