2018 Undergraduate Essay Prize - winners announced

The winners of the third Merton College Undergraduate Essay Prize have been announced, and once again the judges have included a runner-up as well.

Winner of this year's first-year prize was History student Robert Lentz, whose essay was entitled “'The supreme political achievement of early modern Europeans was not so much the development of the power of the state as of ideas and institutions for resisting it'. Discuss.”. Robert explained how he came to write his essay:

"This essay was written as the last in a tutorial cycle covering the history of Europe from 1400 to 1650. Despite its rather elaborate title, over the course of my reading in preparation for the essay I was pleasantly surprised to find that it provided a suitable conclusion to the broad range of topics covered over the term, by incorporating key elements of intellectual, political, religious, and social history.

"As the essay centred around the 'emergence' of theories of resistance, it leant itself to a chronological approach. I therefore charted the gradual development and intensification of arguments used, initially for defence against ruling bodies, and subsequently to attack or overthrow them. The clear parallels between the formation of such arguments, and the progression of the Reformation, were particularly striking.

"Conventional historiography states the rise of absolutism to be the principal feature of political theory in this period; attempting to counter this with an exploration of resistance theories was certainly the most enjoyable part of writing this essay."

Robert added:

"I am deeply honoured to have been awarded the Undergraduate Essay Prize, First Year Category, this year. I  thank the Junior Research Fellows for holding such competitions, particularly as they provide an alternative means to examinations for the recognition of academic achievement."

The winner of the second-year and above prize was Julia Routledge, a second-year History student; her essay explored the question, "How far did myths of resistance or national victimhood serve as a source of political legitimacy in post-war Europe?".

She described her approach:

"I wrote this essay as part of my General History paper on 20th-century Europe, and it allowed me to draw upon political, social and psychological themes in assessing the impact of post-war myths of Resistance and national victimhood in Europe. There was a notable diversity of responses to the trauma of WWII: ironically perhaps, these myths played a much greater role in establishing political legitimacy in Western rather than Eastern Europe, even though countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands had suffered comparatively less, and real resistance had been far less marked.

"Alongside the myths of resistance in the West, which cloaked governments in legitimacy and facilitated reintegration and stability, I was struck by the complex memory cultures that coalesced in post-war Germany. The dominant discourse which emerged was one of German victimhood, with scant regard for the millions of Europeans who had suffered at hands of the Nazis. This 'collective amnesia' enabled Germans to begin to make sense of their experiences and reconstruct their shattered society. Unpicking the way in which such myths functioned was a fascinating process."

Julia said she was thrilled to receive this prize, adding that she was immensely grateful to Merton and to the Junior Research Fellows.

Runner-up for the second-year and above prize was Alexander Eperon, a Philosophy and Modern Languages student, with an essay discussing Dante’s meditation on justice in the heaven of Jupiter.

The Undergraduate Essay Prize competition was open to all current Humanities and Social Science undergraduates, with a single prize of £150 for the winning essay. The essay had to be one which had already been submitted for a tutorial, and could be no more than 3,000 words in length.

The entries were judged by Merton’s Junior Research Fellows in Humanities and Social Sciences, who considered:

  • clarity of thought and expression;
  • logical and effective organization of ideas to build a coherent argument;
  • effective integration of supporting evidence, where appropriate;
  • effective use of elements of style to enhance meaning;
  • independence of judgement; and
  • accurate referencing, appropriate to subject-specific conventions.