2023 essay prize winners announced

Monday, April 3, 2023

MA award to Austin Foster and PhD award to Thomas M. Littlewood

PhD award: Thomas M. Littlewood


In awarding this year’s essay prize to Thomas M. Littlewood, PhD History candidate at the University of Guelph, the judges state that Thomas’ “article serves as an important reminder of the sharp distinction between history and memory.” PhD students in the Tri-University graduate history program compete for the annual prize by submitting an article that was published in the last year. Littlewood’s “Failure to Launch: Canadian Federal Government Attempts at Memorializing the Second World War, 1945-1967,” was published in the journal, Canadian Military History in June of 2022.

The judges further explain that Littlewood’s article “is a detailed exploration of the competing political, financial, and commemorative forces that ultimately led to a failed memorialization of the Second World War under successive Conservative and Liberal governments. His article draws on sources from the Canadian national archive as well as a wide range of literature on public history and memorialization.”

The article’s abstract adds that, “The current historiographical understanding of Canadian Second World War memory suggests that the country has done a poor job commemorating the dead of that war. However, the lack of traditional memorials and monuments does not necessarily indicate that the Second World War has gone unremembered, but that conceptualisations of memory need to be expanded to take stock of the commemorative landscape.”

In response to the award, Thomas reflects,

I’m pleased to have been awarded the Tri-U PhD essay prize for 2023. ‘Failure to Launch’ fills an important gap in our understanding of the commemoration of the Second World War. The article forms part of my dissertation which problematizes historians’ understanding of how the Second World War has been commemorated in Canada over the last 80 years. Thank you to the reviewers who adjudicated the prize submissions this year.

MA award: Austin Foster


Austin Foster’s “Development and Application of Racial Theories in the British Empire (1800-1900),” was judged the winner for the MA essay prize competition. In the citation, the judges explain that the University of Guelph student, “offers a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the ways that British policy makers manipulated racial theories to their own benefit. The committee was impressed with the wide range of difficult-to-find primary and secondary sources, and the brilliance of the writing. Austin demonstrated a command of the material and a confidence in his conclusions that arose from thorough research and conceptual clarity.”

MA essay prize winners are nominated by an instructor with a paper they submit to a class in the Fall semester prior to the essay competition. In this case, Austin’s paper was submitted to the course entitled, “Women, War, and Nation,” a topic in Cultural History taught by Dr. Norman Smith at the University of Guelph in Fall 2022.

Austin explains that the “paper examines the evolution of racial categorization and understandings of racial concepts throughout the nineteenth century. Through consideration of primary documentation,” the paper outlines “the methodology and ideologies utilized by British anthropologists, ethnographers, scientists, missionaries, and physicians to classify human races.”

Noting that, “The methods of exploitation are rooted in the scientific tradition of the period,” Austin explores “how these methods were appropriated and applied by British imperialists to consolidate power, construct and impose identities, justify British dominion over subjugated peoples, and understand the relationship between colonial peoples and imperial identity.” The work “is an examination of identity and social control under imperial subjugation. It is also a commentary on the corruptibility and malleability of natural curiosity.”

Austin expresses gratitude for receiving the essay prize and “acknowledges the support of his advisor, Dr. Jesse Palsetia, as well as Dr. Norman Smith, the nominator of his paper, and Dr. Peter Goddard, the current director of the Tri-University program. He notes that “The united efforts and passions of the professors at Guelph, Laurier, and Waterloo are instrumental to the success of the students within the program. We all benefit immensely from their combined guidance, experience, and professionalism.

I am deeply honored to be a member of this exceptional community. I am particularly grateful for the collaborative spirit that defines the program as well as my peers' invaluable support, guidance, and friendship.

Essay prize details

The essay prize awarded to each student is a $100 gift card from their local university bookstore. In this case since both students happen to be from the University of Guelph, the award comes from “The University Bookstore,” at the University of Guelph. The winners were announced by the Tri-University History Program Director, Dr. Peter Goddard at the annual conference held on March 25, 2023.

2023 adjudication committee

The Tri-University program is grateful for the work of the judges. The judging committee is made up of a faculty member from each of the three universities in the program. This year, the committee included Dr. Gary Bruce, University of Waterloo, Dr. Eva Plach, Wilfrid Laurier University and Dr. Norman Smith, University of Guelph.