Every year the History organises a competition for the best undergraduate dissertation presented in 2016 on a subject relating to British or Irish parliamentary or political history before 1997. Universities across the country submit a wide range of entries of a very high standard, this year covering everything from 17th century political philosophy to Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy and managerial style.
Our judges, the Trust’s editors and editorial board, decided this year to divide the prize between two joint winners: Eloise Davies (Cambridge University) and Susannah Owen (Keele University). We met both winners last night at our annual lecture, where they received their prizes from our chair of trustees, Gordon Marsden MP.
Eloise Davies’ dissertation, ‘The Blasphemy Act of 1698’ focussed on this relatively neglected piece of parliamentary legislation. Davies discussed both the cultural and political contexts for the act, and argued that it was an important aspect of the much more well-known controversy over the decision to greatly reduce the size of the army, against the wishes of William III, after the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick ended the 9 years’ war. Davies ably demonstrated how the act highlighted the variety of political and religious groupings within parliament. Our judges considered her ‘careful, very comprehensive’ research to be ‘deeply scholarly’ and a ‘genuinely original and significant contribution’ to its field.
Susannah Owen’s dissertation, ‘Digitally Mapping Popular Political Activity in Manchester, 1792-5’, took an innovative, digital approach to an old historical controversy. Owen investigated the complicated history of radical and loyalist groups in England in the early years of the French Revolution before the passing of the Seditious Meeting and Treason Acts in 1795 effectively repressed radical groups. To do so she created an interactive map of popular political activity around Manchester in her chosen period, including 100 different historical events, and concluded that the loyalists were better at dominating public space, owing to their unofficial and formal sanction by the authorities. Our judges praised Owen’s ‘literary flair’, and felt that her ‘understanding and critical awareness’ of new digital humanities techniques was ‘handled in a quite sophisticated and subtle way’.
Many thanks to all our competition entrants for another excellent year of new research.