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Book Prize

NAVSA is delighted to announce the winner of this year’s annual book prize is Clare Pettitt for her book Serial Forms: The Unfinished Project of Modernity, 1815-1848 (Oxford 2020). The honorable mention goes to Jonah Siegel’s Material Inspirations: The Interests of the Art Object in the Nineteenth Century and After (Oxford 2020). Please congratulate our winners!

We hope you will join the winning author and members of the prize committee, Christopher Ferguson (Auburn University) and Jo Briggs (Walters Art Museum) for a special session on Serial Forms on Thursday, March 3, 2020, from 12:30-1:30 pm PST (3:30-4:30 EST and 8:30-9:30 pm GMT).

Read on to learn more about this outstanding work.

 Clare Pettitt, Serial Forms: The Unfinished Project of Modernity, 1815-1848 (Oxford University Press, 2020)

In Serial Forms, the first in a planned three-volume project, Clare Pettitt takes a long-recognized element of the Victorian Era, serial publication, and reconceives it as one manifestation of a much larger way of understanding the world: “seriality.”  She argues that “seriality” is a form of “knowledge about being in time” that emerged in Britain during the second quarter of the nineteenth century as both an idea and a way of experiencing the world. Far more than a method of publishing or reading alone, Pettitt contends that “seriality” represented a “political, historical, and social category,” one that became the “defining form of modernity” by the early years of Victoria’s reign. In advancing this argument, Pettitt leads us through a dazzling analysis of a wide variety of cultural artifacts—almanacks, broadsheets, penny newspapers, paintings, panoramas, novels, journals, and historical miniatures—demonstrating their larger implications for a society experiencing, inhabiting, and internalizing the logic of serialization. What did it mean to conceive of social life in spatial and temporal sequences?  How did nineteenth-century Britons respond to a world increasingly presented to them as simultaneously orderly and progressive, but also eternally partial and incomplete?  While providing answers to these questions, Pettitt confronts the inherent slipperiness of serial forms as a means of organization, one capable of distributing information geographically and chronologically, whose cultural logic proved to be a tool for liberation as well as enslavement, the forces of regulation and deregulation, democracy and empire, and universalism and racism alike. Serial Forms asks us not only to reconsider the nature of the nineteenth century as a historic moment, but also how subsequent observers have conceptualized it, and how we might reconceptualize it anew in light of our own experiences in the twenty-first century as the inheritors of the world serialization helped to create. Pettitt’s book is sure to engage students of Victorian Studies across disciplines for many years to come.

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Jonah Siegel, Material Inspirations: The Interests of the Art Object in the Nineteenth Century and After (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Material Inspirations places nineteenth-century writing about art alongside twentieth-century theorizing on the same subject, reading across time to bring new insights to both. At the center of Siegel’s book is the slippery relationship between “real” things, marble, ruins, or the body itself (the “material” of the title) and art, perception, and experience (“inspirations”). A broad selection of unexpected images, objects, texts, and places are brought together by the author—unexpected as a large number of the works reproduced or cited are unfamiliar, and “non-canonical,” or, if well known, are defamiliarized through juxtaposition. Indeed, with his chosen examples, Siegel offers us a fresh path through nineteenth-century art and art writing, and he is an entertaining guide, whose knowledge, distinctive authorial voice, and even sense of humor, is manifest in each of the books three long chapters. Material Inspirations is sure to offer both insights and provocations to scholars working on a range of topics: wood engraving, classical sculpture, and the historiography of the Renaissance, as well as those especially interested in the writings of Vernon Lee, John Ruskin, Walter Pater, and Walter Benjamin.

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