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William L. Mitchell Prize: Previous Recipients

Kelly Plante, PhD

The 2024 Mitchell Prize goes to Kelly Plante for her dissertation Death Writing: Gender and Necropolitics in the Atlantic World (1660–1840) (Wayne State University, 2023)
      Death Writing: Gender and Necropolitics in the Atlantic World (1660–1840) explores life writing through its underworld of “death writing” and analyzes the necropolitical function of death writing in colonial hagiography, travel writing, wampum belts, death notices, newsprint epitaphs, posthumous memoirs, book reviews, and collected works. Specifically, Plante argues that the newsprint obituary consolidated these forms’ functions into one genre to convey news of death with instant biography. Her work dives most deeply bibliographically into the Gentleman’s Magazine, where she examines the editors’ use of their own obituaries to create the dominant death-writing system of the Atlantic world; and the editors’ use of the first newsprint death notices of African individuals including Ignatius Sancho (1780) and Sara Baartman (1816) for their own agenda. Her final chapter culminates in a reading of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748) as a 1,500-page, Gentleman’s Magazine-influenced obituary. A series of tables and appendices visually depict editors’ developments through a timeline of Gentleman’s Magazine obituaries and page design and layout of select “Bills of Mortality” during key editorial transitions. Ultimately, Plante’s work shows how the obituary form as we know it today was pioneered by editor–printer–authors who marketed the loss of supposedly self-made men like them as “useful” and therefore highly grievable to build their highly sustainable brand with circulation, as Samuel Johnson puts it in his obituary of the magazine’s founding editor Edward Cave, “wherever the English language is spoken.”
      We are excited to be able to support the work of a young scholar producing such innovative and rigorous work on 18th-century periodicals. One member of the committee remarked, “I wish I had advised this dissertation,” which we all felt was the highest of praise!
Honorable Mention goes to Dr. Hazel Wilkinson, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer), Eighteenth-Century Literature, Department of English, University of Birmingham for her work ‘The Complete Spectator: A Bibliographical History’, which was published in Joseph Addison: Tercentenary Essays, ed. Paul Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)
      Wilkinson’s essay surveys every collected edition of the Spectator published in the first one hundred years after the periodical’s original publication, and the accompanying catalogue contains bibliographical descriptions, including collations, of seventy-nine editions, accounting for over 600 volumes. The essay situates the Spectator in the context of the historical development of scholarly editing, book illustration, and periodical culture. It aims also to function as a resource for future scholarship on the Spectator and the periodical more widely.
      The committee felt that it was essential to recognize Wilkinson’s rigorous bibliographical work, which will become an essential resource for anyone working on the Spectator, as well as periodicals and 18th-century literature more broadly. I know that it will deeply inform my work as a librarian and other committee members agreed that the book that includes this essay will be part of their reference shelves as well.

Megan Peiser, 2021

The 2021 Mitchell Prize was awarded to Dr. Megan Peiser (Oakland University) for her article in Romantic Textualities, “William Lane and the Minerva Press in the Review Periodical, 1790–1820.” Peiser’s article shows what periodical studies can do: it uses two lamentably understudied genres (the review and the Minerva output) and demonstrates that not only do both reward study, but they do so by illuminating new directions for each other.

The committee also recognized Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, the 1690s-1820sedited by Jennie Batchelor and Manushag Powell with an honorable mention.

Sharon M. Harris and Thomas Lockwood, 2009

At its January 2009 meeting, The Bibliographical Society of America awarded its third triennial William L. Mitchell Prize for Bibliography or Documentary Work on Early British Periodicals or Newspapers to Sharon M. Harris (English Department, University of Connecticut, Storrs) and to Thomas Lockwood (English Department, University of Washington, Seattle). The prize jury has agreed that Professors Harris and Lockwood have both entered excellent essays that deserve to share equally the award and divide the prize. Professor Harris’s essay “The New-York Magazine: Cultural Repository” appeared in Periodical Literature in Eighteenth-Century America, edited by Harris and Mark L. Kamrath (Knoxville:  University of Tennessee Press, 2005), 339-64, and Professor Lockwood’s essay “Did Fielding Write for The Craftsman?” was published in The Review of English Studies, n.s. 59 (April 2008), 86-117, with advanced electronic access offered March 2007 on the journal’s website.  The Mitchell Prize winners divide the cash award of $1000 and each will receive a year’s membership in the Society.

Professor Sharon Harris’s “The New-York Magazine: Cultural Repository” analyzes the broadly inclusive contents of the longest running monthly magazine in late eighteenth-century America, 1790-1797, complicating our “understanding of the magazine’s alliances as the political atmosphere of the country changed.” Harris demonstrates how publishers Thomas and James Swords, with a mixture of reprinted and especially original material from diverse fields for diverse readers, produced a “repository of useful knowledge” while promoting various republican virtues and progressive positions. The magazine’s defining “political and social commentaries” included an “emphasis on all things French and an early commitment to their revolution.”  Evidently in response to economic pressures (and events in France), The New-York Magazine muted its initial support for the French Revolution, also at first widely shared in New York, but the magazine remained consistently progressive on most other topics.  These included opposition to capital punishment and to the enslavement of African Americans as well as advocacy of education and civic involvement for women.  More specifically, Harris looks closely at women contributors to the magazine, like Margaretta V. Bleecker Faugeres, who aided the magazine’s efforts to publish “original American literature,” especially poetry.  Harris’s examination of the contents, contributors, readership, and editorial perspective of The New-York Magazine contributes to a general characterization of American periodicals of the 1790s and introduces the magazine to cultural, literary, and political historians.  Furthermore, Harris has advanced periodical research by co-editing with Mark Kamrath the volume in which her essay appears, containing, along with the editors’ introductions, twelve other essays exploring eighteenth-century American periodicals.

The judges commended Professor Harris for bringing into the spotlight this once important magazine, too little studied yet able to offer much for understanding the 1790s.  As one judge remarked, “The issues . . . [that The New-York Magazine] emphasizes should be of major interest to social and general historians of the period, and Harris discusses them with both thoroughness and objectivity. . . . Harris’s language is clear, her sources clearly identified, and her handling of the complex American responses to the revolution in France and its aftermath is both thorough and succinct.” Another judge pointed out that “For historians of print culture this essay is especially significant in that it sheds new light on a relatively little-known subject. Harris presents her insights, some of them quite complex, with clarity and flair–she is a most worthy addition to the distinguished list of Mitchell recipients.”

Professor Thomas Lockwood’s essay “Did Fielding Write for The Craftsman?” re-examines the case, largely based on stylistic features, that Martin Battestin made for attributing many essays in The Craftsman to Henry Fielding (in New Essays by Henry Fielding: His Contributions to the Craftsman [1989]). For Lockwood, Battestin’s attribution of the essays is too dependent on resemblances between language and style inThe Craftsman essays and Fielding’s practices elsewhere, failing to make the necessary additional arguments that Fielding’s contemporaries did not also employ the same language and style.  In addition, Lockwood makes a convincing case that “many, if not most,” of Battestin’s attributions to Fielding involve essays probably written by Nicholas Amhurst, the editor of The Craftsman and principal author of its lead essays.  In doing so, Lockwood argues not only from stylistic parallels in Amhurst but from explicit treatments of the same topics in other Amhurst publications, especially issues of The Craftsmanotherwise attributable to Amhurst.  Lockwood shows that Amhurst had the knowledge of the political issues and referenced publications and also the political inclination, two considerations not shown for Fielding.  Moreover, prior to making the case on the grounds of style and content, Lockwood reviews what is known about the authorship of essays inThe Craftsman, shedding light on the attributional code-letters used in later collected reprints of these periodical essays.  He notes that the letter “R” appears to refer to any contributor outside the editorial circle, that at least two distinct letters appear to refer to Amhurst, and that various two-letter combinations at least sometimes refer to Amhurst and another contributor in collaboration.  Lockwood demonstrates that Battestin’s attributions to Fielding contradict the identifications suggested or even indicated by these letters referring to contributors.  Furthermore, Lockwood’s remarks on the attribution symbols goes beyond de-attributing essays to Fielding and attributing some to Amhurst; he advances our general understanding of the periodical’s contributors and operations.

In one judge’s assessment, “Lockwood’s detailed analysis of each essay’s probable authorship and his careful use of biography and political history for Amhurst and Pulteney were well done and extremely interesting. It was a relief to read an attribution argument that involved so much nitty-gritty contemporary evidence presented in a lucid and original way.”  Another judge was impressed by Lockwood’s demonstration that “the idioms or verbal mannerisms that Battestin identifies in The Craftsman essays as distinguishing Fielding’s ‘music’ turn out to be merely Fielding’s employment of the shared idiom of contemporary discourse, for which Lockwood offers many examples.”  He also finds convincing Lockwood’s case that, “not only was Fielding totally involved in playwriting and the running of his theater at the time so that he wouldn’t have had time for writing these essays, but politics in general and the Opposition perspective in particular didn’t interest him.”  For this judge, “Lockwood’s essay exhibits the kind of scholarly integrity and courage that helps keep the profession honest.”

William E. Rivers, 2006

The Bibliographical Society of America has awarded the second triennial William L. Mitchell Prize for Bibliography or Documentary Work on Early British Periodicals or Newspapers to William E. Rivers (English Department, University of South Carolina). Professor Rivers won for his edition of Nicholas Amhurst’s Terrae-Filius or, The Secret History of the University of Oxford (1721-26), published by the University of Delaware Press in 2004.

Terrae-Filius was originally published in 50 bi-weekly folios during 1721. Amhurst covered the Oxford community with particular attention to political disputes and debates that reflect broad national issues. Amhurst re-edited and oversaw the periodical’s publication in a collected octavo edition in 1726 (it reprinted again that same year and posthumously in 1754). For the collected edition, Amhurst dropped three original essays, re-arranged the order of essays to unify similar subjects, altered numbers and dates to preserve chronology, added a preface and an entirely new essay (No. 50), and revised the substantives (such as by removing some criticism of King George I and his administration) and accidentals (such as by removing much capitalization).

Professor Rivers’ lengthy introduction provides a necessary introduction to the political context, without which a modern reader will fail to understand much within Terrae-Filius. In his introduction Rivers illuminates Amhurst’s recurrent themes, the university’s structure and academic life, social milieu, moral atmosphere, and political and religious activities. He also examines the evolution of the text, explaining his choice of the first collected edition as copy-text. His headnotes, footnotes, and appendices provide all that one might expect from a first-rate edition and more: emendations, a historical collation of variant readings in the text and mottos of the first three editions, the texts omitted from the collected edition, a table comparing the numbers and dates of the issues in original and collected editions, and a descriptive bibliography of the first four editions. Also included, with learned annotation, is Amhurst’s own original appendix, a long letter from Amhurst to the Reverend Dr. Newton, Principal of Hart-Hall, casting him as a wrong-headed reformer. The edition concludes with Amhurst’s own index and Rivers’ general index. The edition is handsomely printed by the University of Delaware Press, with a facsimile of the title-page to the collected edition and a cover illustration reproducing Hogarth’s frontispiece to the first collected edition; also, facsimile headpieces and other cut ornaments are reproduced from that edition.

The three senior scholars on the Selection Committee for the Mitchell Prize unanimously chose Professor Rivers’ edition of Amhurst periodical Terrae-Filius, or The Secret History of the University of Oxford. All considered Rivers’ subject important. The largely neglected Nicholas Amhurst would later edit one of the century’s most important and popular periodicals, The Craftsman. The Terrae-Filius is a valuable text for the study of Oxford and Whig-Jacobite conflicts that are a microcosm reflecting national tensions. One judge summed up this value succinctly: “The run of the periodical will continue to be mined not only for university history but also British political history.” For, as another judge remarked, “Not only does Rivers tackle the political and educational content and context of the journal in a careful introduction, but he highlights important aspects of Amhurst’s writing career as they relate to Terrae-Filius, and he sets out a clear bibliographical account of the periodical and its publishing history.” The prize jury credits Rivers with a mastery of the periodical itself and secondary publications on Amhurst, his periodical, and Oxford itself. In the words of another judge, “Rivers’ Introduction and its notes, as well as the notes to the text, reveal an in-depth knowledge of contemporary Oxford, its personalities, university statutes and practices, religion, politics, and society.” The judges also praised Professor Rivers for his expert performance as an editor: “The edition by Rivers is a substantial achievement. His bibliographical and textual evidence is careful and clearly presented.” All agree that William Rivers has reintroduced Amhurst’s fascinating periodical to scholars, making it intellectually available for the first time since the age of its publication, in an edition that may prove to be definitive.

Barbara L. Fitzpatrick, 2003

In January 2003 the Bibliographical Society of America awarded the first William L. Mitchell Prize for Bibliography or Documentary Work on Early British Periodicals or Newspapers to Barbara L. Fitzpatrick (English, University of New Orleans). Professor Fitzpatrick won for her essay “Physical Evidence for John Coote’s Eighteenth-Century Periodical Proprietorships: The Examples of Coote’s Royal Magazine (1759-71) and Smollett’s British Magazine (1760-67),” published in Analytical and Enumerative Bibliography, n.s. 11 (2000): 211-58.

Fitzpatrick’s essay demonstrates, with physical evidence, that The Royal Magazine andThe British Magazine share type-settings for articles appearing in concurrent issues during 1761-1763. Surprisingly, in the earliest instance, the type settings for an article and a list of House of Common’s members were first impressed for John Coote’s Royal Magazine and then shipped to Archibald Hamilton’s shop for use in printing Smollett’s British Magazine. This discovery reveals Coote’s partial ownership of the British Magazine before one would have suspected it, a partial ownership that Fitzpatrick also establishes by noting inserted advertisements for Coote’s publications in the outer paper wrappers of the British Magazine. Fitzpatrick identifies seven articles in both magazines that were set with shared type. One of the most obvious cases of shared type, that occurring in April 1763 issues, resulted in pagination and catchword errors and an inappropriate press figure in the Royal Magazine, for the press failed to adapt two half-sheets of type set for the British Magazinebefore reimpressing them. Fitzpatrick also identifies many more shared concurrent articles not produced with shared settings and provides much information about John Coote’s involvements in diverse periodicals.

The Prize Selection Committee praised both the methodology and accomplishments of Professor Fitzpatrick’s essay on Coote’s involvement in The British Magazine and The Royal Magazine. As one judge remarked, “Fitzpatrick’s article seems to me to represent the type of research appropriate to the aims of the Mitchell Prize: the observation and use of physical characteristics of the periodicals themselves to add significantly to knowledge about them. It takes previous research results into account, accepting them where they are sound and correcting them where they err. It is also felicitously written.” Another judge agreed that it is “an example of bibliographical scholarship at its best, giving answers that only bibliographical scholarship can provide.” The third judge characterized the essay as “an important article which actually does study periodicals, as opposed to just using them, and which sheds light far beyond the scope announced in the title…. The topic is fresh, and the synthesis is new.”