Department of English

English Department undergraduates win Mitchell Awards

Wed, May 5, 2010
English Department undergraduates win Mitchell Awards
James Hammond, John Meyer, & Kathleen Skinner

The English Department congratulates undergraduate English majors John Meyer, Kathleen Skinner, and James Hammond, who have all won prestigious Mitchell Awards this year.  Out of nine Mitchell Awards given this year, students from the English Department received three of them, including the Grand Prize.

Wednesday, the 28th of April was the culmination of hard work and dedication to a select few at the Eleventh Annual George H.Mitchell Awards for Academic Excellence presented by the University Co-operative Society at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. The awards celebrate students with exemplary academic records who have made an extraordinary contribution to their fields of study by way of a research project, literary work, musical composition, humanitarian project, or similar undertaking. Member of the University Co-op´s Board of Directors and Distinguished Teaching Professor, Steven Goode, hosted the event. Attendees included UT President Bill Powers, Provost Steven Leslie and many Deans and Vice Presidents of the University, as well as past grand prize winners of the award.

The $20,000 Grand Prize winner of the Undergraduate Student Awards for Academic Excellence was John Meyer, an English and Government major who was nominated by his professor James Loehlin, Ph.D., for his original play "American Volunteers", which draws directly from his own experience as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Two other undergraduate English students, James Hammond, an English and Psychology major, and Kathleen Skinner, an English and History major, won prizes $5,000 and $2,000 respectively for their theses.


John Meyer, American Volunteers
Nominated by Professor James Loehlin
Grand Prize Winner, $20,000

John MeyerJohnny Meyer's play, American Volunteers, follows a squad of special operations Rangers as they patrol the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The play focuses on the three sergeants responsible for leading the squad, and the conflict that arises as each pursues life, liberty, or happiness.  The plot unfolds under the eyes of a female soldier briefly attached to the squad, and a metamorphic Chorus.  American Volunteers premiered as a part of Austin's FronteraFest 2010, one of the largest fringe theater festivals in the south and southwest.

John M. Meyer was born in Dallas, Texas in 1982.  After growing up in New Orleans and Kansas City, he served in the Army as an Airborne Ranger.  His service included combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Meyer studies comparative politics, and recently joined the TIGER research group at the University of Texas.  In the fall, he will begin pursuing a PhD in government.  Meyer’s 2010 honors thesis explores ethnic competition across three of Iraq’s recent elections.  His military awards include the Ranger tab, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the Bronze Star.  His play, American Volunteers, debuted at FronteraFest 2010.  His writing has appeared in a number of literary journals and newspapers, and his novel manuscript received the Roy L. Crane Award for literary achievement.  On campus, he has been involved with Shakespeare Outreach, Spirit of Shakespeare, Shakespeare at Winedale, UT Toastmasters, Foot in the Door Theater, and Lambda Omega Alpha. 

Video and dialogue from American Volunteers is now available on the English Department website.


James Hammond, "The Darkness of Memory: 'Post-Race' in Pre-Modernity"
Nominated by Professor Geraldine Heng
Second Prize Winner, $5,000

James HammondIn order to better understand Western European ideas of race in the Middle Ages, James Hammond’s thesis examines three romances in which black characters are foregrounded – Morien (c.1270), King of Tars (c. 1330), and The Sultan of Babylon (c. 1450). In each romance, black figures function for European Christians as objects of desire as well as sites for self-examination. These texts promote the strategic appropriation and tolerance of dark-skinned racial Others, ultimately for the sake of effecting their extermination. Complementing his examination of these romances, James investigates the origins of an enigmatic artistic tradition from the 13th century, the black Saint Maurice of Magdeburg Cathedral, which has long puzzled scholars. What compelled the German city of Magdeburg to depict its patron saint as a black man with distinctly Africanoid features? He argues that the decision to portray Saint Maurice with an Africanoid phenotype was motivated by the imperial iconography of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, whose personal retinue famously included black Africans. In addition to his analysis of the historical creation of the statue, James visited the Magdeburg Cathedral and conducted a series of interviews with its congregants in order to determine the modern importance of the black Saint Maurice.

Following graduation, James will serve with Teach For America as a high school English teacher in San Antonio, after which he plans to study civil rights law or constitutional law with the ultimate goal of advocating for fair treatment of individuals from all backgrounds.


Kathleen Skinner, "Ships, Logs, and Voyages: Maria Graham Navigates the Journey of H.M.S. Blonde"
Nominated by Professor Lance Bertelsen
$2,000 Prize Winner

Kathleen SkinnerKathleen’s thesis inquires into the authorship of the travel narrative, Voyage of H.M.S. Blonde to the Sandwich Islands, In the Years 1824-1825 (1826). Ghostwritten by early nineteenth-century British travel writer, Maria Graham (later Lady Callcott), this book was published by John Murray as the official record of H.M.S. Blonde’s voyage to convey home the bodies of the King and Queen of Hawai'i, both of whom had died while on a state visit to England.  Making extensive use of archival materials (particularly manuscript letters between Graham and John Murray at the National Library of Scotland), Kathleen’s thesis critically analyzes Graham’s role in shaping the exclusively male narrative of voyage of H.M.S. Blonde by uncovering Graham’s primary sources and juxtaposing them against the final book.  Graham's correspondence with Murray reveals a professional writer keenly aware of the complexities of such a project, and  Kathleen's close literary analysis of Graham’s edits, annotations, and additions--as well as her other writings--expands upon these observations to trace how Graham's particularly feminized vision revises and synthesizes journals, interviews, and other information provided by the Blonde's crew into a larger narrative: a narrative revealing her own concerns and opinions about the rapidly changing political culture, economy, religion, gender and social hierarchy of the Hawaiian Islands in the 1820s.

Besides being an English Honors student, Kathleen works full time in the Office of the President of the University of Texas at Austin, where she serves as webmaster and special projects coordinator. This year, Kathleen was also the recipient of the Rapoport-King Thesis Scholarship for her thesis.

For more information about the Mitchell Awards for Academic Excellence, please visit the University Co-op website.

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