Award-winning Humanities Essays Convey Lessons in Humility, Representations of Women

September 20, 2019

Trent students Abigail Bergeron and Anna-Kirstie Ross receive James Middleton Essay Prize for stories about a betta fish’s intelligence and reputations of Roman women

Abigail Bergeron and Anna-Kirstie Ross, recipients of the James Middleton Essay Prize

Trent has in its midst two warriors wielding not the Excalibur sword, but a pen toward a successful career in writing.

Trent honoured Abigail Bergeron and Anna-Kirstie Ross as recipients of the James Middleton Essay Prize, for stories highlighting the value of studying the Humanities, particularly as key to learning about the world and gaining a fuller life experience.

Ms. Bergeron, a Philosophy student, wrote an essay titled John: On Fish, which was inspired by her interactions with Rousseau, a betta fish she bought on the first day of her second year at Trent.

“My writing about fish minds has come across to some as far-fetched and ridiculous, even for philosophy, which at this level usually consists of an academic commentary on prominent philosophical ideas,” she says. “The main point I hope people take from my essay is humility. That we, as a species, don’t know everything there is to know. I want those who read my essay to look in the mirror and to think critically, to deconstruct what they think they know, and ask themselves why and how they know it.”

Ms. Ross, a History and International Development Studies joint major, wrote about how representations of Imperial Roman women were used to either support or undermine the political careers of the Roman emperors.

“This opportunity really motivated me to critically re-evaluate how academic writing can be made accessible to a broader audience,” Ms. Ross says. “The themes presented in my paper resonate with many aspects of our modern culture; a culture in which representations of ‘idealized’ women and female public figures are used to sell products, establish brand loyalty, garner support for political candidates and encourage certain societal attitudes or behaviours.”

Since 2004, two prizes have been awarded annually for outstanding essays by second or third year students pursuing Honours degrees in Ancient History and Classics, History, Philosophy or English Literature.

“I’m proud and humbled that my idea was recognized by this award,” says Ms. Bergeron. “This award is for my fish too. They may not matter much to most but they matter to me, and as such, are instrumental to me winning this award.”

Learn more about Humanities at Trent University and the James Middleton Essay Prize.