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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
March 3, 2003

Carnegie Mellon Professor Wins Literature Prize

PITTSBURGH—Michael Witmore, assistant professor of literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University, is a co-winner of this year's Barbara Perkins and George Perkins Prize from the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature.

Witmore received the award for his book "Culture of Accidents," which examines the role of accidental events in science, drama and theology during the early modern period in England, around the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Witmore began work on the book as a graduate student after reading "The New Organon" by Francis Bacon. Bacon, considered the father of empirical science, argued that experimentation was needed to learn about nature those things that previously had been revealed through accidents.

In "The Culture of Accidents," Witmore says that accidents can only happen in the context of a narrative story that has a beginning, middle and end.

"Thus narrative and telling stories about accidents becomes a crucial way of defining what an accident is in the philosophical tradition. No one from Aristotle to Bacon can define accident as a philosophical term without telling a story or using an extended example," Witmore said.

The Perkins prize is awarded annually to the book that makes the most significant contribution to the study of narrative. Witmore will share the $1,000 award with Amy J. Elias, an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee. Elias won for her book "Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction."


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