Margaret MacMillan, professor of history at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, this week became the first woman to win the UK's biggest non-fiction award, the £30,000 Samuel Johnson prize. Her study Peacemakers : The Paris Conference of 1919 has been hailed by critics as "splendidly revisionist and daringly politically incorrect".
Professor MacMillan argues that the 1919 conference - which agreed the Treaty of Versailles - cannot be blamed for causing the second world war. When the war came in 1939, she says, it was the result of 20 years of decisions taken or not taken. Peacemakers argues that Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George have been unfairly treated. Professor MacMillan believes that German fiscal policy was more to blame for the country's financial downturn and that the conference, when world leaders met from January to June, was an unprecedented diplomatic event.
Professor MacMillan told The THES : "The more I read about it, the more I wondered if anyone else would have done a better job. Can you imagine today the US president going to Europe for six months?"
Her book was praised by the prize jury for bringing to life the many issue-laden characters meeting in Paris at the time.
Co-editor of the Canadian-based International Journal and, for years, teacher of history at Ryerson, the Canadian author's name barely registered before winning the prize this week. Now she's being profiled in this weekend's Sunday Times . On July 1, she will be installed as provost of the University of Toronto's Trinity College.
Professor MacMillan said she has been enjoying the Andy Warhol-ness of leaping from unknown academic to prizewinning party attraction, discussing political history over a glass of champagne. She said: "It will last for 15 minutes, but it's rather nice for the moment."