Inaugurated in 2007, the British Society for Literature and Science book prize is awarded for the best book in the field of literature and science published each year. The prize for 2012 will be announced at the BSLS conference in Cardiff in April. Below you can find details of previous prize winners and shortlists and links to BSLS reviews of some shortlisted titles.
Book prize winners
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 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