Congratulations to the 2024 Mitchell Prize Winner, Dr. Kelly Plante

Photograph of Dr. Kelly Plante, winner of the 2024 Mitchell Prize.

Dr. Kelly Plante, winner of the 2024 Mitchell Prize.

The Mitchell Prize goes to Kelly Plante for her dissertation Death Writing: Gender and Necropolitics in the Atlantic World (1660–1840) (Wayne State University, 2023).

Death Writing: Gender and Necropolitics in the Atlantic World (1660–1840) explores life writing through its underworld of “death writing” and analyzes the necropolitical function of death writing in colonial hagiography, travel writing, wampum belts, death notices, newsprint epitaphs, posthumous memoirs, book reviews, and collected works. Specifically, Plante argues that the newsprint obituary consolidated these forms’ functions into one genre to convey news of death with instant biography. Her work dives most deeply bibliographically into the Gentleman’s Magazine, where she examines the editors’ use of their own obituaries to create the dominant death-writing system of the Atlantic world; and the editors’ use of the first newsprint death notices of African individuals including Ignatius Sancho (1780) and Sara Baartman (1816) for their own agenda. Her final chapter culminates in a reading of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748) as a 1,500-page,Gentleman’s Magazine-influenced obituary. A series of tables and appendices visually depict editors’ developments through a timeline of Gentleman’s Magazine obituaries and page design and layout of select “Bills of Mortality” during key editorial transitions. Ultimately, Plante’s work shows how the obituary form as we know it today was pioneered by editor–printer–authors who marketed the loss of supposedly self-made men like them as “useful” and therefore highly grievable to build their highly sustainable brand with circulation, as Samuel Johnson puts it in his obituary of the magazine’s founding editor Edward Cave, “wherever the English language is spoken.”

We are excited to be able to support the work of a young scholar producing such innovative and rigorous work on 18th-century periodicals. One member of the committee remarked, “I wish I had advised this dissertation,” which we all felt was the highest of praise!

Honorable Mention: Dr. Hazel Wilkinson, ‘The Complete Spectator: A Bibliographical History’

Honorable Mention goes to Dr. Hazel Wilkinson, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer), Eighteenth-Century Literature, Department of English, University of Birmingham for her work ‘The Complete Spectator: A Bibliographical History’, which was published in Joseph Addison: Tercentenary Essays, ed. Paul Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)

Wilkinson’s essay surveys every collected edition of the Spectator published in the first one hundred years after the periodical’s original publication, and the accompanying catalogue contains bibliographical descriptions, including collations, of seventy-nine editions, accounting for over 600 volumes. The essay situates the Spectator in the context of the historical development of scholarly editing, book illustration, and periodical culture. It aims also to function as a resource for future scholarship on the Spectator and the periodical more widely.

The committee felt that it was essential to recognize Wilkinson’s rigorous bibliographical work, which will become an essential resource for anyone working on the Spectator, as well periodicals and 18th-century literature more broadly. I know that it will deeply inform my work as a librarian and other committee members agreed that the book that includes this essay will be part of their reference shelves as well.