Winner: Wood, Jennifer Linhart. Sounding Otherness in Early Modern Drama and Travel: Uncanny Vibrations in the English Archive. Series in New Transculturalisms, 1400–1800. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.
In her exciting and innovative book, Wood theorizes the phenomenology of “sounding” otherness both in early modern drama and travel encounters, providing an expansive model for interdisciplinary engagement across performance communities. Particularly powerful is her development of the notion of “sounding,” with sections focused on specific kinds of instruments and how they would have vibrated, literally and figuratively, in different contexts. Following the QR codes included in the book to listen to the accompanying YouTube recordings is a genuinely unique experience, allowing the reader to experiment with various acts of “sounding” in real time rather than only reading about them in the abstract. The reader’s body becomes what Wood calls “the sonic laboratory.”
The book’s global reach and interdisciplinary methodology follow the trajectory of medieval studies as turning toward the Medieval World rather than an anglophone-only experience. Using early modern sources "beyond the Anglosphere," Wood also directly addresses her own positionality as a white scholar engaging histories of colonialism and racialization. Her twin chapters on idiophones (bells and rattles) in the first section front-load this practice to demonstrate, among other things, the ways in which the invention of the witch in Europe paralleled the mapping of English witch culture onto Amerindian ceremony in the Americas. Reframing the ecosystem of performance and sound in the early modern world, of which drama is but one site, this energizing work has the potential to change how we think about sound in/and performance, whether in the early modern period or today. More expansively, Wood provides a model for how the field might move forward by bringing Indigenous Studies and Premodern Critical Race Studies into fruitful dialogue.
Honorable Mention: Sergi, Matthew. Practical Cues and Social Spectacle in the Chester Plays. University of Chicago Press, 2020.
Sergi’s Practical Cues seems to be the fullest answer to the promise contained within David Bevington’s From Mankind to Marlowe, that performance is part of the bones of what remains of medieval play-texts like the Chester cycle. This book speaks to both theatre-makers and theatre-scholars about the types of embodiment these play-texts afford or “cue." Sergi balances close reading of texts and records with practical questions about embodied performance, putting to use his own experience as both a practitioner and a scholar. Particularly in his use of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, Sergi’s book suggests exciting avenues for more work that engages Performance as Research in early theatre studies.
Award Committee: Carolyn Coulson (chair), Melinda Gough, and Elizabeth E. Tavares. Awards announcement and presentation took place during the MRDS business meeting in May, held online by way of Zoom due to the COVID19 global pandemic.