John R. McNeill

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the 2018 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History to John R. McNeill, Professor of History at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. (USA).

Storyteller and investigator of unparalleled vision

John R. McNeill is receiving 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.

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