ACU historian wins NSW Premier’s History Award

The Warrior, the Voyager and the Artist bookACU historian Professor Kate Fullagar has won the NSW Premier’s History Award for her book The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire.

Professor Fullagar, who joined the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences this year, received the award for a book the judges described as “a master work of accessible erudition”.

The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist is a triple biography which tells the story of a Native American warrior, Ostenaco, a Pacific Islander voyager, Mai, and Sir Joseph Reynolds, the British artist who painted them both.

Reynolds’ portraits of Mai and Ostenaco were among the first images of Indigenous peoples that Europeans ever saw and a marked contrast from his better-known works, society portraits of the grand ladies of the British aristocracy.

The book, published by Yale University Press, explores how a Cherokee diplomat and a Ra’iatean exile came to be in London. The three interconnected 18th-century lives are a means to explore the British empire and its intrusion into Indigenous societies.

The NSW Premier’s History Award is a $15,000 prize for a major work of non-fiction, published in book or ebook form, on international history that is of national or international significance.

The judges’ citation for The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist reads:

The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist is a master work of accessible erudition. Voyaging across the intersecting worlds of the eighteenth century, Kate Fullagar achieves a triple balancing act. Her text invites us into the minds, rituals, societies and geographies of three figures united by art and empire. Through Fullagar’s fine prose, Cherokee diplomat Ostenaco, Ra’iatean exile Mai and British artist Joshua Reynolds develop both as individuals and as representatives of their rapidly transforming cultures.

“Reading both widely and deeply, Fullagar skilfully depicts the fuzzy complexities of three distinct nations. In presenting a trio of overlapping biographies, she also explores the intricacies of selfhood shaped by cultures and eras remote from our own. Framed by Reynolds’ portraits of Mai and Ostenaco, her analysis moves beyond binaries of power and resistance, and of centre and periphery. Rather, each actor is fully formed – and flawed – on their own terms.

“Every sentence of this book has been crafted with care. Its scholarship is worn lightly, and Fullagar’s insights are both enticing and exciting. To evoke one complex culture from the past so convincingly is a challenge; to bring three worlds alive with such flair is outstanding. The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist offers a model and an aspiration for the writers who will follow in her stead. As such, this global history deserves global recognition.” 

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