2015 Mitchell Prize Announced

At its January 2015 meeting, The Bibliographical Society of America awarded the fifth triennial William L. Mitchell Prize for Bibliography or Documentary Work on Early British Periodicals or Newspapers to Simon Macdonald, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of History and Classical Studies, McGill University. His winning publication, “English-Language News-papers in Revolutionary France,” was published in The Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 36, no. 1 (2013), 18–33.

Dr. Macdonald examines a series of ambitious and sustained newspapers printed in Paris “for the purpose of export and sale in Britain, so bringing news fresh from revolutionary France while simultaneously—at least, according to the claims of their promoters—sidestepping the editorial constraints which corrupted the reporting available in the British press.” The main such venture, Macdonald’s principal focus, was the Paris Mercury; and Continental Chronicle, “a bi-weekly newspaper of four folio pages,” whose first issue appeared in late May 1792. In the autumn the Paris Mercury was retitled the Magazine of Paris, or Gazette of the Republic of France. Ci-devant the Paris Mercury and issued for the same price in octavo. Macdonald’s article reconstructs the publication history of the Paris Mercury, reviews the motivations behind the publication of an English-language newspaper in revolutionary Paris, and discusses the various structural factors within the British newspaper trade that caused the ultimate failure of the enterprise. Macdonald also researched the publishers and editors involved, such as Thomas Gillet, a London publisher with a branch in Paris, and Robert Taylor, an Irish businessman living in Paris who wrote the interior minister in hope of obtaining a subsidy from the French government.

The judges all commended Dr. Macdonald for groundbreaking work that pulled individual newspapers from the shadows and provided new evidence for understanding larger issues within the periodical press of the period, such as the effort to decrease the delay in reporting international news, the desire of the British public for reports from the Continent, and the freedom of the British press from interference by government. All appreciate that Macdonald’s focus was principally on “the newspaper for itself ” and not on it as a source for information on contemporary culture. One judge remarked, “Macdonald’s paper . . . seems to me to epitomize what I think the Mitchell Prize ought to acknowledge and reward: the study of a periodical as an intellectual, social and physical artifact, with a scholarly appreciation of all these aspects. His writing is good–scholarly without being chokingly academic, and his research has clearly been extensive and thorough. The subtle economic and political suppression of a pro-Republican publication gives us a new insight into the political complexities of Anglo-French relations in the early revolutionary period and he contrasts the Mercury clearly with its reactionary counterpart, whose survival record is so much better.” Another judge, noting the novelty of the claims led him to approach the essay “with some skepticism,” concluded, “Macdonald’s presentation of the evidence, done with considerable literary flair, completely won me over. He has worked his time in the archives and writes with agreeable authority. This article shines new light not only on the complex world of British and French publishing, but also on the politics of a particularly active and fluid historical period.”

Dr. Macdonald took his PhD from the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge in 2011, having previously taken his BA in History at Cambridge and MA in the History of Art at the University of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art. He has published other essays in such journals as the Review of English Studies, the Transactions of the Romney Society, and the British Art Journal. Macdonald has been awarded a Max Weber Fellowship at the European University Institute in Florence for the 2015–16 academic year.

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. A cash award of $1000 and a year’s membership in the Society accompany the Mitchell Prize. 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 2017 and will consider works (including theses, articles, books, and electronic resources) published after 31 December 2013. 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. For more information, click here. Questions can be directed to James E. May, Mitchell Prize Coordinator (jem4@psu.edu).