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Two researchers share James Kaye Memorial Prize for Best Thesis in History and Visuality

Posted on 09 June 2020

The Department of History and Civilization has announced joint winners for the 2020 James Kaye Prize for the Best Doctoral Thesis in History and Visuality.

EUI researchers Déborah Dubald and Catherine Gibson both cited the fruitful discussions between them as a crucial part of the development of their work.

Dubald-DeborahDéborah Dubald Gibson-Catherine-HECCatherine Gibson


Déborah Dubald’s thesis, Capital Nature: A history of French museums of natural histories, 1795 - 1870, compares three French natural history museums in Nantes, Lyon and Toulouse as platforms for natural knowledge and a source of civic pride. 

Her ‘extremely well written’ dissertation explores how local natural history museums play an important role in constructing broader trends in natural knowledge-making and unmaking and in the constitution of science. The jury praised Dubald’s unexpected and ‘elaborate use of visual images’, that availed itself of an array of interdisciplinary materials, such as pages from plans, receipts, memoirs, transcriptions and plaques as a basis for research.

Jurors also commended how Dubald’s ‘rich and empirically convincing thesis’ added natural history museums to the abundant literature on art and history museums, from which they were previously excluded.

Dubald said she was honoured to receive the award, thanking the members of the Jury, the family and friends of James Kaye for setting up the memorial, and her supervisor Stéphane Van Damme for ‘his unfailing support’. She said that she was ‘particularly proud that my work stands next to Catherine Gibson's beautiful thesis on maps, and as such, it concludes beautifully the many discussions we shared on maps and spatial history during our time as doctoral researchers at the EUI’.

The 2020 prize was also bestowed on Catherine Gibson, whose thesis Nations on the Drawing Board. Ethnographic Map-Making in the Russian Empire’s Baltic Provinces, 1840 - 1920, explored the making of maps for highlighting ethnicity in areas inhabited by Russian, Baltic, Polish and German populations. Jurors praised her work as a ‘fascinating study of cartography and its shifting political significance’. 

Gibson’s thesis showed how language and ethnic differences were politicised into measures of nationhood and presented as objective traits. Her work was commended for shining a light on how the ‘broader settings of ethnographic practice’, which included technological, socio-economic and commercial aspects, shaped the collecting, printing, publishing and selling of data.

Furthermore, she was praised for highlighting women’s important involvement in this history.

Upon receiving the prize, Gibson said she was honoured to have been awarded the James Kaye prize and that she was proud to share it with Déborah Dubald. In her statement, Gibson said that her work ‘benefitted immeasurably from the rich discussions taking place among the EUI research community on visual cultures, which fosters creative thinking across disciplines, geographies, and historical periods. My time at the EUI played a formative role in shaping my work as a historian and my approach to using visual sources to understand spatial history.’ She cited the award as further motivation to turn her dissertation into a book on how visual culture can be used to better research important historical questions.

The James Kaye Prize is awarded to dissertations that use a distinctly critical approach in combining the study of historical and visual sources. It was set up by the family and friends of James Kaye, after the EUI research student passed away in 2011.

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