On May 7th 1952, The Times reported: Congregation at Oxford will be asked on Tuesday next to accept a gift of £4,000 from an anonymous benefactor who wishes to encourage the study by schoolboys and by more mature students of non-classical archaeology and general history, as deduced from comparative archaeology, of the countries of the Near East.

 

Egyptologist Gerald Avery Wainwright, B.Litt., educated 1889-1896 at Clifton College, Bristol University and Oxford (St Catherine’s Society) worked with Petrie before joining the staff of the Egyptian Antiquities Service.

 

Was his benefaction – specifically not for the languages or philology, excluding the archaeology of Greece and the Aegean – an implied comment on Classics at Clifton? The conditions he sought to impose were magnificently idiosyncratic not to say non-p.c. His £25 ‘schoolboy’ Essay Prize was restricted to forty, named, Public Schools – Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Clifton, Shrewbury,Westminster etc. Although sometimes, enlightened (he desires that very sympathetic consideration be given to an applicant – for a Fellowship- who has hitherto been unable to work at archaeology professionally but has had to earn his living by other means) a manuscript note from a University administrator pithily observes, “He hates women, Roman Catholics and elementary schoolboys with uniform dislike.” To its eternal credit, the University decreed that, if Roman Catholics were excluded, it would decline the bequest. Although relenting, Wainwright still insisted his words it would have been my desire that a candidate should not be Roman Catholic remain in his Memorandum.

 

To-day, the annual “schoolboy” Essay Prize (now £250) is open to both sexes and all schools in Britain. There is also a Junior (U16) Prize and a Class Project Award, aimed at the 12-13 year group. Generously augmented by the testator’s will in 1964, the Wainwright Fund has funded a succession of research Fellowships (Diana Kirkbride – excavator of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Beidha – among the first.) In addition grants, which must now total about £1M, have been made to archaeological surveys and research projects spanning the whole of the Near East. To commemorate its Fiftieth Anniversary, the Fund financed a one-off, twoyear, Pre-Doctoral Scholarship – thus promoting Near Eastern Archaeology from early Secondary through to Post-Doctoral level.

 

This year’s Senior Prize was shared. To What Extent Can Sir Leonard Woolley Be Better Described as an Imperial Orientalist Than a Scientific Archaeologist? submitted by a City of London School boy, delved into British Museum archival material. “Meticulous reference to both primary and secondary sources, demonstrated mature, balanced, critical judgement.” (Assessing Woolley’s claim that it was his wife who adduced evidence of “The Flood”, the young essayist astutely observed this claim is contradicted by the ‘immediate academic record’ of notebooks in the BM ‘which belonged to the young Mallowan’ who was supervising the relevant site.)

 

From Belfast High School, his co-winner’s elegant, outstanding, essay, The search for Troy was “scholarly, readable, persuasively original work of the highest quality.” And, (does Wainwright turn in his grave?) a girl. So was the Junior winner, also from Belfast High. Nineveh: The Great City of Assyria, a model of scholarly exposition with a highly readable text was “meticulously referenced, an exceptional piece of work by any standard, let alone from a 15 year-old.” The outright winner in 2003 came from the same school; Belfast High has achieved a most remarkable hat-trick.

 

Redruth School has, over several years, produced, an impressive succession of winning Class Projects – a fine tribute to informed, enthusiastic teaching. These are always joy to read, refreshed as they are by off-beat but perceptive comments.

 

Utlimate Travel Guides – Egypt (‘signed by the author’!) enthused “Sun all year round, pretty women, cool jewellery you get my drift? Egypt has got to be one of the nicest places in history to stay.” This tongue-in-cheek approach could not detract from her shrewd understanding of the facts she uses so humorously and adroitly. Concluding the section on embalming: “Talk about making a fuss. The person’s dead for goodness sake…… Like I said at the beginning of this chapter, you can always organise for someone to take an early departure from life on earth, but if you want to see them mummified as I have described, make sure you kill someone rich.” Watch out Time Team: here is someone destined, I fear, to become the next notable (notorious?) populariser of archaeology.

 

The Prize sets out to cherish ‘best scholarly practice. Over the years we have received original, imaginative entries, complemented by unfussy footnotes, accurate references and excellent bibliographies, which would put to shame many apparently ‘acceptable’ undergraduate dissertations.’ It is aimed at everyone who, perhaps for the first time, experiences the unrivalled excitement of genuine research.We want not only to encourage those who come to it through A level Course-work but also, perhaps especially, those rare, exceptional individuals whose talents have developed unrecognised, outside their school curriculum. Among these bright young scholars are our Woolleys, Mallowans, Kenyons and Kirkbrides of the future. If you know one, encourage him, or her, to find out more.

 

Further information: David Griffiths, Secretary, GA Wainwright Prize, The Khalili Research Centre, 3 St. John Street, Oxford, OX1 2LG Email: david.griffiths@orinst.ox.ac.uk www.gawainwright.co.uk  

 

 

 

This opinion comes from CA issue 205

       

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