Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The 2014 Bob Chapple Archaeological Essay Prize in association with Wordwell Books | The Results

In December 2013 I published a piece on this blog about a little idea I’d had to commemorate my late father, Robert F Chapple, in the form of an archaeological essay prize. My dad had worked on an archaeological excavation as a schoolboy and had been instrumental in providing the inspiration for much of my own career in the field. My goal in this was simple - I had wanted to capture some of that inspiration my father had given to me and pass it on to another generation of archaeologists. I had hoped that by providing the platform of this blog, I might assist in introducing the scholars of tomorrow to the wider world today. Beyond that, I hoped that the essays submitted would themselves act as catalysts for inspiration to those outside academia or the archaeological professions. I sketched out some competition rules and Nick Maxwell of Wordwell Books (publishers of Archaeology Ireland magazine) generously agreed to sponsor the prize of a €60 book voucher against his publications.

By the time the competition closed in November 2014, I had received three submissions. Not a vast number, it is true, but what they lacked in quantity, they more than made up for in quality.

In order of publication, they were:

Each essay has much to commend it and, if you haven’t already, I would urge you to take the time and read them all.

I made it clear from the beginning that I would not be judging these works myself. Instead, I wanted to establish a panel of judges and only exercise a casting vote in the event of a tie … though I sincerely hoped that it would not be necessary. I had no trouble in putting together my list of possible judges … it was a matter of minutes to think of a group of respected, trusted friends and acquaintances of varying profiles within the profession that I would approach. It was only after a little further thinking on the matter that I realised that I had neglected to include any females among this number. Considering that I’d only recently published a piece highlighting how female academic archaeologists have been neglected in receiving the top honours of the profession, it was a chastening realisation that I’d – however inadvertently – strayed into the same error of creating a mental ‘boys club’. I decide to calmly interrogate my own motives on this … Did I not know any female archaeologists? [I know plenty] Did I think they’d be up to the job, fair, and impartial? [of course they would!] Did I think they’d not be interested? [I would have no idea until I asked them … same with the men!] … Well, why not? With that, I decided to restructure my mental search – how about I went about creating a list of suitable judges – held to no less a standard than I would expect from my first male-only group – and see where it got me. Within only a few minutes I had produced a list of contacts that I would be more than equal to the task. In the end, I was proud to have a judging panel of five very capable women at various places in their careers and at various degrees of visibility within the profession. While the identities of the judges are confidential, even to each other, I can tell you that they include prominent field, academic, and public sector archaeologists, along with retirees, those recently embarked on their careers, and a number making their presences felt within the profession. For the most part, though, they do not represent the universities as I wanted to recruit those for whom reading essays was a relative novelty and not just more of the same that they do as part of the day job. I asked them to assess each entry across a number of weighted criteria:

1) How well is the research communicated?
a) Is it well written? (No mistakes in spelling or grammar; is the prose readable?)
b) Does the paper have a coherent structure and argument/presentation? (Are there logical gaps or missteps? Is it presented in a clear & coherent manner?)

2) The Inspiration Factor
a) Do you think this is research is presented in an interesting and engaging manner? Does it make you want to know more?
b) How do you feel that this paper acts as inspiration for others? Do you feel that someone outside the profession would read this & be inspired to learn more? – either about this specific topic, or archaeology in general?

From the outset, I realised that the idea of ‘The Inspiration Factor’ is a particularly intangible one and very much grounded in personal choice – which is all the more reason that I wanted to recruit a relatively wide variety of judges who would bring a broad spectrum of perspectives to the task.

I can only say that they have been spectacular. They have my huge thanks and admiration for the dedication and rigour they brought to the judging process.

Like Highlander, there can be only one! And without further ado, I am delighted to announce that the winner is …

I’m sure that all involved, from fellow contestants, to judges, our generous sponsors Wordwell Books, and the readership of this blog will join with me in offering our sincere and warmest congratulations.

Thank you to you all!

Robert M Chapple