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Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize

The Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize is awarded annually for the Best Book in British or Irish Rural or Agrarian History. The prize was awarded for the first time in Spring 2017.

How the prize works

Works entered can be concerned with any aspect of British and Irish rural or agrarian history provided that they use broadly historical methodology (so works of pure archaeology will not be eligible). Works by single or joint authors will be eligible but edited collections of papers will not.

The rules for the 2023 prize are here and the deadline is noon on Monday 8 January 2024. The winner of the 2023 prize will be announced in April.

Joan Thirsk (1922–2013)

Joan Thirsk

Joan Thirsk was the leading agricultural and rural historian of her generation. Her books and articles have a lasting influence. The fertility of Joan’s mind was such that she wrote a succession of pioneering articles, offering ideas and even creating areas of research which others took up and developed. She was an early writer on the family, on open fields, on the industrialization of the countryside. Her Economic Policy and Projects invented a history of the manufacture and consumption of ordinary things (‘starch, needles, pins, cooking pots, kettles, frying pans, lace, soap, vinegar, stockings do not appear on the shopping lists [of men] but they do appear on mine’). She was a historian of knitting, horticulture, tobacco and, of course, woad and our leading authority on early modern food. Her editorial labours, notably on the Agrarian History of England and Wales, were prodigious. And, one should not ignore – Joan would not forgive us if we did – her interest in (and and deep empathy with) her female predecessors in the history profession. Her kindness and generosity of time, advice and references to many historians was considerable.

Joan was much more than an agricultural and rural historian and yet the British Agricultural History Society, of which she was a founder and loyal servant, always remained dear to her. In return the Society acknowledged her excellence by making her its president for two terms. Its members gave her a festschrift when she retired and another when she passed eighty. The Society now wishes to perpetuate her memory with an annual prize for the best book published in the broad fields of British and Irish rural and agrarian history. To that end we solicit contributions to a prize fund to be administered by the Society.

2023 winners

Thirsk Prize Winners with the President 2023

This year, for the first time, the Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize was split between two authors, Professor Christopher Dyer and Dr Jane Rowling, seen here with President of the BAHS, Professor Nicola Verdon.

Presenting the prize at the BAHS Spring Conference in Nottingham, Professor Nicola Verdon, President of the Society, said: ‘I would like to thank my fellow panellists this year, Sarah Holland and Henry French. We all agreed that the submissions were of a very high standard, each contributing to the field of British/Irish rural/agrarian history in different ways.

We read submissions that in many respects marked the culmination of a lifetime of scholarship, showcasing a mastery of myriad primary sources; we read others that were written by scholars at the beginning of their academic and publishing careers, which were conceptually innovative and thought-provoking. Indeed one of the submission took issue with some of the conclusions of a previous Thirsk Prize winner, which shows how quickly the field can move on.

Some submissions concentrated on particular regions and landscapes, whilst others ranged more broadly; some focused on the life and work of one particular agricultural writer, whilst others analysed a cannon of published agricultural literature. All this made our job very hard as we found merit in each.

Because of this the panel this year decided, for the first time, to split the award between two submissions: Chris Dyer’s, Peasants making history: Living in an English region, 1200-1540 (Oxford University Press) and Jane Rowling’s, Environments of identity: Agricultural community, work and concepts of local in Yorkshire, 1918-2018 (The White Horse Press), both meticulously researched, highly readable and thought-provoking.’


Previous winners

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