Goldsmiths’ history lecturer awarded Wolfson Prize

Alexander Watson received a Wolfson Prize this Thursday. Pic: Goldsmiths

Alexander Watson received a Wolfson Prize this Thursday. Pic: Goldsmiths

Goldsmiths history lecturer Alexander Watson has been honoured by the Wolfson Foundation for his book Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918.

“It is a great feeling. It is the most prestigious history prize in Britain and awarded by really important people,” he said  after receiving the prize of £25,000 at a ceremony on Thursday.

His approach – writing from the loser’s perspective about the First World War – won over the judges:

“The result is an enthralling, multi-layered account, which for many readers opens up wholly new perspectives on a period of modern history about which you might mistakenly think there was nothing new to write.” – Sir David Cannadine of the Wolfson Prize jury.

Watson gained insights into both German and Austro-Hungarian history by spending some time in those countries as well as in Poland.

“I wanted to see what those countries went through, what the people went through, how it changed their societies,” Watson said.

He came across atrocities on both sides, such as the British naval blockade that cut off the central powers from supply and the invasion of Belgium by Germany.

Violence and suffering through such events subsequently paved the way for Germany and Austria towards totalitarian dictatorship, the Second World War and finally the Holocaust, Watson explained. The war radicalised German society and German nationalism, as right-wingers developed the wish “not just to win, but to win totally and dominate Europe,” he added.

In Austria-Hungary, there was a shift in wartime towards racial hatred and anti-Semitism, which contributed to socio-political collapse. This race hatred would later clear the way for Nazism.

Watson’s book also outlines previously under-reported war crimes committed by the Germans in the East and massacres by Austria-Hungary in Ukraine and Serbia.

The author paid tribute to Goldsmiths for its support of his work.

Ring of Steel has already been awarded the 2014 Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History and the Society for Military History’s 2015 Distinguished Book Award. It was also named the Sunday Times 2014 History Book of the Year.

Leave a Reply