Society for the History of Natural History Book Prize 2023
The prize is awarded for the best book published on the history or bibliography of natural history in the preceding two years.
Closing date is 30 June 2023.
Winners receive the John Thackray Medal, instituted in 2000 to commemorate the life and work of John Thackray (1948–1999), Past President of SHNH, and an outstanding scholar of the history of science with an enviable knowledge of natural history. He served as an Officer of the Society for the History of Natural History for 24 years (1973–1997) and in 1999 became the Society’s President. He authored 30 books and articles including Guide to the Official Archives of the Natural History Museum (1998).
- Prize winners are chosen by a panel of 3 judges (all members of the Society).
- Competition opens on 1 January 2023.
- Nominations may be made by SHNH members, or submitted by publishers.
- All books must be received by 30 June. Three copies of the book you wish to considered should be sent to the Chair of the Book Prize Panel. Contact Geraldine.Reid@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk to obtain the Chair’s name and address.
- All books should have been published in the two calendar years preceding the year the award will be presented. For instance, works published in 2021 and 2022 will be eligible for the 2023 award.
The prize will be awarded to the book which contributes most significantly to the history of natural history. Significance will be assessed on the basis of:
- Organisation and presentation of information
- Excellence of intellectual content
- Contribution to the literature of the field.
Nominations must be sent to the Chair of the Book Prize Panel and include the following:
- Your name as a nominator and your contact details.
- The nominee’s name and contact details.
- A supporting statement (up to 600 words) describing why the nominee should receive the award.
SHNH Natural History Book Prize 2022
The Society is very pleased to announce that our prestigious Natural History Book Prize (the John Thackray Medal) will this year be awarded to Henrietta McBurney, for Illuminating natural history: the art and science of Mark Catesby. Publisher: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art,2021. ISBN: 9781913107192. Henrietta McBurney is a freelance curator and art historian. She was previously curator in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle.
The book explores the life and work of the celebrated eighteenth-century English naturalist, explorer, artist and author Mark Catesby (1683–1749). During Catesby’s lifetime, science was poised to shift from a world of amateur virtuosi to one of professional experts. Working against a backdrop of global travel that incorporated collecting and direct observation of nature, Catesby spent two prolonged periods in the New World – in Virginia (1712–1719) and South Carolina and the Bahamas (1722–1726). In his majestic two-volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731–43), esteemed by his contemporary John Bartram as ‘an ornament for the finest library in the world’, he reflected the excitement, drama and beauty of the natural world. Interweaving elements of art history, history of science, natural history illustration, painting materials, book history, paper studies, garden history and colonial history, this meticulously researched volume brings together a wealth of unpublished images as well as newly discovered letters by Catesby, which, with their first-hand accounts of his collecting and encounters in the wild, bring the story of this extraordinary pioneer naturalist vividly to life.
All the judges agreed that the book was outstanding, noting that it was superbly illustrated, meticulously researched and an absolutely riveting read. McBurney manages to bring Catesby to life and places him within the network of seventeenth-century naturalists, as well as within his own world of colonial America. The work adds a new dimension to our understanding of this remarkable man as McBurney delves into every aspect of Catesby’s life, with his scientific and artistic record of the plants and animals he saw during his travels in North America, to his tireless, commitment to distributing his collections and publishing his findings in several books after his return home to England. One judge commented that the book was a magnum opus pulling together all the information on Catesby, both published and unpublished, into a single volume. Another particularly liked the book’s three appendices, which they thought were extremely useful: transcripts of Catesby’s surviving correspondence, notes on the plant specimens he collected in North America, and a detailed discussion of the paper used for his drawings and books including notes on the watermarks. In addition to its scholarship, the book is beautifully produced, with 250 colour and black-and-white illustrations which are essential to her text.
For those interested in reading more about Illuminating Natural History you can access a recent review by Robert McCraken Peck in the Society’s Journal, Archives of Natural History https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/anh.2022.0773
SHNH Natural History Book Prize 2021
The Society for the History of Natural History is very pleased to announce that our prestigious Book Prize (the John Thackray Medal) will this year be awarded to Dr Jordan Goodman for his Planting the World: Joseph Banks and his Collectors: An Adventurous History of Botany (Harper Collins, 2021, ISBN 978-0-00-757883-2). Dr Goodman is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London.
It was a bumper year for nominations and no fewer than eight books were put up for the award. The Awards Panel unanimously agreed however, that Planting the World was the clear winner. The work tells the story of how Sir Joseph Banks sent collectors and gardeners overseas to find and acquire plants new to Europe. They could then be studied and grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It is a very thoroughly researched and referenced work, full of detail which, according to one judge, ‘sparkles with the untold stories of many unknown collectors’. This was echoed by another judge who said ‘I enjoyed the fact that the book was pulling together the stories of so many different botanists and gardeners’.
This detail, as all the judges agreed, means that as well as being an impressive and satisfying monograph, the book is very useful as a reference work. One judge said they had ‘looked up a couple of things in it already!’ All in all, Planting the World: Joseph Banks and his Collectors: An Adventurous History of Botany is a very impressive book and we are very happy to award our Society for the History of Natural History Book Prize (Thackray Medal), and our congratulations, to Dr Jordan Goodman.
In speaking of the award, Dr Goodman said: ‘I am delighted to be the recipient of the John Thackray medal for the Best Book Prize of 2021 and humbled to join a long list of previous and distinguished winners. Natural history is more important now than it has ever been and the Society needs to be commended for keeping it firmly in the public eye with this award and its many other activities’.
For those interested in reading more about Planting the World you can access a recent review by Professor Arthur Lucas in the Society’s Journal, Archives of Natural History https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/anh.2021.0741
The Society for the History of Natural History Book Prize