Graduate Prizewinners in History, 2010

Hijabs and headscarves have made headlines all over Europe recently. Is the Islamic veil a security threat, a symbol of oppression, a rejection of modernity? What can a historian add to this debate? In her prize-winning BA dissertation, Kara Hynes describes how French colonists stigmatised the wearing of the veil in Algeria long before twentieth-century feminism or fears of Islamist terrorism introduced new controversy. In revolutionary Iran, women wore the veil as a symbol of rebellion, even gender equality. More recently, it has been described as a "gateway to education"; adopted as a fashion item by young 'Muhajababes'; and used in performance art to challenge stereotypes concerning Muslim women.

Kara argues that veil has become the main symbol of differences between Islam and the rest of the world - and that its symbolic importance may distract us from its complex history. Catrin Isaac, the other recipient of this year's Ursula Masson Memorial Prize, confronted another powerful symbol in her BA dissertation: the nineteenth-century workhouse.

<image class="left" title="Kara Hynes, Helen Molyneux, Catrin Isaac" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/7/29/prize2.jpg" alt="Photograph - award of Ursula Masson Prize" />

Until now, historians had barely touched upon the treatment of pauper children in nineteenth-century Wales. Catrin discovered that records preserved in the archives challenge the Dickensian image of the workshouse as a place where children were subject to unabated cruelty. Wales lagged behind England in funding alternative, family-style accommodation for destitute children, yet there is evidence that trustees were anxious to provide their charges with a 'sense of home'.

A third History BA graduate, Daniel Robinson, received the Alison Waite Memorial Prize (shared with Tiffany Oben, BA graduate in Art Practice). This prize rewards the students who achieve the highest average grade for third-year work in Humanities and Languages. Dissertations by history's three prizewinners will feature in a collection of outstanding undergraduate work to be published by the history division later this year.