ASECS Announces Winner of 2020 Clifford Prize - Avi Lifschitz; Honorable Mention - Melissa Bailes

April 24, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       APRIL 2020


ASECS Announces Winner of 2020 Clifford Prize


The James L. Clifford Prize presented annually by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies recognizes an article that presents an outstanding study of some aspect of eighteenth-century culture. The 2020 Clifford Prize has been awarded to Avi Lifschitz for “The Book of Job and the Sex Life of Elephants: The Limits of Evidential Credibility in Eighteenth-Century Natural History and Biblical Criticism,” which appeared in the Journal of Modern History in December 2019.


In his remarkable essay, Professor Lifschitz explores a debate that consumed eighteenth century scientists, religious scholars and philosophers: How did Elephants have sex? He illuminates how the debate complicates traditional understandings of the enlightenment, of the scientific revolution, and of the continuing relevance of Biblical interpretation. The debate that began between religious scholars and scientists transcended even the French Revolution, rumbling right past it into Revolutionary concerts before large crowds (including one with two elephants in an open park, encouraged to perform). The debate exposed colonial hierarchies (could native observers be trusted?) as well as the problematic deductions of early modern science. As Professor Lifschitz concludes, the “elephant controversy” demonstrates the complexity of the Enlightenment, with religious scholars sometimes more radical and more devoted to observation.


Professor Lifschitz, associate professor of European History at the University of Oxford, has donated the $500 award that accompanies the Clifford Prize to the U.K. University and College Union to help non-tenured university staff casualized as a result of the coronavirus crisis.


James L. Clifford Prize Honorable Mention: Melissa Bailes, associate professor of English at Tulane University, receives honorable mention for “Cultivated for Consumption: Botany, Colonial Cannibalism, and National/Natural History in Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl,” published in The Eighteenth Century, Vol. 59.  


The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies is a not-for-profit educational organization founded to promote the study of all aspects of the eighteenth century. It sponsors conferences, awards research fellowships and prizes, and publishes Eighteenth-Century Studies and Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture. Eligibility information for the 2021 Clifford Prize is available at or by contacting the Business Office at

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