The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History 2018 to John R. McNeill, Professor of History at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. (USA).
Storyteller and investigator of unparalleled vision
John R. McNeill received the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History for his important work in integrating two recent branches of the study of history: global history and environmental history.
John McNeill is best known for his book Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (2000), in which he tells the story of human activity during the previous century and its impact on the Earth. He describes how economic, demographic, social and technological changes influenced every aspect of the Earth’s environment; conversely, he shows how the natural environment has often had a dramatic impact on the course of human history. In McNeill’s view, however, the changes that took place in the 20th century were on an unprecedented scale.
As he often does, McNeill drew inspiration from many different disciplines, including the natural sciences, earth science, the technical sciences, archaeology and agricultural science. In doing so, he helped to integrate two recent branches of the study of history: global history and environmental history.
His work is exceptional for the apparent ease with which he weaves centuries, continents, cultures, scientific disciplines and languages into a single narrative, and for his unparalleled ability to draw from sources in all these fields.
Thanks to his unique perspective, fellow historians have new questions to investigate. His lucid, precise, sparkling writing style, humorous and erudite, has enchanted scores of readers.
John R. McNeill was born in Chicago (IL, USA) in 1954. After receiving his Bachelor’s from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore (PA, USA) and spending a year teaching Geography and Economics in Athens (Greece), he completed his Master’s in History at Duke University in Durham (NC, USA). He earned his PhD at the same university in 1981 for his study of the relationship between the French and Spanish empires and their Atlantic colonies in the 18th century.
McNeill became a member of the History faculty at Georgetown University in Washington DC (USA) in 1985. Since 1985, he has also taught at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, a centre for research and teaching on global affairs.
He became a professor at Georgetown University in 1993. Furthermore he had visiting appointments in New Zealand, Paris and Oslo. As an historian, he serves on various environmental boards and committees.
NcNeill is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received numerous honours and awards, including two Fulbrights, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Toynbee Prize and the World History Association’s Pioneer of World History Award.