2021 History Award Winners Announced

Back to History News and Updates

Colgate’s 2021 award winners were announced on Friday, April 30. We would like to congratulate this year’s History Award Winners: Karen (Lijun) Zhang, Victoria Basulto, Alara Burgess, and Megan Nicholson.

Lijun (Karen) Zhang ’21 is the winner of the Scott Saunders Prize for Excellence in History and the Award for Excellence in History. Her thesis, “‘Fighting the Social Evil:’ Policing Prostitution in Singapore, 1936–1963,” draws upon oral histories, newspaper sources and archival materials in London and Singapore. The thesis examines the policy debates over prostitution in Singapore and the experiences of the local people who were affected by the policies in the tumultuous period between the start of the Sino-Japanese War and decolonization. Although the policies to regulate prostitution did not undergo substantial changes from 1936 to 1963, Zhang argues that local politicians imbued these regulations with new political meanings. While the colonial authorities justified the policies to curb prostitution by emphasizing the moral differences between the colonizers and the colonized, local politicians used these policies to justify their moral superiority over the colonial power and assert their right to govern. In doing that, both the colonial officials and the local authorities exercised the symbolic power of the state and sought political legitimacy by suppressing prostitution and policing women’s bodies. In the meantime, they both failed to recognize the experiences and agency of women who were directly affected by these policies.

Alara Burgess ’21, co-winner of the History Honors Award for a distinguished thesis, examines the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s to focus on a small but impactful body of women who are often left out of popular memory and AIDS-focused media. Her “Lesbian Activism in the AIDS Crisis, with an Emphasis on Direct Action Effected by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)” shifts common conceptions of AIDS activists to focus on lesbian women, who organized direct action, shaped internal policy of activist groups, and won local and national legal battles. Burgess uses oral history as told by lesbians involved in ACT UP during the 1980s and 1990s — taken from ACT UP’s archives of video interviews and transcripts — as well as AIDS education materials self-published by these same women. The thesis argues that lesbians played a larger role in AIDS activism than they are given credit for: they effected change not only to both American society and government but also within groups like ACT UP to make actions and ideology more effective and inclusive.

Megan Nicholson ’21 is the co-winner of the History Honors Award for a distinguished thesis. “‘That’s The Way To Do It!’: An Exploration of the Punch and Judy Show in the Victorian Period” explores the linguistic and plot changes of the puppet show Punch and Judy in relation to cultural changes as Queen Victoria rose to power. The puppet show, originating as a street performance, featured drastically violent displays between puppet characters in which onlookers found simple humor. It reflected the gory comedic standards of the pre-Victorian age. However, Nicholson argues that changes within performances are linked to the expanding need for upper-class “respectability” that was demanded within Victorian society. With the rise of the first organized police force in the world and a decrease in violent public entertainment like executions, Punch and Judy was slowly losing its appeal and lower-class audience. Here, Nicholson believes, is where Punch and Judy performers were forced to conform to the times and become “respectable,” and made the turn to children’s humor. Through a close analysis of scripts available from the Victoria and Albert Museum archives, Nicholson tracks the “softening” of the language and characters depicted in the series.

Victoria Basulto ’21 is the winner of the Douglas K. Reading History Prize for outstanding work in the history major. In “‘First, Win the War’: Regional Republican Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939,” Basulto analyzed Civil War-era Republican posters created by, or for, inhabitants of three different autonomous regions in Spain — Galicia, Catalonia, and the Basque provinces. Using Republican propaganda posters drawn from a combination of Civil War poster books and archival collections in London, she investigated the ways in which regional Republican visual propaganda differed from posters and other forms of art created by the Castilian-identifying population of the Spanish Republic. Her analysis included an in-depth look at case studies from each region as well as a historical contextualization of each region’s relationship with the Spanish state. Basulto maintains that, although regional Republican visual propaganda often contained iconography that referenced their unique cultures, most of the case studies showcased ways in which these cultural differences were sacrificed to create unity within the Republican front against the common enemy. This was an attempt by Republican supporters from Galicia, Catalonia, and the Basque provinces to “first, win the war” against the anti-regionalist Francisco Franco before pursuing their own individual goals of independence or autonomy.