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01 November 2019

The British Academy names 'A Fistful of Shells' winner of 2019 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize

Previously shortlisted, Dr Toby Green is awarded the prestigious £25,000 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding for his book 'A Fistful of Shells' by the British Academy.

Image: Dr Toby Green

Congratulations to historian, Dr Toby Green who was announced as the winner of the British Academy's 2019 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding for his book, 'A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the rise of the slave trade to the age of revolution'.

The announcement was made at a British Academy ceremony in London, where Dr Green was announced as the winner of the £25,000 prize, which since 2013 is awarded annually to a non-fiction book. The prize celebrates books which illuminate the interconnections between distinct cultures.

In his critically acclaimed book, Dr Green changes readers view of West and West- Central Africa by reconstructing the world of these kingdoms which revolve around trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, and the production of art. The book draws on many years of research across nine countries shedding light on pre-colonial Africa and bringing into focus the regions central place in shaping the modern Western world.


A Fistful of Shells is a treasure trove of a book. Truly ground-breaking, it draws on years of work to tell another story of pre-colonial West Africa, a continually ignored continent. It changed the way in which the jury thought about Africa and helped us to better understand not just Africa but the way in which the world is changing right now. Finally, a detailed history that few westerners know but all ought to. Quite simply, an eye-opener.

Professor Ash Amin FBA, Juror (Source: The British Academy)

Dr Green was chosen from a shortlist of six writers, and prior to the award, his book on publication was simultaneously met with critical acclaim by critics David Olusoga in the New Statesman and Ben Okri in the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.


I am thrilled, and humbled, that A Fistful of Shells has been awarded this prize, so beautifully conceived by Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan. Beyond any personal feelings of mine, however, the award is testament to the work done by the British Academy in Africa, and to the significance of the history of Africa in the past, the present and the future.

Dr Toby Green, Senior Lecturer in Lusophone African History and Culture at King's

Dr Green joined King's College London in 2010 as Senior Lecturer in Lusophone African History and Culture in the Departments of History and SPLAS. He previously held fellowships from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, and in 2015 he was the recipient of a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award. He has worked widely with academics, musicians and writers across Africa, organising events in collaboration with institutions in Angola, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. He has written several highly influential books, some of which have been translated into twelve languages.

(Aug 2022 - The Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies is now the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures).

I’m absolutely delighted with the news that Toby Green’s exciting, innovative research on the history of west Africa has been recognised by the award of the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. This is a marvellous achievement and very well deserved.

Professor Abigail Woods, Head of Department of History

A Fistful of Shells is available to purchase online at Penguin Books. For further information about the prize, please see the official announcement by the British Academy.

A Fistful of Shells book cover

In this story

Toby Green

Professor of Precolonial and Lusophone African History and Culture