2023 Lancaster Prize for Digital Humanities

A stylised image of the earth with beams of light forming networks of locations around the globe.

We wish to congratulate Jay McGowan-Gardener, the recipient of the 2023 Lancaster Prize for Digital Humanities. This annual prize, offered by the Centre for Digital Humanities, is awarded for an outstanding undergraduate essay on any topic in a humanities discipline that uses or critiques digital technology.

Jay, who is a final-year undergraduate in archaeology at the University of Nottingham, received the prize for their essay ‘Colonial Interactions Between the British Museum and Papua New Guinea: Spatial Analysis of Artefact Acquisition, Distribution, and Chronology in the 19th and 20th Centuries’.

Jay completed this essay as part of ‘Mapping the Humanities’, a third-year module at Nottingham. This module, which is convened by Dr Anna Bloxam (Assistant Professor in Archaeology), introduces students to geographical information systems (GIS) and provides them with the opportunity to apply GIS in an independent research project based on one of a selection of prepared datasets.

Jay’s project focused on a geolocated dataset about artefacts from Papua New Guinea that are currently in the collections of the British Museum. Jay used this dataset to investigate the shifting spatial distribution of the locations where these artefacts were reported to have been found in relation to the changing colonial relationships between Britain, the British Museum and Papua New Guinea.

The judging panel for the prize included Dr Zoe Alker and Prof Ian Gregory, who commended Jay’s submission as ‘an excellent essay that explores colonial aspects of the acquisition of museum artefacts from Papua New Guinea. It makes effective use of a range of digital techniques including databases and digital mapping’, and ‘shows the ways that digital approaches can enhance and develop more traditional historical scholarship.’

In response, Jay said, ‘I am delighted to have been awarded the Lancaster Prize in Digital Humanities. I had never had the opportunity to use GIS as a research tool before, nor had I had the chance to study Papua New Guinea in any detail. This project was a great way for me to learn a new skill, while studying something I have a true passion for, as I believe that the relationship between museums and our understanding of colonial history will change dramatically in the future. I would like to thank the judging panel and Anna Bloxam at the University of Nottingham’s Department of Classics and Archaeology for her advice and support during the writing of this paper.’

The judging panel would like to thank all entrants for participating, and for preparing their essays to such a high standard. For those wishing to continue pursuing their interest in digital humanities beyond their undergraduate studies, the department offers several opportunities. These include our Digital Humanities MA as well as a regular programme of talks and events organised by our Centre for Digital Humanities.

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