The Macmillan Center presented international book prizes to works by four Yale faculty members on topics as diverse as the use of idols in ancient Greece, the effect of urbanization in Vietnam, the impact of the Silk Road trade route, and the spread of Christianity in Scandinavia.
Valerie Hansen and Anders Winroth, both professors of history, were awarded the Gustav Ranis International Book Prize for best book — Hansen for “The Silk Road: A New History” (Oxford University Press, 2012), and Anders for “The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, and Missionaries in the Remaking of Northern Europe” (Yale University Press, 2012).
“The Silk Road” is a story of archeological discovery, cultural transmission, and the intricate chains across Central Asia and China. In it, Hansen describes the archeological finds that revolutionized understanding of these trade routes. Her work shows that silk was not the most important good on the road; paper had a bigger impact in Europe. Perhaps the most significant of all, notes Hansen, was the road’s transmission of ideas, technologies, and artistic motifs.
In “The Conversion of Scandinavia,” Winroth argues for a radically new interpretation of the conversion of Scandinavia from paganism to Christianity in the early Middle Ages. Overturning the received narrative of Europe’s military and religious conquest and colonization of the region, he contends that rather than acting as passive recipients, Scandinavians converted to Christianity because it was in individual chieftains’ political, economic, and cultural interests to do so. Through analysis and historical reconstruction of both archeological and literary sources, and drawing on scholarly work that has been unavailable in English, Winroth opens up new avenues for studying European ascendency and the expansion of Christianity in the medieval period.
Established in 2004 to recognize the legacy of two former directors of the MacMillan Center, the prizes are awarded for books on international topics written by current members of the Yale faculty. Award recipients receive a research appointment at the MacMillan Center, and a $10,000 research award over two years.