The Robert and Vineta Colby Scholarly Book Prize

The Colby Book Prize was endowed in 2006 in memory of Robert Colby by his wife, Vineta Colby, distinguished scholars and long-time members of RSVP. In 2011, following Vineta’s death, the Board of Directors of RSVP unanimously voted to re-name the prize to honor both Robert and Vineta Colby for their many fine contributions to the study of Victorian periodicals and their long commitment to RSVP.

The Colby Prize is intended to honor original book-length scholarship about Victorian periodicals and newspapers, of the kind that Robert and Vineta Colby themselves produced during their careers. The annual prize is awarded to a book published during the preceding year that most advances our understanding of the nineteenth-century British press. The winner receives a monetary award of up to $2,000 and is invited to speak at the following year’s RSVP conference. See the list of previous awardees below the eligibility guidelines.

Nominations for the 2021 Colby Prize for books published in the calendar year 2020 are due January 31.

See the current award calendar for all application deadlines.

Prize Eligibility

Titles may be nominated by publishers or the reading public. Authors may not nominate their own book. In addition to being published within the previous calendar year, the nominated book should have any aspect of the nineteenth-century periodical press as either its central focus or as a substantial element in its scholarly discussion. Monographs, edited volumes of essays, reference books, bibliographies, and scholarly editions are eligible for consideration, as well as biographies or critical studies of people who edited, financed, contributed to, or illustrated periodicals.

Books authored or co-authored by directors and officers of RSVP are eligible to be nominated for the Colby Prize, but such persons will not receive any part of the monetary award.

Due to the very strong field of nominated 2019 titles, this year’s prize committee designated a prize winner, a runner-up, and an honorable mention.

Our 2020 Colby Book Prize Winner

The 2020 winner of the Robert and Vineta Colby Scholarly Book Prize is Thomas Smits for his book, The European Illustrated Press and The Emergence of a Transnational Visual Culture of the News, 1842-1870 (Routledge, 2019)

The prize committee noted that “this study of ‘visual news culture’” across European, UK, and Australian newspapers is an outstanding book that both points the way forward for more research and offers readers an immediate new way of thinking about the commercial networks, visual appeal, and social influence of the illustrated press. Smits demonstrates control of vast amounts of material across national boundaries. The work refocuses research on ways of thinking beyond the “comparative” and offers a clear definition of what ‘transnational’ might mean for future study. It offers an intelligent awareness of the dialogue between traditional archive research and the use of digital resources and provides a clear methodology that is original, with useful, transferable insights that will no doubt have a transformative impact on the field of periodical and newspaper study.”

Runner-Up Book cover of Contested Liberalisms: Martineau, Dickens and the Victorian Press by Iain Crawford

Iain Crawford, Contested Liberalisms: Martineau, Dickens and the Victorian Press (Edinburgh University Press, 2019)

The review committee described this as “an impressively weighty and lucid book that negotiates its way carefully through its tripartite interests in liberalism, transatlantic cross-cultural exchange and the development of the periodical press. It offers new approaches to both Martineau and Dickens in its scholarly study of their contrasting contributions to emerging formulations of progressive social theory in ways that richly reveal the intellectual heft and significance of their writings in the context of the development of liberal thought. Crawford draws out the details of their relationship masterfully in this sophisticated and erudite work that is full of rich detail related with minute attention to scholarly conversation. A pleasure to read, this book is an important contribution to the history of the periodical press, to Dickens studies, and especially to our understanding of the importance of Harriet Martineau.”

Honorable MentionBook cover of Women, Periodicals, and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s--1900s: The Victorian Period, edited by Alexis Easley, Clare Gill and Beth Rodgers

Alexis Easley, Clare Gill, and Beth Rodgers, Women, Periodicals, and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s -1900s: The Victorian Period, part of The Edinburgh History of Women’s Periodical Culture in Britain (Edinburgh University Press, 2019)

The review committee noted “this cutting edge collection of impressive intellectual heft and weight provides an invaluable contribution to periodical studies. It notably adds to this field-defining series with a stellar list of contributors who have done much to shape our understanding of the gendered nature of the periodical press. The lucid general introduction by the editors and concise introductions for each of six different sections that comprise this 35 chapter collection were especially commended. It offers such a comprehensive overview of the field and summary of current research that this work will form a first port of call for anyone working on women and the periodical press.”

Previous Colby Prize Winners







  • Fionnuala Dillane, Before George Eliot: Marian Evans and the Periodical Press (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and David Latané, William Maginn and the British Press: A Critical Biography (Ashgate, 2013)


  • Aileen Fyfe, Steam-Powered Knowledge: William Chambers and the Business of Publishing, 1820-1860 (Chicago University Press, 2012) and Robert Patten, Charles Dickens and “Boz”: The Birth of the Industrial Age Author (Cambridge University Press, 2012)


  • Joel Wiener, The Americanization of the British Press, 1830s-1914 (Palgrave, 2011)


  • Patrick Leary, The Punch Brotherhood: Table Talk and Print Culture in Mid-Victorian London (British Library, 2010).


  • Mark Schoenfield, British Periodicals and Romantic Identity (Macmillan, 2008)
  • Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (eds.), The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (Academia and the British Library, 2009).


  • Catherine Waters, Commodity Culture in Dickens’s Household Words: The Social Life of Goods (Ashgate, 2008).


  • Kathryn Ledbetter, Tennyson and Victorian Periodicals: Commodities in Context (Ashgate, 2007).


  • David Finkelstein, Print Culture and the Blackwood Tradition, 1805-1930 (University of Toronto Press, 2005).


  • Linda Hughes, Graham R.: Rosamund Mariott Watson, Woman of Letters (Ohio University Press, 2005).
  • Peter Morton, The Busiest Man in London: Grant Allen and the Writing Trade, 1875-1900 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).