University Medals for history and linguistics students

7 January 2014

Two students from the College of Arts and Social Sciences were awarded University Medals for outstanding work on their honours theses last year. Stephanie Wright won the award for her history thesis, and Virginia Dawson for her work in linguistics. Read their stories below.

Stephanie Wright

Stephanie came to ANU to embark on the Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) (PhB) program after initially starting her academic career at the University of Melbourne.

"I really enjoyed the PhB program at ANU - it's so flexible and gave me a unique opportunity to pursue my own research interests. It's more autonomous than any other undergraduate degree I found offered in Australia," says Stephanie.

Her thesis, From 'Mahometan Tyranny' to 'Oriental Despotism': The Secularisation of Islam in French Political Thought, 1610-1798, investigates representations of Islam in France during this period, analysing the ways in which images of Islam both reflected and helped to shape processes of political secularisation in France.

"I developed an interest in Islam, particularly questions of identity, while on a trip to Jordan, Isreal, Palestine," says Stephanie.

"My thesis was a way to combine my experience in history with my new interest in Islam." She came up with the idea while on a subsequent trip to University of California, Berkeley.

Stephanie started her PhD in Islamic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara in September this year.

Virginia Dawson

Virginia, who completed her Bachelor of Arts with majors in linguistics and Spanish, spent four months on fieldwork in India for her honours thesis, Differential Argument Realisation in Tiwa. It looks at grammatical structure in the language to see how it fits with existing theories of linguistics and how language works.

Few studies exist on Tiwa, a language spoken by a small village in Northeast India. For her research, Virginia lived with locals to learn the language and collect their stories.

This was Virginia's first time doing in-country fieldwork: "I wanted to travel, so doing fieldwork was a great option," she says.

"There were a couple of other people from ANU travelling to that area too, so it was great to have that support and people in the area to catch up with from time to time."

Virginia is currently working on a linguistics project at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and is looking into PhD programs. "I love doing research, so I just want to keep doing that," she says.

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