You’ll no doubt have noticed, on the module website, a link to the Open University’s undergraduate Classics essay-writing contest for the Kassman Prize. Should you enter? What’s involved? And – crucially – is it worth the effort of writing a whole new piece of work? I asked previous winners for their thoughts.
The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize in Classical Studies: Why Enter?
For me the decision to enter an essay for the Kassman Prize was triggered by a certain amount of self interest in that the Kassman is a prestigious prize and is a very useful thing to have on one’s academic CV.
The TMAs on A340 seemed to me to be very constrictive, especially when compared to the course it replaced, and they only seemed to require the writing of relatively short essays on specific topics. It is one thing to be given a topic and a title for an essay and guidelines on writing it, and totally different having to determine these for oneself.
I decided that the Kassman Essay would give me the opportunity to explore a topic of specific interest to me, with no other guidance than a set word limit, in much the way an article for an academic journal might be triggered, or a Masters dissertation or Doctoral thesis outline might require.
What gave me pleasure was the freedom to decide on a topic of interest and then doing the research required to produce an original piece without any guidance. I chose for my title “The reaction of Rome to the emergence of ‘Christianity’ in the Empire 30-67AD”. This allowed me to explore my own two main interests – Roman History and early Jewish/Christian relations – and how these entities interacted in the early years of the ‘Christian’ era.
I would recommend entering to anyone who enjoys researching and writing about their subject – and if you are placed you get a book token as well!
After a long winter and spring of studying and juggling work or caring responsibilities, why take on a summer of research and writing for no apparent academic benefit? Well, you may win a nice £100 book token, and also get the kudos from having your moment on the OU Classical Studies blog. However, that shouldn’t be your primary reason for entering – although admittedly it’s easy for me to say, having been both joint winner in 2013 and winner in 2014! Sincerely, the best reason, and why I entered twice, was that you can write for once on your topic of choice and you’re not bound by a module curriculum. The question is yours to decide, the method is yours to decide: no more second guessing what the tutor/module is looking for – it’s your agenda. So, if you have something you want investigate more fully or even something completely different from the course materials, this is your chance!
The actual undertaking of producing an essay for this competition provides many benefits for your advancement as a student; it helps find your own voice, gives a neutral environment to gain an independence from undergraduate work and should help you find what exactly most excites you in the classical world. Whether you win or not, there are no losers; as such as the taking part itself is to be lauded. Furthermore, this may not be the end of your essay. My 2014 essay ended up in Issue One of the Classics Student Journal, Neo (click here for more information). Don’t be fazed by the articles: mine underwent much revision from the peer review process! This was not as gentle as feedback from your friendly OU tutor; but it introduced me to the rigours of academic publishing.
Here are my tips:
Read the competition guidelines.
Don’t fret over the initial title; my 2014 essay evolved from its initial title to something completely different.
Write about something you’re interested in and try to answer a question that in your view hasn’t been answered or in your view differs from current thinking. This is your chance to go for it!
Read around the subject and don’t just take a single source for any particular issue you’re writing about. For example, if it’s a poem then read at least two commentaries and preferably more. If you find contradictory opinions then engage and argue for why you find them lacking; this adds balance.
Good luck and happy writing!
“The best thing about it is that you can choose your own subject, which means that you can write about something which really interests you. In addition, you don’t have to worry about whether you have answered an assignment question in the way expected, or whether you have interpreted the guidance notes correctly. Believe me, after six years, and dozens of assignments, this is immensely liberating!
My essay was entitled ‘Investigating Constantine the Great: can material evidence help?’, and arose from the work which we did in A340 (The Roman Empire). However, a friend of mine won the competition the year before with a topic taken from A330 (Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds), and both modules offer loads of opportunities for thinking up your own subject.
The important thing is to send an email soon, notifying your intention to enter, and your proposed essay title – although there doesn’t seem to be a problem with altering the title before your actual submission if you need to. Then you have the whole summer in which to complete it!”