UNSW Sydney historian is named 2021 Dan David Prize Laureate

16 Feb 2021
Dan David Prize Laureate

ARC Laureate Professor of History Alison Bashford has been recognised for her wide-ranging work that goes beyond national borders.

Professor Alison Bashford, Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate and Director of the Laureate Centre for History & Population at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture, has been awarded a 2021 Dan David Prize. She joins pre-eminent academics Professor Katharine Park (Harvard University) and Professor Keith Wailoo (Princeton University) in the History of Health and Medicine (Past) category.

Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has received the Public Health (Present) prize, and pioneers of an anti-cancer immunotherapy Professor Zelig Eshhar (Weizmann Institute of Science and the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center), Professor Carl June (University of Pennsylvania) and Dr Steven Rosenberg (National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland) are named laureates in the Molecular Medicine (Future) category.

The internationally renowned Dan David Prize, headquartered at Tel Aviv University, annually awards three prizes of $US1 million each to globally inspiring individuals and organisations, honouring outstanding contributions that expand knowledge of the past, enrich society in the present, and promise to improve the future of our world. The total purse of $US3 million makes this prestigious prize also one of the highest valued awards internationally.

“I never imagined that historical work I pursued decades ago on the global management of infectious disease would be playing out before us with such force,” Professor Bashford said. “I always thought that quarantine, isolation, masks and ‘plague ships’ would remain part of our collective past, not our global present. But this is all a reminder of how history is part of our present, in all matters.

“I’m grateful that the Dan David Board recognises, each year, the significance of analysis of the human past, and honoured to be this year’s Laureate.”

In their announcement, the prize committee commended Professor Bashford “for her wide-ranging historical work that goes beyond national borders, demonstrating the global interconnectedness of medicine and public health in the modern world, bringing our attention to the Global South; and for spearheading collaboration with anthropologists and sociologists at times of global pandemic threat, resulting in a deeper understanding of medico-legal disease control policies and practices.”

A world leader and an agenda-setter in the history of health and medicine, Professor Bashford’s work is unusually expansive across geographies, topics and periods. As one of the earliest analysts of the relationship between public health, disease control and race, she galvanised historians of health and medicine worldwide around the question of quarantine and medico-legal border control. When the biosecurity threats of SARS, anthrax and avian influenza amplified political insecurity in the early 2000s, she quickly convened scholars from diverse fields, curating and editing three books that have expanded our understanding of that complex global moment. One of them constitutes a major resource for understanding the current global pandemic.

Ariel David, director of the Dan David Foundation and son of the prize founder, said, “During the past year, we sought to address the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We chose to do so while staying true to the broad and diverse approach that distinguishes the prize, recognising achievements in a wide variety of fields that deal with issues of health, medicine and epidemiology.

“Our laureates for this year have probed how humanity has dealt with sickness and pandemics throughout history; they have provided relief, guidance and leadership in dealing with current outbreaks – from AIDS to Ebola and the Novel Coronavirus – and they are at the forefront of discovering new treatments that give us hope for the future in the ongoing battle against cancer and other diseases.”

Previous Dan David Prize laureates include cellist Yo-Yo Ma (2006); former US Vice President Al Gore (2008); novelist Margaret Atwood (2010); filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen (2011); distinguished economist and recent Nobel Laureate Esther Duflo (2013); and artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist and entrepreneur Dr Demis Hassabis (2020).