Cambridge Essay Writing Competition

Vellacott History Prize

In July 2014, Alasdair Donovan, a 5th year student at the Institute, was shortlisted for Cambridge University’s annual Vellacott History Prize. In the article below Alastair tells us about his trip to the prize giving ceremony and what it was like visiting one of the world’s oldest and most established universities…   

Every year Peterhouse College, Cambridge runs annual essay writing competitions in science, English and history. Students must complete their essay outside of school, with titles set by the college. This year I decided to enter the history competition.

The titles ranged from the analytical; ‘’When did the Roman Republic become an empire?’’ to the quirky, “Was Henry the VIII a psychopath?” on which, we were told, there were 20 entries, all very probably written by psychopaths!

I chose to write an essay on the age of revolutions and was surprised and pleased to have been shortlisted and invited to the prize day. In recognition of their support, my fantastic history teacher from the Institute, Susan Cashell, and one of my parents, were also invited.

The prize day started with a tour of the college by Milo a classics student, with ambitions to become a comedian. The college is, as you might expect, old (the oldest in Cambridge) and beautiful.

I was very surprised that, of the 20 short listed, not even half were English, although most were studying at English schools.  The winner of the English prize was an Italian student and the history winner was Chinese. The gender ratio was very much in favour of girls, most markedly for the English prize where only one boy was successful in being highly commended.

All the students were all really nice, driven and clearly loved their subject, evidenced by one of the English winners questions; ‘is it insulting to an author to read their work when tired? To which I am still working on a pithy reply!’
The day culminated with a lunch with the college fellows. The fellows were interesting, generous with their time and really engaging on their specialist subjects.

It was a great experience to meet the fellows and other prize winners and to get a fleeting glimpse of life at Cambridge University.