2020 History Award Winners Announced

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Colgate’s Spring 2020 award winners were announced Friday, May 1st. We would like to congratulate this year’s History Award Winners: Zhelun Zhou, Catie Mathias, Anna Pluff, Liam Tuveson, and Kara Schindler. 

Zhelun Zhou '20 is this year's winner of the Scott Saunders Prize for Excellence in History. His award-winning thesis, '"The Grass Must Bend, When the Wind Blows Across It": British Colonial Hong Kong's Education Policies and its People's Response, 1967-1978' is based on archival research at the Public Record Office in London and its counterpart in Hong Kong. The thesis examines the ways in which debates over primary and secondary education in British-controlled Hong Kong unfolded during an era of immense turbulence both within the colony and on the Chinese mainland as it emerged from the self-inflicted wound of the Cultural Revolution. Parallel anxieties on the part of the inhabitants of Hong Kong and their British governors over the danger of unleashing uncontrollable political and social change caused both to seek an occasionally fractious but nonetheless sustainable modus vivendi. This untidy—though, in the end, mutually acceptable—solution holds lessons, Zhou suggests, for Hong Kong and China today at a moment of even greater mutual tension and suspicion.

Catie Mathias '20 is the winner of the History Honors Award for a distinguished thesis. 'A Policy But Not a Priority: An Investigation into the Carter Administration's Human Rights Policy in Argentina' draws upon a mass of recently declassified diplomatic documents concerning the problem Argentina's brutal anti-subversion programme in the late 1970s posed for President Jimmy Carter's administration. Announcing in his inauguration address a new commitment to ethical foreign policies, Carter found himself pulled in different directions by the human-rights monitors he himself had appointed and influential Washington policymakers concerned that making an international pariah of Argentina would drive its unpredictable military junta into the arms of the Soviet Union. Addressing the question of precisely what the Carter administration knew—or wanted to know—about the "dirty war" in Argentina, Mathias concludes that even if the dilemma the Administration confronted was ultimately an insoluble one, neither the Washington establishment nor the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires exerted themselves mightily to overcome it.

Anna Pluff '20, winner of the Award for Excellence in History, explores the political evolution of an important and controversial figure of the British ultra-right, Arthur Kenneth Chesterton. The Forrest Gump of British right-wing extremist movements in the twentieth century, Chesterton was a mainstay of a galaxy of shadowy anti-Semitic bodies ranging from the British Union of Fascists in the early 1930s to the National Front of the late 1960s. Yet it was through his leadership of the unintentionally comical League of Empire Loyalists in the 1950s, Pluff contends, that the mature form of Chesterton's idiosyncratic ideology was displayed: a quixotic attempt to reconcile a fundamentally conspiratorial and deeply bigoted worldview with a sincere commitment to parliamentary democracy. Her thesis, 'Laying the Fascist Ghost: A.K. Chesterton's Relationship with British Fascism, 1933-1973,' draws on her subject's personal papers at the University of Bath, as well as archival materials held by the Wiener Library in London.

Liam Tuveson '20 is co-winner of the Douglas K. Reading History Prize for 2020. Setting the British decision in 2016 to withdraw from the European Union in historical context, Tuveson argues in 'Sympathy for the Devil: An Analysis of Immigration Concerns in the Vote for Brexit' that for "Leave" voters in general and those in England in particular, the question of immigration control acquired a symbolic weight that was largely divorced either from the merits of the case or even the question of what kinds of immigrant to admit or exclude. Since the 1960s, Tuveson argues, the refusal of mainstream parties to accord the subject of immigration the priority that voters assigned to it gave rise to the perception that a democratic deficit had arisen at the heart of British politics. The connection of this concern to pre-existing concerns about the exercise of power by unelected EU officials in Brussels means, in Tuveson's view, that the outcome of the 2016 referendum ought to have come as much less of a surprise than it did; the warning signs had been visible for quite some time.

Kara Schindler '20, also co-winner of the Douglas K. Reading Prize, examines the political and cultural consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986 for the credibility of a Soviet Union hesitantly embarking on the path of centrally-directed reform under its new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. The disaster, Schindler maintains in 'Contaminated from Within: Chernobyl as a Symbol for the Political and Cultural Defects of the Soviet Empire,' not only had a devastating ecological impact on the peoples of Ukraine and Belarus; it threw into stark relief the immense and intractable structural problems of a decaying Communist system. Although the eventual implosion of the USSR cannot be attributed to a single industrial catastrophe, the spectacular and often cynical mismanagement of the situation by élites in Kiev and Moscow belied Soviet citizens' hopes that Gorbachev's kinder, gentler Communism might be a substantial improvement on its predecessors. If faith in the wisdom and competence of the nomenklatura died of radiation sickness at Chernobyl, Schindler believes, the basis of a more assertive civil society in the former Soviet Union's western borderlands is one of the things that can be observed rising from its ashes in the aftermath.