Hughes Prize

Home/Prizes/Hughes Prize
Hughes Prize2020-05-12T11:10:05+00:00

About the BSHS Hughes Prize

The BSHS Hughes Prize, formerly the BSHS Dingle Prize, is awarded every two years to the best book in the history of science (broadly construed) published in English which is accessible to a wide audience of non-specialists. The prize is very much in keeping with the Society’s concern to communicate history of science to a wide audience. The winning book should present some aspect of the field in an engaging and comprehensible manner and should also show proper regard for historical methods and the results of historical research: for example, it might re-examine a well-known historical incident or achievement, or bring new perspective to previously neglected figures or fields in the past.

The value of the Prize is £300. The winner may also have the opportunity to give a public lecture or presentation, sponsored by the BSHS, on the subject of their book.

The Dingle Prize was established in 1997 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Society, and is named after the mathematician, astronomer and philosopher of science Herbert Dingle, a founder member of the BSHS. It was renamed in 2019 in memory of former BSHS President Jeff Hughes.

To receive notification of the entry round for the next BSHS Hughes Prize please sign up

2019 Hughes Prize

The 2019 Hughes Prize was awarded to James Delbourgo for his book Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum

In the intensively researched and elegantly written book, Delbourgo explores the way modern science and collecting are intertwined with empire and slavery. Delbourgo uses these connections to paint a rich, complex and fascinating picture of the era. ‘Collecting the world’ is not an exaggeration, as Delbourgo shows how the British Empire absorbed and redefined, through its collections, the natural and cultural life of the world, and presented it in London for all to see.

Tim Boon, BSHS President and Head of Research at the Science Museum Group, said: “I am delighted that James Delbourgo’s ‘Collecting the World’ has been selected by our jury as the winner of the Hughes Prize. This book exemplifies the relevance of the historiographical approach of our discipline, history of science, to understanding the world, including its science and its museums, as we experience them today.

“The Jury for the BSHS Hughes Prize 2019 award this prize in recognition of James Delbourgo’s achievement in historical scholarship and its potential to contribute to important debates of today. The Jury also enthusiastically recommend this book to readers with interest in global history, museums and collecting, Restoration England, the history of the medical profession or the history of international trade.”

2017 Dingle Prize

The BSHS awarded the 2017 Dingle Prize for the best popular book in history of science, technology and medicine to Andrea Wulf for her remarkable book The Invention of Nature: the Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science (London: John Murray, 2015). The judging was chaired by Jim Secord and the four other members of the panel were Matthew Eddy, Anne Hanley, Martin Rudwick and Sophie Waring.

“The award of the Dingle Prize particularly recognizes Andrea Wulf’s mastery of the vast range of history of science scholarship on Humboldt and her command of original sources in multiple languages. Timely and significant—particularly given current attacks on climate change science – this is scientific biography at its best. The judging committee appreciated the range and quality of this year’s submissions, and made its final selection from a diverse shortlist of seven books representing the requisite qualities of accessibility and scholarship.”

The other shortlisted titles were:

Fay Bound Alberti, This Mortal Coil: the Human Body in History and Culture, Oxford University Press

M. Bucciantini, Michelle Camerota and Franco Giudice, Galileo’s Telescope: A European Story, Harvard University Press

Gordon Corera, Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies, Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Michael D. Gordin, Scientific Babel: How Science was Done Before and After Global English, University of Chicago Press

Tania Munz, The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of Honeybee Language, University of Chicago Press

Ulinka Rublack, The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for his Mother, Oxford University Press

2015 Dingle Prize

The BSHS awarded the 2015 Dingle Prize for the best book in history of science, technology and medicine accessible to a popular audience is awarded to Martin Rudwick for his book Earth’s Deep History: how it was discovered and why it matters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). The judging was chaired by Gowan Dawson and three other members of the jury – Helen Bynum, Patricia Fara and Vanessa Heggie.

From the young Earth theories of the seventeenth century to the startling discoveries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inquisitive individuals have questioned the story of our planet’s development. Martin’s book captures vividly the significance and dynamism of these discoveries, providing an engaging yet rigorous account of how these ideas were debated and discussed. Martin gave the 2015 Dingle Prize Lecture on the subject of his winning entry at the BSHS Annual Meeting in Swansea on Friday 3 July 2015.

The other shortlisted books were:

Mark Jackson, The History of Medicine: A Beginner’s Guide

James A. Secord, Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age

David Knight, Voyaging in Strange Seas: The Great Revolution in Science

Kersten T. Hall, The Man in the Monkeynut Coat: William Astbury and the Forgotten Road to the Double-Helix

Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt, Finding Longitude: How Ships, Clocks and Stars helped solve the Longitude Problem

2013 Dingle Prize

The BSHS awarded the 2013 Dingle Prize to David Wright for Downs: The History of a Disability. Published by Oxford University Press this excellent book is a genuine attempt to engage a wide audience of non-specialists in a way that reflects some of the major virtues of current historiography of medicine and science. The judges commented that Wright has produced “a terrific book” and “a little gem”, which “has valuable contributions to make to current debates” in the history of science and medicine. In dealing with the history of Down’s syndrome – a subject for which very few other wide-ranging historical studies exist, but for which there is a substantial secondary literature from other perspectives – Wright has also achieved the Prize’s requirement to “re-examine a well-known historical incident or achievement, or bring new perspective to previously neglected figures or fields in the past.” Wright’s book faced stiff competition from over sixty other nominations, and this represented the largest field of entries ever for this competition.

The judges also strongly commend both D. Graham Burnett’s The Sounding of the Whale (University of Chicago Press) and Jon Agar’s Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Polity). Both books are truly extraordinary in their depth (Burnett) and breadth (Agar), and make significant contributions to the history of science and more broadly to our understanding of twentieth-century history. They are also remarkable in being books that, while written primarily with a scholarly audience in mind, are nevertheless accessible and of interest to a wider audience, and an excellent advertisement for the discipline.

Judging Panel: Dr Simon Chaplin (Chair), Dr Tim Boon, Dr Sabine Clarke, Dr Sophie Forgan, Dr Melanie Keene, Dr James Stark (BSHS Outreach and Education Committee Chair).

2011 Dingle Prize

In their timescales, styles and physical formats, the 40 books nominated for the 2011 Dingle Prize represented well the diversity of popular history of science writing published in 2009 and 2010.

The longlist of 16 books ranged from introductory surveys to biographies of people and objects, local history and media tie-ins. They introduced famous and unsung heroes, and disciplines from mathematics to genetics. They travelled from the ancient middle-east to contemporary Silicon Valley; and they were authored by historians of science, journalists and science writers. This diversity was an encouraging sign of publishers’ appetite for the field, particularly for twentieth century topics — yet it also made it difficult to compare some very different texts (e.g. a synoptic 400-year history versus one detailed case-study versus an introductory think-piece for mathematicians). Nevertheless the judges unanimously agreed on a shortlist of 4 books:

  • Richard Dunn: The Telescope. A Short History (National Maritime Museum, 2009).
  • Patricia Fara: Science. A Four Thousand Year History (OUP, 2009).
  • James Hannam: God’s Philosophers. How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Icon, 2009).
  • Sean Johnston: History of Science. A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld, 2009).

All 4 books impressed the judges as being engagingly written, appealingly presented and historically insightful. Any would have been a worthy winner. But the judges agreed that in its admirably broad scope, its historical and historiographical depth and its engaging re-presentation of the best of recent scholarship, the 2011 Dingle Prize should be awarded to Patricia Fara for “Science: A Four Thousand Year History.”

In her acceptance speech, given in absentia at the 2011 annual BSHS conference held in Exeter, Patricia said:

I feel so overwhelmed by this honour that I hardly know how to begin expressing my appreciation. I should start by apologizing for not being at Exeter: I had no idea until Tuesday that I would win this prize and by then, it was too late to alter my existing commitments. More importantly, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to everybody who was involved in this decision. I am particularly proud to receive this accolade from a Society of scholars who, above all others, are so well-placed to appreciate my book’s shortcomings. This award means far far more to me than the pleasure I’ve gained by seeing my book reviewed in a newspaper, sitting on the shelves of a shop or translated into a foreign language.

As an eighteenth-century historian, I realise that for 3900 years-worth of knowledge, I relied heavily on the expertise of other people. As well as turning to books and papers, I also asked for help from friends and colleagues, who were extraordinarily generous in reading drafts and offering me advice. So although it was me who wrote the words and made the mistakes, I do see this book as a collective enterprise.

Herbert Dingle left school when he was only 14, but eleven years later, won a scholarship to Imperial College. I’ve partially followed in his footsteps by going to Imperial College as an MSc student 18 years after graduating. More significantly, Dingle’s subsequent career as an astronomer is a tribute to the benefits of government investment in widening participation. Since this book was published, I have spent much of my time promoting access to higher education and trying to ensure that this country does not regress to a system based on privilege rather than ability. Like Dingle, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from a late start in academia, and I hope that this book will fulfil Dingle’s expectation of making other people as enthusiastic about the history of science as I am.

Patricia Fara
14 July 2011

Previous winners of the Dingle Prize

  • 2009: Thomas Dixon for Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. In commending Dixon’s book the judges wrote: “Using a wide-range of examples Dixon beautifully demonstrates how the history of science can illuminate a complex issue of contemporary importance – the relationship between science and religion. The book is historically sophisticated, intellectually engaging, and thought provoking. It is clearly and concisely written, well argued, and accessible to the non-expert; it should appeal to a wide readership not only beyond the history of science community but also outside academia.”
  • 2007: Philip Ball for Elegant Solutions: Ten Beautiful Experiments in Chemistry. London: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2005
  • 2005: Stephen Pumfrey for Latitude and the Magnetic Earth: the True Story of Queen Elizabeth’s Most Distinguished Man of Science. Icon Books, 2003
  • 2003: Ken Alder for The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World. London: Little, Brown, 2002
  • 2001: Deborah Cadbury for The Dinosaur Hunters. London: Fourth Estate, 2000
  • 1999: Steven Shapin for The Scientific Revolution. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996
  • 1997: Adrian Desmond and James Moore for Darwin. London: Penguin, 1992

Hughes Prize News