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Oxford establishes Barbara Savage Prize for best thesis in Black History

5 August 2020

The History Faculty has introduced a new undergraduate prize, named in honour of Professor Barbara Savage who joined the Queen’s community in 2018-19 as the Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History.

The thesis prize was created following a town-hall meeting run by the History Faculty consulting students to ask what could be done to make the teaching of history more diverse and inclusive and to advance race equality. Professor John Watts, Chair of the Faculty Board said: ‘creating the Black History thesis prize was something that we realised we could do right now, this year, to make explicit recognition of the excellent work of our students in the field, and it signals that the Faculty is committed to further change.’

Professor Barbara Savage is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘The new Black History Thesis Prize is a step toward making this field more visible at Oxford,’ she said. ‘Black history offers opportunities for exciting new research across time and space. The prize also signals that black lives mattered in the past, too. History always teaches us about the present. We cannot understand the nexus between racial legacies of the past and the pressing current moment without knowing that history. 

‘I am excited that the prize will encourage Oxford students to explore black history with the creativity and commitment I saw during my time there as Harmsworth Professor in 2018-19. It honours the field in which I work and I am humbled that it bears my name.’

Professor Savage is currently working on a biography of Professor Merze Tate, an African American woman who pioneered in the fields of diplomatic history and international relations during her tenure at Howard University from 1942 to 1977. Educated at both Oxford and Harvard, Tate was one of the few black women academics of her generation, and the first African American woman to attend Oxford.

The first winner of the Barbara Savage Prize is Sophie Gunning for her thesis ‘A Taste of Freedom?’ which focuses on how former slaves’ memories of food, cooking, taste, and smell worked to build and unite the black community in Georgia and undermine white supremacy in the 1930s. Find out more about Sophie’s thesis on the History website.

Professor Barbara Savage