Nanovic Institute awards the Laura Shannon Prize to International Acclaim

The Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies

February 19, 2016


The Nanovic Institute for European Studies awarded the 2016 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies to Mark Thompson for his book, Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kiš, published by Cornell University Press.  Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, described the $10,000 Laura Shannon Prize as “a major landmark in the world of humanities research and publishing” in the Anglophone world. The Nanovic Institute awards the prize annually to the author of the best book in European studies that transcends a focus on any one country, state, or people to stimulate new ways of thinking about contemporary Europe as a whole, recognizing alternately books in the humanities and in history & social sciences.  

This cycle considered books in the humanities published in 2013 and 2014.  A. James McAdams, director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, praised Thompson’s winning book as “an extraordinarily imaginative book that shows us how biography can provide a lens into understanding major historical crises.”  

The Laura Shannon Prize is also notable for attracting stellar jurors annually, a majority of whom are external to Notre Dame.  Sir Clark noted that the Nanovic Institute “recruits its Laura Shannon Prize jurors from among the leading authorities in this field worldwide—the list of current and former jurors is extraordinarily impressive.”  The members of the final jury for this year were as follows:  

  • Karl Ameriks, McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame;
  • John Hare, Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology, Yale Divinity School;
  • Anne Lake Prescott, Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English Emerita, Barnard College, Columbia University;
  • Ingrid Rowland, Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame; and
  • Roger Scruton, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

 The jury commended Thompson’s book, stating: 

Mark Thompson’s Birth Certificate is an eloquent biography of a major Yugoslav writer too little-known in the Anglophone world.  Impressive, eccentric, at times controversial, Danilo Kiš (1935-1989) belonged to many cultures and traditions. He is best-known for his playfulness with literary form.  Thompson traces his career with an eye toward Kiš’s literary significance. What is remarkable about this biography is how skillfully it relates literary significance to shifts in the history of central Europe. The biography is itself a formal tour de force, combining journal fragments, photographs, and interviews with Thompson’s own beautifully-written prose. Richly informative, Birth Certificate is brilliant case for Kiš’s importance in cultural history.  As Thompson concludes: “From Kosovo’s ethnic tyranny to Diderot’s enlightenment and beyond—to Joyce, Borges, and a reunited Europe—is almost too far to measure; but it is there, along that spectrum, that Kiš’s writing shines most brightly.” This book illuminates that brightness, and we hope that this imaginatively-printed volume will introduce more readers to this complex figure.

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson is Reader in Modern History at the University of East Anglia (U.K.).  His career has included positions with United Nations missions, with civil society organizations, and in journalism.  Thompson will accept the award and present a lecture in the fall semester of 2016 at the University of Notre Dame.  During the visit, he will engage in discussions with undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty members in a variety of departments. These visits are an essential part of the award, serving to introduce significant intellectuals to the campus community of scholars.  As Sir Clark has noted, “All book prizes are important, but the Laura Shannon Prize stands out in several ways. . . In particular, the link to the Nanovic Institute connects it with one of the foremost centres for European Studies research in the Anglophone world.”

In its sixth year, the Laura Shannon Prize has rapidly gained recognition and significance.  Shortly after winning the Shannon Prize, its second winner, Tara Zahra, went on to receive the “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation.  At the time of her Shannon Prize award, she noted that “I was not only thrilled and incredibly honored to receive this Prize from a jury of my colleagues, but the prize has made it possible for me to begin new research on the history of European migration. In a moment when there is less and less support and recognition for research in the humanities and social sciences, and in which scholars of Europe are increasingly attempting to transcend the frontiers of nation-states in their work, this is one of the most meaningful awards possible.”

Laura Shannon and Tara Zahra
Laura Shannon with Tara Zahra

The Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies is made possible through a generous endowment from Michael (’58) and Laura Shannon of Houston, Texas.  Mike serves on Notre Dame’s Advisory Council for Graduate Studies and Research and Laura serves on the Nanovic Institute’s Advisory Board.  

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame is committed to enriching the intellectual culture of Notre Dame by creating an integrated, interdisciplinary home for students and faculty to explore the evolving ideas, cultures, beliefs, and institutions that shape Europe today.  For additional information about the Nanovic Institute and the Laura Shannon Prize, please see  

Contact: Monica Caro, 574-631-3547,