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Humanities Writing Competition

Opportunity for Year 12 students to research & write beyond the curriculum

Humanities Writing Competition

This annual competition is an opportunity for students to research and write beyond the curriculum, using one or more of the Lawrence Room museum objects, as their focus. Essays or creative responses (such as dramatic monologues or short stories) are equally welcome. We are looking for the ability to connect different areas of knowledge, to think about details and to communicate clearly.

Open to: UK students in Year 12 (or equivalent - S5/ Y13 - N.I) who have an interest in the Humanities. 

Prizes: Up to £200 cash and books to the value of £200 from Cambridge University Press, the latter to be shared between the winning entrant/s and their school/s. The prize fund may be divided between winning entrants.

The competition is currently closed.

Previous competition information

Focusing on Girton’s museum collection in the Lawrence Room, the Humanities Writing Competition aims to use ancient objects as a starting point for thinking across curricular divides – about the varieties of human experience that these survivals from the past can embody and reflect and the trains of thought they can set off. We are looking to encourage the ability to connect different areas of knowledge, to think about details and to communicate clearly. A winning entry will typically draw on (and reference, if appropriate) some in-depth research on the artefact being discussed, and also introduce some ideas of the entrant’s own: it is always fascinating for us to discover unexpected perspectives on the museum’s contents.

The objects in the Lawrence Room that were chosen as starting points for this year’s competition were: an Egyptian funerary ‘ba-bird’, a wooden bird with a human face representing an individual’s soul; a fourth-century Greek pottery figurine of a young man holding a cockerel; a Greek aryballos (miniature oil jar) decorated with an owl and a panther; a roof tile in the form of a fenghuang (phoenix) from Ming China; and a fragment of a woven woollen tunic from Coptic Egypt.

Yet again, the number of entries received was substantially up on last year’s total, so that being placed in this competition is a really meaningful achievement. All the objects inspired high-quality and interesting work: a preponderance of winning entries focused on the artistically brilliant and colourful fenghuang figure, but it was particularly heartening to find the Coptic tunic fragment – a low-key object at first glance – inspiring several knowledgeable and imaginative entries, in contrast to an earlier occasion when it was included.

Unusually, this year, there was a larger number of creative entries than of factual essays, including several fine poems. Creative engagement with an ancient artefact taking the form of a poem or story is wonderful but challenging to do well; we hope that we continue to receive plenty of carefully researched factual essays.

. We do not provide detailed feedback on individual essays other than those of the winners, but we send thanks to all the competitors for taking part.

First prize: Lara Orlandi (St Paul’s Girls’ School, London), for ‘The Significance of Feng Huang Symbolism in Chinese Architecture’: a full, scholarly and beautifully illustrated account of the belief-system that informed the phoenix roof tile.

Second prize: Miranda Black (Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge), for ‘Coptic Tunic Fragment: A Woven Essay’: an intriguing piece, half essay, half story, literally weaving together very different ‘strands’ of knowledge to create an imaginative whole.

Third prize: Rosetta Millar (Harris Westminster Sixth Form), for ‘Phoenix Ridge Tile, The Lawrence Room’: an impressively researched essay with excellent use of images, bringing in a comparison with the modern artist Ai-Wei Wei as an unexpected bonus.

Denis Morine (King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford), ‘Decoration, Deities, and Drinking: Delving into Ancient Sport and the Aryballos’: an original and well sustained argument about the contrasting attitudes to sport symbolised by Athena’s owl and the panther of Dionysos.

Oliver Laxton (Woodbridge School), ‘A Cornucopia of Cockerels’: showing great enthusiasm for the subject, this essay contained wide-ranging research around the significance of these birds in ancient Greek art. 

It was most enjoyable to welcome four of the five prizewinners to the college on 9 May to receive their prizes from the Mistress and to be given a tour of the Lawrence Room Museum and of the college. Many thanks to Girton Classics students Zac Copeland-Greene(former competition winner), Jack Hitchcock and Anouska Cowen for leading the tour.

Girton is grateful to Cambridge University Press and The C. Anne Wilson Fund for kind sponsorship of the competition.

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