Biennial First Book Award

2020 First Book Award Finalists

First Book Award Logo

The submission period for the 2020 First Book Award has closed.

Interior of Phila; Library, Fifth and Library Streets, 1878. [graphic] / B. R. Evans.

This prize was established in 2018 to recognize an extraordinary contribution to early American studies using Library Company collections. This year, we have opted to recognize a significant first book published by an early-career scholar within the past two years. To ensure the broadest possible survey of recent scholarship, we welcome nominations from staff, research fellows, independent scholars, and friends of the Library Company. The award includes a $2,000 prize and recognition at the Library Company’s 289th Annual Dinner on November 9, 2020.


The First Book Award will recognize a recent first book published by an early-career scholar that makes a significant contribution to early American studies using the book, graphic arts, or art & artifacts collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Measures of significance include excellence and contribution to field(s) of study; integration of Library Company collections; application of interdisciplinary theories or methodologies; and engagement with broader social issues. Early American studies is defined expansively to align with the collecting strengths of the Library Company of Philadelphia: American culture and society between the 17th and 19th centuries. Substantive use of and engagement with Library Company collections is essential, and preference will be given to projects that traverse program-area strengths: early American history, literature, and culture; political economy, economic culture, and business & economic history; graphic arts and visual culture; and African American and women’s history.


Evaluation will be conducted in two stages. First, a committee comprised of Library Company leadership will consider the suitability of nominations with regards to collection and program-area strengths. Second, external readers will be invited to evaluate finalists in terms of their specific contributions to a field(s) or discipline.


We welcome proposals from early-career scholars who published a first book between January 1, 2018 and July 1, 2020. While substantive engagement with Library Company collection is expected, research needn’t have been performed during a research fellowship. To submit a nomination, please complete the form below or send an email to by July 1, 2020. Nominations must include book title, author, press, publication date, and optional note concerning project merit. Please contact Dr. William D. Fenton, Director of Research and Public Programs, with questions. Finalists will be announced in September 2020 and the recipient will be announced in November 2020.

Library Company of Philadelphia Review Committee

Chair: William D. Fenton, Director of Research and Public Programs

  • Deirdre Cooper Owens, Director of the Program in African American History
  • James N. Green, Librarian
  • Cornelia King, Chief of Reference and Curator of Women’s History
  • Cathy Matson, Director of the Program in Early American Economy and Society
  • Erika Piola, Curator of Graphic Arts and Director of the Visual Culture Program

The 2020 First Book Award was made possible with the generous support of Maria M. Thompson.

Past Recipients

2018 First Book Award
Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2016)