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John Ben Snow Prize


The John Ben Snow Prize is a $500 prize awarded annually by the North American Conference on British Studies for the best book by a North American scholar in any field of British Studies dealing with the period from the Middle Ages through the eighteenth century.


The author must be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or Canada and be living in either country at the time of the award. Nominations may be made by the author or by the publisher of the book nominated. A publisher may nominate more than one title each year but should use discretion and not overburden the Prize Committee.

The 2023 competition covers books published in 2022. Separate copies of the book nominated should be sent to each member of the Prize Committee, postmarked by May 1, 2023 (Only books sent to every committee member can be considered.)

Presses and authors should contact the chair to arrange for delivery of submissions.

Note: U.S. authors and publishers sending book copies to committee members in Canada must specify contents as a complimentary book copy with $0 value on the customs form, and/or use USPS rather than private shippers, to avoid incurring a duty upon receipt.


Tawny Paul (Chair)

University of California, Los Angeles

Paula McDowell

New York University

Cathryn Spence

University of Guelph

Due Date

May 1, 2023

Previous Winners


Keith Pluymers (Illinois State University), No Wood, No Kingdom: Political Ecology in the English Atlantic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021).

Wood was crucial to early modern states and people, but it was also a source of anxiety. No Wood, No Kingdom explores the multiple and competing ways of understanding and addressing wood scarcity in the Atlantic world. More than simply a matter of supply and demand, Pluymers argues that scarcity was a question of “political ecology,” that is, the political and social beliefs, and practices that governed how natural resources were defined and used. Grounded in meticulous research spanning the British Isles, North America ,and the Caribbean, Pluymers reveals the interconnected nature of wood use, and argues that what connected colonies in the Atlantic more than people or commodities, were "fears of wood scarcity and competitive efforts to exploit woodlands." While communicating complex ideas in clear, brisk language, No Wood, No Kingdom offers a timely account of the politics of resource management in an interconnected world.  


 Alison Games (Georgetown University), Inventing the English Massacre: Amboyna in History and Memory (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Inventing the English Massacre shows how violent deaths in the spice islands of modern Indonesia helped the English reimagine themselves as victims, rather than aggressors, in the global race for empire and mercantile primacy, vulnerable to betrayal and conspiracy rather than plotting for power and wealth. In engaging prose grounded in meticulous research, Games reveals new insights into what happened at Amboyna in 1623, what remains speculative or unknown, what was immediately misrepresented in England, and how this was retold and repurposed from the seventeenth century into the modern era. A history of language, print culture, international relations, and empire, this book places the idea of the “massacre” at the center of early modern British, Atlantic, and Global history and serves as a model for how historians might approach issues of truth, myth, and memory in their own works.


Tawny Paul (University of California-Los Angeles), The Poverty of Disaster: Debt and Insecurity in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2019) 

The rise of a middling sort characterized by independence, consumption, and access to credit shapes positive and critical assessments of eighteenth-century economic and social change. Tawny Paul’s deeply researched and beautifully written book draws on a range of legal, fiscal, personal, and public records and commentary from England and Scotland to reveal a very different middling sort. Enmeshed by communal, familial, and gender norms and obligations in ever more tangled webs of credit, and routinely exposed to the whims of creditors and incarceration for debt, the lives, identities, and bodies of these English and Scots men and women were marked above all by persistent and growing insecurity. Paul shows the brutality that underpinned polite society – the structural role that violence, “legitimised and sublimated” by legal and moral codes, played in shifting risk and sustaining economic expansion at the expense of individual autonomy. As she observes, “eighteenth century experience calls into question the deeply held assumption that economic growth is good for society.” Making insecurity central to thinking about class, Paul revises the history of capitalism and deepens our understanding of its nature in the present.


David R. Como, Radical Parliamentarians and the English Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2018).

In this complex and richly detailed work, Como shows how, in the first half of the 1640s, radical ideas migrated from the margins of English political life to the center – how, that is, a political crisis turned into the English Revolution. Uniquely, Radical Parliamentarians tackles this question by weaving an intellectual history of radical constitutional and religious ideas together with close examinations of print culture and underground publication, popular political mobilization, and the high politics of mutating parties and shifting coalitions. In so doing, it draws on the strengths of diverse and competing historiographies of the English Civil War – whig, Marxist, revisionist, and more – to offer both a nuanced account of short-term political calculations and a compelling explanation of long-term change. A work of great methodological ingenuity, deep archival research, and broad historiographical significance, Radical Parliamentarians opens up new ways of thinking about the causes, nature, and effects of the English Revolution. At a moment when democratic practices face myriad challenges around the world, it also offers a vital reminder of “the improbable, painful, and remarkable process through which those practices came into being.”


Paula McDowell (New York University), The Invention of the Oral: Print Commerce and Fugitive Voices in Eighteenth-Century Britain (The University of Chicago Press, 2017)

Why did eighteenth century commentators come to view oral knowledge as primitive, unreliable and even dangerous, epitomized by the figure of the loud but lowly fishwife? After all, for centuries the English Common Law had privileged oral testimony over written evidence (which could easily be forged). According to Paula McDowell the answer lies in the proliferation of print, especially in the wake of the lapsing in 1695 of the Jacobean Licensing Act. In her nuanced and original analysis of the impact of print culture she demonstrates how print commerce inspired explorations of the relationship between orality and literacy; speech and print; ideas of oral tradition and probability and credibility; and between traditional and scientific knowledge. As her title suggests, in a very real sense print invented oral culture. Furthermore, the process did not simply involve one medium replacing another, but the coexistence and inter-dependence of multiple types of media. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including ballads, engravings, poems, essays, newspapers, and satires, and analyzing ‘fugitive voices’ as well as well-known writers including Defoe, Dryden, Johnson, Pope and Swift, the book transforms our understanding of the effects of literacy and print on orality in all its forms.


William Cavert (University of St. Thomas), The Smoke of London: Energy and the Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

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