- Two Africans stood out in the 2023 Dan David Prize – Saheed Aderinto and Chao Tayiana Maina.
- Both scholars have done significant and recognition-worthy works in the discipline of history.
- Each of them is to receive a financial reward of $300,000.
Nigeria’s Saheed Aderinto and Kenya’s Chao Tayiana Maina have earned additional labels that consolidate their achievements; both the Nigerian professor of History and African Diaspora Studies and the founder of the African Digital Heritage, this February, won foremost global award that distinguishes and supports outstanding contributions to the study of history and other disciplines that shed light on the human past, a recognition considered the biggest history prize in the world – the Dan David Prize.
Aderinto, 44-year-old professor of History and African Diaspora Studies at the Florida International University, and Maina, emerged as two from the nine winners announced on the 28th of February as recipients of $300,000 each, for their respective contributions to history research and to support their future works in the discipline. The Prize, described by The Washington Post as “the new MacArthur-style ‘genius grant’ for history”, and its financial attachment, which is an integral part of it, sits huge as the biggest history prize in the world.
Maina, a Kenyan historian and digital humanities scholar working at connecting culture and technology, focuses her work principally on using technology to preserve, engage, and disseminate African heritage.
Professor Ariel Porat, President of the Tel Aviv University, and Chairman of the Dan David Prize Board, while announcing the winners, said “the nine recipients exemplify outstanding research in history and related fields. They were chosen by a committee of international experts, following an open nomination process. Their scholarship reflects the interests of Dan David, the founder of the prize who was a businessman with a passion for archaeology and history.”
Porat clarified that the prize had since 2022 focused exclusively on history in its many facets. He continued, “giving this annual prize provides the opportunity to celebrate the exceptional work of scholars and practitioners who surprise us with insights into people, places and ideas that might otherwise remain forgotten or misunderstood.”
About the winners, Porat held that “they are scholars and practitioners who have the potential to reshape their fields in the future, and it is our hope that this prize will assist them to do so.”
The selection board applauded the winners’ 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.”
Aderinto took his celebration to facebook, he wrote: “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.”
On the award he wrote: “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.”
It “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.”
He went ahead to admonish younger folks, he penned: “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 depreciables like cars, owambe, clothes, and phones, than on appreciables 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 (meaning ‘don’t relent, I am with you’ in Yoruba language) —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”.
Aderinto, born in Ibadan in 1979, received his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Ibadan in 2004 and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Austin in 2010. Later that year his teaching career took off at Western Carolina University where he became a full Professor of History in 2021. In 2022, he moved to Florida International University.
The professor has published 8 books, 41 encyclopedia articles, 37 journal articles and book chapters, and 21 book reviews. His new book ‘Animality and Colonial Subjecthood in Africa’ inspects the roles of animals in Nigerian history. Also, he is currently writing a book as well as creating a documentary on Fuji music.
Aderinto is also the founding president of the Lagos Studies Association and a senior research fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa.
Chao Tayiana Maina holds an MSc in International Heritage Visualisation and a BSc in Mathematics and Computer Science. Her research work explored the possibilities of implanting intangible histories in 3D digital environments. She is widely acknowledged for her bright work in documenting Kenyan history in innovative ways.
Maina, also the co-founder of Museum of British Colonialism and Open Restitution Africa project, and she specializes in using digital technologies to study unseen historical narratives with the intent to make them reachable to broader audiences. Her work centers on supporting African and Afro-diaspora communities to regain their identities and cultural heritage.
She is renowned for successfully upholding collaborative and interactive histories, where communities are invited to join the process of historical examination and findings.
The two awardees have since been collecting congratulations from different quarters.