Nominations are now being accepted for the BSLS Book Prize 2018. Inaugurated in 2007, the annual British Society for Literature and Science book prize is awarded for the best book in the field of literature and science published that year. Any book is eligible, but can only be considered if it is nominated either by a member of BSLS or by its publisher. Publishers are very welcome to nominate their own books. Members may nominate their own titles. Please note that individual memberships must be current and the publication in question must be dated 2018 to be eligible. Members of the BSLS committee are not eligible for the Prize. A panel of BSLS executive committee members and scholars will read all submissions, with the winner announced at the next annual conference, in Royal Holloway (4-6 April 2019). Please send all nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 December 2018. Below you can find details of previous prize winners and shortlists and links to BSLS reviews of some shortlisted titles.
Questioning Nature is an elegant exposition of how important the sciences were to a number of female authors at the end of the eighteenth century, especially in allowing them to think through their own creativity and position in society and the marketplace, and in guiding their innovations in literary form, mode and genre. The book is wide-ranging in its coverage of authors (from Anna Laetitia Barbauld to Felicia Hemans), sciences (from botany to volcanology) and places (from Warrington to the West Indies), and to all of these topics brings fascinating biographical and historical insights and careful close readings. Bailes provides a compelling account of the connections between Enlightenment sciences and questions of gender, and makes an important contribution to the critical re-framing of Romantic-era literature and science.
Ursula K. Heise for Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species
This remarkable, lucid examination of how contemporary culture produces understandings of imperilled nature breaks new ground in its thinking about environmental crisis -- local and global -- and, particularly, the terms in which we see species loss. This original undertaking brilliantly connects multiple fields of enquiry, philosophical, literary, scientific, political, and investigates genres such as the elegy, the database, and speculative fiction. On matters such as global warming, biodiversity, conservation, non-human justice and the anthropocene, Heise's thesis is challenging, nuanced and elegantly reasoned, and Imagining Extinction looks set become a celebrated reference point while revealing new directions for the study of culture and biology, literature and science.
Claire Preston for The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England
Claire Preston's The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England makes a wide-ranging and important contribution to the field of literature and science, both in the texts and ideas it interrogates and in the methodologies it employs and discusses. It is a carefully written, densely detailed, and wonderfully illustrated examination of canonical and non-canonical poets, dramatists and essayists as well as an impressive range of different scientific narratives. Most unique is the argument Preston offers about the interchanges between different genres, and hence different ways of making knowledge, of scientific and literary writing. At the same time, Preston does not forget that both science and literature are made through networks of social relation and through experiment. This rich study opens new avenues for future research methods and brings seventeenth-century literature and science into the field’s foreground.
Leah Knight for Reading Green in Early Modern England
Leah Knight’s Reading Green in Early Modern England offers a remarkable profile of the varied meanings of ‘green’ in the English Renaissance. This elegant, often witty book develops its innovative account of the literary and cultural history of green things, and their sensory impression on minds and bodies, by exploring the greenery of early modern pastoral and other aspects of the ‘green world’, such as forests, botany, medicine, optics, air. Organised around the senses – around the apprehension of green in various forms, such as the visual and olfactory – Knight freshly examines writers such as Marvell, Spenser and Shakespeare, and a much larger body of textual and visual evidence. She takes great care in recovering largely obscured cultural practices such as tree-carving, and brilliantly weaves together a history of Renaissance reading and writing practices with ecological concerns. ‘An individual reading or case study is best… understood as a node in an ecosystem of readings,’ she compellingly demonstrates. Reading Green is not just an important new study but an original form of historiography.
Robert Mitchell for Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature
In Experimental Life, Robert Mitchell examines vitalism in Romantic and post-Romantic culture, in a complex and sophisticated history of vitality and experimentation. Mitchell's engrossing analysis often dazzles with intellectual energy, as it brings together complex sets of ideas from literary theory, the history of science, and science studies, to think through concepts such as suspended animation and develop a number of compelling re-readings of familiar Romantic-era texts by, for example, Coleridge, Keats and the Shelleys.
Theresa Kelley for Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture
Clandestine Marriage is a study of enormous range and intellectual ambition, which will be a reference point for anyone interested in Romantic-era natural science, plants, taxonomy, and more broadly the category of nature itself, for years to come. Meticulous in its research, Kelley's book combines erudite analyses of botanical discourse with sensitive appreciations of literary and visual culture, high theory, and philosophical perspectives from the likes of Kant and Hegel, uncovering a vast web of compelling connections across the poetry and ideas associated with British and European Romanticism. From Goethe to Charles Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft to John Clare, Percy Shelley to Adorno, Kelley presents original interpetations of plants as poetic figures, cultural tropes, and exchangeable material objects, all beautifully enriched by an extensive series of colour plates of Romantic period botanical illustrations.
Martin Willis for Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons
In Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920, Martin Willis has made a substantial new contribution to the field of literature and science. In its turns from microscopes to telescopes, from looking at the past to looking into the future, Willis's book delves into a plethora of different sciences, with chapters on microbial medicine and epidemiology, on astronomical controversy, on Egyptian archaeology, and on optics and illusionism. The cast of literary and scientific characters too is rich and colourful, as Bram Stoker, Amelia Edwards and Conan Doyle are read alongside Percival Lowell, Flinders Petrie and Harry Houdini. Altogether 'Vision, Science and Literature' is at once an impressively well researched piece of scholarship, a fascinating series of interrelated cases studies in the intersection of literature and science, and a set of engaging and revealing stories about remarkable individuals living, working and writing at a particularly fertile moment in the history of ideas of vision in Western culture.
Sally Shuttleworth for The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900
The Mind of the Child is a rare example of a book which shows beyond doubt that literature has directly influenced the course of science. Through her compelling account of the emergent disciplines of child psychology and psychiatry, Sally Shuttleworth makes it clear that there is nothing in our own anxieties about childhood – and preconceptions about children – that the Victorians had not already thought of and worried about. She shows too that it was the novelists, including Dickens, Brontë, Eliot, Meredith, James and Hardy, who at once generated many of the insights of these new disciplines and interrogated them most acutely. Shuttleworth’s book is a model of critical prose as well as of literature and science scholarship. Lucid, accessible and engaging, it deftly leads its readers to realise her insights into Victorian culture and into the concept of childhood itself for themselves as they read. All told, this is a masterful study which will shape the field of literature and science in the nineteenth century and beyond for many years to come.
All the judges for this year’s BSLS book prize agreed wholeheartedly that Leah Knight’s Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England was a very worthy winner. Knight’s book is a fascinating contribution to the study of literature and science in the early modern period. Elegantly written and meticulous in its scholarship, it opens up the field of botany in the sixteenth century for literary analysis and cultural history, drawing out too how central early modern thinking about plants was to print culture as a whole. As well as being an excellent contribution to the field in its own right, Of Books and Botany is one of an important new series of books on Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity published by Ashgate. Ashgate has been leading the field in publishing books on literature and science, and it is extremely encouraging to see research into literature and science in the early modern period getting the same serious consideration and support as work in this field in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
George Levine for Realism, Ethics and Secularism: Essays on Victorian Literature and Science.
The prize committee agreed that Levine’s collection of essays on Victorian literature and science will be essential reading for anyone working in the discipline. Brilliantly argued and personally engaging, his essays have implications well beyond their period boundaries. This is true not only for the essay ‘Why Science Isn’t Literature’, which urges us to rethink the implications of constructionist ideas of science, but also of pieces such as ‘In Defense of Positivism’ and ‘The Heartbeat of a Squirrel’. Levine has been central to the shaping of the methodologies of the discipline in the last thirty years, and this collection of essays will continue to guide it in future decades.
Ralph O'Connor for The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856.
Book prize shortlists
The shortlist of books published in 2017:
- Melissa Bailes, Questioning Nature: British Women’s Scientific Writing and Literary Originality, 1750-1830 (Virginia)
- Mary Fairclough, Literature, Electricity and Politics 1740-1840 (Palgrave)
- Katherine Hayles, Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious (Chicago)
- Benjamin Morgan, The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature (Chicago)
The shortlist of books published in 2016:
- Gowan Dawson, Show Me the Bone: Reconstructing Prehistoric Monsters in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America (Chicago)
- Devin Griffiths, The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature between the Darwins (Johns Hopkins)
- Ursula K. Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (Chicago)
- David Thorley, Writing Illness and Identity in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Palgrave)
The shortlist of books published in 2015:
- Peter Capuano, Changing Hands: Industry, Evolution, and the Reconfiguration of the Victorian Body (U of Michigan Press)
- Markus Iseli, Thomas de Quincey and the Cognitive Unconscious (Palgrave Macmillan)
- Claire Preston, The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford UP)
- Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (Columbia UP)
- Sean Silver, The Mind is a Collection (Penn Press)
The shortlist of books published in 2014:
- Anna Henchman, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature (OUP)
- Heather Houser, Ecosickness in Contemporary US Fiction: Environment and Affect (Columbia UP)
- James Secord, Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age (OUP)
- Christina Walter, Optical Impersonality: Science, Images and Literary Modernism (Johns Hopkins UP)
The shortlist of books published in 2013:
- Adelene Buckland, Novel Science: Fiction and the Invention of Nineteenth-Century Geology (University of Chicago Press) BSLS Review
- Jennifer Esmail, Reading Victorian Deafness (Ohio University Press)
- Cristina Malcolmson, Studies of Skin in the Early Royal Society: Boyle, Cavendish, Swift (Ashgate) BSLS Review
- Robert Mitchell, Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Literature and Science (Johns Hopkins University Press)
The shortlist of books published in 2012:
- Simon de Bourcier, Pynchon and Relativity (Continuum)
- Theresa Kelley, Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture (Johns Hopkins UP)
- Gregory Lynall, Swift and Science (Palgrave) BSLS Review
- Anne Stiles, Popular Fiction and Brain Science in the Late Nineteenth Century (Cambridge UP) BSLS Review
- Shelley Trower, Senses of Vibration: A History of the Pleasure and Pain of Sound (Continuum) BSLS Review
Shortlist of books published in 2011:
- Frederique Ait-Touati, Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century (U of Chicago P) BSLS Review
- Tamara Ketabgian, The Lives of the Machines: The Industrial Imaginary in Victorian Literature and Culture (U of Michigan P) BSLS Review
- George Levine, Darwin the Writer (OUP) BSLS Review
- Naomi Rokotnitz, Trusting Performance: A Cognitive Approach to Embodiment in Drama (Palgrave)
- Martin Willis, Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons (Pickering and Chatto)
Shortlist of books published in 2010:
- Avner Ben-Zaken, Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560-1660 (Johns Hopkins University Press) BSLS Review
- Vike Plock, Joyce, Medicine and Modernity(University Press of Florida) BSLS Review
- Lisa Sarasohn, The Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish: Reason and Fancy During the Scientific Revolution (Johns Hopkins University Press) BSLS Review
- Sally Shuttleworth, The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900 (Oxford University Press) BSLS Review
- Charlotte Sleigh, Literature and Science (Palgrave Macmillan) BSLS Review
Shortlist of books published in 2009:
- Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Harvard University Press) BSLS Review by George Levine, winner of the BSLS book prize for 2008
- Leah Knight, Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England: Sixteenth-Century Plants and Print Culture (Ashgate, Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity) BSLS Review
- Steven McLean, The Early Fiction of H. G. Wells: Fantasies of Science (Palgrave Macmillan) BSLS Review
- Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, Wilkie Collins, Medicine and the Gothic (University of Wales Press, Gothic Literary Studies) BSLS Review
Shortlist of books published in 2008:
- Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds (Oxford University Press) BSLS Review
- Noel Jackson, Science and Sensation in Romantic Poetry (Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no.73) (Cambridge University Press) BSLS Review
- George Levine, Realism, Ethics and Secularism: Essays on Victorian Literature and Science (Cambridge University Press) BSLS Review
- Benjamin Reiss, Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture (University of Chicago Press) BSLS Review
Shortlist of books published in 2007:
- Jonathan Adams, Interference Patterns: Literary Study, Scientific Knowledge, and Disciplinary Autonomy (Bucknell University Press)
- Gowan Dawson, Darwin, Literature, and Victorian Respectability (Cambridge University Press) BSLS Review
- Mark Francis, Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life (Acumen)
- Elizabeth Leane, Reading Popular Physics: Disciplinary Skirmishes and Textual Strategies (Ashgate) BSLS Review
- James Mussell, Science, Time and Space in the Late Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press: Movable Types (Ashgate)
- Ralph O'Connor, The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856 (University of Chicago Press) BSLS Review