2018 Mitchell Prize to be awarded to Dr. Paul Tankard of the University of Otago

At its annual meeting in January 2018, The Bibliographical Society of America will award the sixth triennial William L. Mitchell Prize for Bibliography or Documentary Work on Early British Periodicals or Newspapers to Dr. Paul Tankard for his edition Facts and Inventions: Selections from the Journalism of James Boswell (Yale University Press, 2014).

Dr. Tankard, who took his Ph.D. from Monash University in 2003, is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand. His publications include over two dozen essays in books and research journals, a great many on Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, as well as Samuel Johnson’s “Designs”: A Facsimile of the Manuscript, with a New Transcription and an Introductory Essay, the 2008 annual keepsake of the Johnsonians of New York. Important recent articles include “Nineteen More Johnsonian Designs: A Supplement to ‘That Great Literary Projector’” in The Age of Johnson (2015), building upon Tankard’s lengthy 2002 article on Johnson’s “Catalogue of Projected Works” in that journal. He is the editor of 15 volumes of The Johnson Society of Australia Papers. His research on Boswell’s journalism benefited from The Frederick A. and Marion S. Pottle Fellowship in Eighteenth-Century British Studies for 2007, awarded by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. His interests beyond the eighteenth century include C. S. Lewis and the Inklings; literary journalism; and the theory and culture of reading.

Dr. Tankard’s edition provides a lengthy, insightful introduction to Boswell’s career, strategies, manner, and achievement as a frequent writer for the British press and also to the fourteen newspapers and magazines of London and Edinburgh to which he contributed. With assistance from Lisa Marr, Tankard has edited 130 pieces of journalism dating from 1758 to 1794, grouped by theme, most of them unpublished since the eighteenth century. They all receive commentary in headnotes and extensive footnotes. The apparatus filling out the volume’s 500 pages includes a section with attribution details and textual variants (some in Boswell’s hand on his archive of clippings), a chronological list of articles edited, a bibliography, index, and 19 plates. Although Boswell is well known for his Life of Johnson and several other books, and for his private journals, Tankard’s work reveals Boswell as the “busy professional writer with an almost constant presence in the British press,” to which he contributed over 600 pieces. Tankard remarks that by age 22 Boswell “seems to have appreciated that the poetry of the metropolis was the news.” Tankard finds that “The ephemerality of journalism was to him not a frustration but an opportunity, to write easily, spontaneously, conversationally, sometimes mischievously.” In addition, this diverse selection showcases “British periodical culture from the 1760s to the 1790s” and is a resource for studying the history of journalism.

The prize jury of three senior scholars selected Tankard’s book unanimously from a number of worthy nominations. One judge concluded, “It is a stunning achievement, a model for future ventures of this kind. Given the range, vagaries, and dispersal, the amusing, local, and also consequential quality of Boswell’s contributions to disparate newspapers and magazines, Tankard could have . . . presented them in some simple chronological sequence, with random subjects scattered around for our curiosity. Rather, he has thoughtfully selected, arranged, dated, cohered, and introduced his carefully chosen 133 items with necessary and eminently readable introductions and explanations.” Another judge commented, “The volume makes readily available a range of archival materials touching upon numerous social and cultural topics of interest to many scholars, including the American Revolution, eighteenth-century law, sea and military life, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Scotland, etc. Tankard richly contextualizes the often-obscure historical references and allusions found in Boswell; reading the book hence offers not only acquaintance with an array of hitherto unfamiliar materials but further enlarges the reader’s understanding of the local texture of eighteenth-century life. . . . . This volume clearly reflects years of patient, meticulous scholarship.” The third judge stressed the value of Tankard’s introduction and found the erudite edition “stupendous in its detail.”

The Mitchell Prize for Research on Early British Serials was endowed to honor William L. Mitchell, a former rare-books librarian at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. The late Alexandra Mason, long the Spencer Librarian, spearheaded the establishment of the award’s endowment, to which she was the principal donor. The Prize serves as an encouragement to scholars engaged in bibliographical scholarship on eighteenth-century periodicals published in English or in any language but within the British Isles and its colonies and former colonies. The next Mitchell Prize competition has the deadline of 30 September 2020 and will consider works (including theses, articles, books, and electronic resources) published after 31 December 2016 and before the deadline in 2020. The competition is open to all without regard to membership, nationality, and academic degree or rank, requiring little more of applicants than the submission of a curriculum vitae and three copies of printed work (or one electronic copy) and access and instructions for internet publications. A cash award of $1000 and a year’s membership in the Society accompany the Mitchell Prize.