The Holberg Prize 2019

Professor Paul Gilroy named Laureate

The Holberg Prize 2019, presented each year by the government of Norway, is awarded to the British scholar Paul Gilroy for his research contributions to cultural studies, critical race studies, literary studies and related fields.

Photo: Vron Ware

Photo: Vron Ware

Professor Gilroy receives the Holberg Prize for his substantial contributions to cultural studies, critical race studies, sociology, history, anthropology and African-American studies. The British cultural historian and postcolonial scholar will receive an award of 6,000,000 Norwegian kroner (GBP 530,000) during a formal ceremony at the University of Bergen, Norway on 5 June 2019.

“Paul Gilroy is one of the most challenging and inventive figures in contemporary scholarship. His work has influenced, and, in some cases, reshaped several fields and sub-fields, including cultural studies, critical race studies, sociology, history, anthropology and African-American studies. He is a preeminent scholar of modernity’s counter history as well as the relationship of modernity, overdevelopment and underdevelopment in the black Atlantic world. Gilroy’s scholarship continues to set the terms for investigation and study, not only in these areas, but also the role of racial and ethnic hierarchies in the production of colonialism and nations; the diasporic relations of exchange and circulation, he social formations they produce and the cultures they generate. Gilroy established himself as a major intellectual figure with his study of cultures of racism in Britain: There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack (1987). This has become a classic text delineating the convoluting workings of racism as well as the vitality of cultures of anti-racism.” – Dame Hazel Genn, Holberg Committee Chair

Professor Gilroy has been among the most frequently cited black scholars in the humanities and social sciences. As a scholar and political advocate, his work focuses on opposing all forms of racism and ethnic absolutism. A sensitive interpreter of black aesthetics, he has contributed largely to the emergence of black artists, writers and intellectuals.

Responding to the key purpose of his work, Gilroy notes: “My research responds to the deficit of imagination that denies all human beings the same degree of humanity. I have focused on the infrahuman presence that results from the invocation of racial difference and tried to re-write humanism by stretching it to more accommodating moral and political dimensions.”

“For me,” Gilroy adds, “a critique of racism and race-thinking provides a route into clearer, deeper understanding of humankind and its contested nature.”

Professor Gilroy has published a number of highly influential works, including There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack (1987), The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), Against Race (2000), After Empire (2005) and The Black Atlantic in Darker than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (2010). Alongside these, Gilroy has co-authored three books and written numerous scholarly articles and essays.

Paul Gilroy joined the Department of English at King’s College London in September 2012 having previously worked at the London School of Economics, Yale University and Goldsmith’s College, University of London. Commenting on his Holberg Prize win, Janet Floyd, Professor of American Literature & Culture and Head of the Department of English, said: “We are very proud to have Paul Gilroy as a colleague in the English Department and we consider it a privilege to work with him. He has our warmest congratulations on this prize.”

Marion Thain, a fellow professor with the King’s Department of English and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, also complimented the 2019 Holberg Laureate: “Many congratulations to Professor Gilroy on this prestigious and richly deserved award,” she said. “Paul’s celebrated and highly influential body of work has had an indelible impact on his field, and we are delighted to have him as a colleague here at the Faculty of Arts & Humanities.”

Alongside his academic work, Gilroy was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of London by Goldsmith’s College, the University of Liège, and the University of Sussex. He has also worked as a curator, journalist, researcher and musician.


Paul Gilroy was born within the sound of East London’s Bow Bells. After studying at Sussex University he completed his doctoral research at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies under the supervision of Stuart Hall and Richard Johnson. Gilroy has held professorships in several disciplines at Goldsmiths, Yale and the London School of Economics among other institutions. His writing on politics, culture, art and music has been widely translated. At present, he teaches in the Literature department of King’s College London. He is a fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary doctorates from Goldsmiths College, and the Universities of Liege and Sussex.


Established by the Norwegian Parliament in 2003, the Holberg Prize is one of the largest annual international research prizes awarded to scholars who have made outstanding contributions to research in the arts and humanities, social science, law or theology. The Prize is funded by the Norwegian Government through a direct allocation from the Ministry of Education and Research to the University of Bergen. Previous Laureates include Julia Kristeva, Jürgen Habermas, Manuel Castells, Bruno Latour, Onora O’Neill and Cass Sunstein.



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