James Delbourgo winner of the 2017-2018 LOUIS GOTTSCHALK PRIZE

April 24, 2018

The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies awards the Louis Gottschalk prize annually to the best scholarly book on an eighteenth-century subject. The 2018 Gottschalk prize has been given to James Delbourgo for Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum (Harvard University Press, 2017). Honorable Mention was also awarded to Jonathan Lamb for Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery (Princeton University Press, 2017) and to Jennifer Van Horn for The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America (Omohundro Institute/University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

 

Collecting the World is the first major biography of Hans Sloane, the physician, collector, naturalist, and explorer whose vast holdings led to the creation of the British Museum after his death in 1753. In lucid and absorbing prose, Delbourgo reconstructs the global network of power and exchange that Sloane both designed and exploited, one reaching from London polite society to Jamaica slave plantations and beyond. The result is a landmark achievement in the overlapping histories of science, empire, and anthropology as well as museum and curatorial studies.

The judges note the broad reach of Delbourgo's study. Collecting the World includes riveting attention to Sloane's writing, especially A Natural History of Jamaica (1707). It also includes a meticulous analysis of the origins of Sloane's specimens and artifacts in slave labor at the imperial periphery. Delbourgo does a masterful job of showing why his subject is vital for our understanding of modern institutions of culture and knowledge, from the museum to the university and beyond. He does so finally in a manner that engages learned readers beyond the academy. This is a book that does not sacrifice rigor to accessibility, scholarship to clarity—a testament to the relevance of eighteenth-century studies to our world.

 

Jonathan Lamb’s Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery, has been awarded Honorable Mention. The vast corpus produced from the era of overseas travel and exploration during the global age of sail has been commonly been read for information about the phenomena observed and the ideologies of the observers. In Scurvy, Lamb gives us a dramatically revisionary view of this corpus by reading it through the lens of scurvy, the disease that plagued all who spent months at sea without vitamin C. The symptoms of scurvy, Lamb underscores, include not just physical decay but also mania, hallucinations, and extreme melancholy. Lamb reveals how the psychology of scurvy left its traces in representations of extended overseas travel, notably celebrated accounts of Pacific exploration, and how such traces of perturbed perception in turn inspired literature and art. Further, Lamb extends the reach of scurvy from overseas travels to colonization with a chapter on the impact of the disease in the settlement of Australia. Lamb’s valuable account introduces pathology among the factors that cultural critics must consider, offering a disturbing conjunction of colonial and mercantile projects, discourses of knowledge, human biology, aesthetics and poetics.

 

Also awarded Honorable Mention is The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America, by Jennifer Van Horn. Published by the University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Van Horn’s superb analysis of objects ranging from portraits of women in masquerade to Gouverneur Morris’s wooden leg draws expertly on art history and material studies. She demonstrates persuasively how the complicated identity politics of eighteenth-century British Americans can be tracked in masks, dressing tables, boundary markers and even in George Washington’s false teeth. The power of objects figuring in the title of the book is that they formed the “visual bonds” through which colonial British Americans constructed their civility—a civility shadowed by a fear of becoming savage or succumbing to animal urges in the wild new world of North America. Van Horn has produced a model for visually-centered historical inquiry, supported by extensive research in American, British, and Continental European eighteenth-century studies.

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