Oxford professor and author Paul Slack has won the Samuel Pepys Award 2015 for The Invention of Improvement: Information and Material Progress in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford University Press).
Prof Slack was presented with the award at the annual Pepys Club dinner at the Travellers Club in London. He received a cheque for £2,000 and a specially-cast silver medal designed by Philip Nathan in memory of Robert Latham, former Pepys Librarian at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and joint editor of the acclaimed 11-volume edition of The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
The biennial prize - awarded to the book that makes the greatest contribution to our understanding of Samuel Pepys, his times or his contemporaries - was judged by chairman of the Samuel Pepys Club, Juian Amey; former Pepys librarian at Magdalene College Dr Richard Luckett; former British ambassador Robin O'Neill; Cambridge graduate in English Caroline Sandwich; and distinguished historian Sir Keith Thomas, whose publications include Religion and the Decline of Magic and Man and the Natural World (Penguin).
In The Invention of Improvement, Prof Slack traces the notional evolution of 'improvement' in English society from its beginnings in the 17th century, as a catalyst for innovation in industry, during an age in which change was often regarded with suspicion, to the dawning of the capitalist era, when society began to measure happiness by economic success. The Times Literary Supplement said of Prof Slack's work: “It deftly weaves together macro-analysis of England's changing fortunes with illuminating vignettes of the activities of particular visionaries and the texts that enshrined their ambitions.”
Amey, chair of the 2015 judges, said: “This is a mature work of scholarship which describes and analyses the development of economic theory in the early modern period and its impact on economic and social policy in the time of Pepys. Thought provoking and readable, it raises fundamental issues of economic policy which are still relevant today.”
Prof Slack is emeritus professor of Early Modern Social History at Oxford University and the author of The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England (OUP), From Reformation to Improvement: Public welfare in early modern England (OUP) and books on urban history and poverty in the 16th and 17th centuries.
He said: “Samuel Pepys and his contemporaries were among the first advocates of a uniquely English culture of social and economic improvement. I am delighted to think that this award for my book will encourage interest in the history of a major cultural shift that had lasting material consequences.”
Prof Slack will talk about his work at an event at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 2016, during the exhibition "Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution" from 20th November 2015– 28th March 2016.
This year (2015) marks 350 years since Samuel Pepys documented The Great Plague of London in the summer of 1665.