RBS’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography Awards Second Annual Essay Prize

The Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School (SoFCB) is delighted to announce the winner of our second annual essay prize:

Elizabeth Neswald, “Things that Don’t Talk Much and Things That Feel: Developing a Material Culture Methodology for ‘Black Box’ Medical Devices,” Nuncius 35 (2020): 632-59.

In “Things that Don’t Talk Much and Things That Feel,” Elizabeth Neswald offers an incisive analysis of objects often overlooked by material culture studies. Neswald takes late twentieth-century home diabetes monitors––slim, black, about the size of a credit card and relatively featureless––as her objects of study. She shows us how to make them speak by studying them within the context of the historical development of diabetes monitors; by placing them alongside similarly quotidian domestic technologies; and by reading the devices with archival records to elicit the habits of mind, body, and care that they facilitated. Neswald’s analysis cuts across material culture conversations in the history of science, the history of art, and anthropology. It is all the more powerful for the elegant, nuanced way in which she unfolds her story. The committee members were unanimous in their view that Neswald’s essay would spark fruitful conversations in both undergraduate and graduate courses on material culture, book history, bibliography, and the histories of art and science.

We received many excellent submissions from scholars working in fields across the humanities—an encouraging response that attests to the vibrancy of critical bibliography in the twenty-first century. Our decisions were not easy ones. We would like to highlight two additional submissions, which merit honorable mention:

Cat Lambert, “The Ancient Entomological Bookworm,” Arethusa 53 (2020): 1-24.

What kinds of readers are bookworms, anyway? Lambert marshals bibliographical, literary, and biological evidence, showing us how bookworms tunneled through books and how people used the bookworm as a metaphor in the ancient Mediterranean world. Through the bookworm, authors represented their anxieties about the survival of their writings and who was reading them, and how. Lambert offers us a cogent model for pursuing the social history of reading when material evidence is scant.

Christopher N. Warren, Pierce Williams, Shruti Rijhwani, and Max G’Sell, “Damaged Type and Areopagiticas Clandestine Printers,” Milton Studies 62 (2020): 1-47.

A bibliographical whodunit: using computational methods and good old-fashioned analytical bibliography, the authors lead us through the shadowy world of clandestine printing in 1640s England. They reveal not only the likely identity of the printer of John Milton’s free-speech tract Areopagitica, but also the interconnections between type-sharing printers who risked their livelihoods to bring radical political and religious literature to the press during the English Civil War.

The essay prize has been underwritten by Kimball Higgs, a supporter of Rare Book School and a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Library Service.

Essay Prize Committee:

Elizabeth Yale
Brenna Wynn Greer
Steffi Dippold