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York academic awarded British Academy prize for literary scholarship

Posted on 2 September 2021

A University of York academic has been awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy, which recognises outstanding literary scholarship by women.

Professor Gillian Russell holding her bookProfessor Gillian Russell Photo credit: Professor Gillian Russell

Professor Gillian Russell from York’s Department of English and Related Literature received the award for her 2020 book ‘The Ephemeral Eighteenth Century’. The book explores the impact of printed ephemera (such as theatre tickets and advertisement hoardings) on Georgian society and literary culture.

The prize is awarded each year for an historical or critical book written by a woman, on any subject connected with literature.

On receiving the award, Professor Russell said “I am honoured and grateful to be recognised by a prize that has been dedicated for many years to scholarship by women.”


Professor Russell’s interest in printed ephemera dates back to her work on theatre, especially military theatricals, for her first book ‘The Theatres of War’. “The base for that work was the British Library, especially its numerous collections of playbills and newspaper cuttings many of which were compiled by Sarah Sophia Banks (1748-1818).”

“My latest book attempts to recognise Banks’s achievement by placing it in the context of other like-minded collectors who were attracted to apparently worthless and trivial scraps of paper that nonetheless act as powerful, sometimes poignant, records of momentary social interactions and otherwise lost textures and patterns of everyday life.” 

“I argue that this context was formative in developments in literary culture, particularly the novel. How the Georgians dealt with the ephemera of their age has much to tell us about the ephemerality of digital social media of today and how we might record, archive, and understand that media for the future.”


Professor Helen Smith, Head of the Department of English and Related Literature, said: “Enormous congratulations to Professor Russell on this timely recognition of her brilliant and important book. Gillian's vibrant, interdisciplinary work has transformed the study of literature and history, and brought new insights into theatre, print, gender, and sociability.

"The Rose Mary Crawshay Prize recognises Gillian's superb detective work among the ephemeral slips and scraps of eighteenth and nineteenth-century culture, and her brilliance in weaving them together to create a new picture of the Georgian age.”

“We're proud to have Gillian as a member of our innovative, research-driven Department, and as a driving force at the helm of York's world-renowned Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies.”


Further information:

The British Academy is the national body for the humanities and social sciences. You can see the full winners prizes and medals awarded by the British Academy here.

The Ephemeral Eighteenth Century’ by Professor Gillian Russell is published by Cambridge University Press.

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