Rex Nettleford Essay Prizes: Colonialism and its Legacies

In November 2021, Oriel College inaugurated the Rex Nettleford Essay Prizes, one for Year 12 students and one for Oxford undergraduates.

The prizes are intended to encourage students to engage with the legacies of colonialism in all its forms – historical, political, social, cultural. Colonialism is a major theme in British history. Its legacies are all around us. By writing an essay for the prize, a student has an opportunity to uncover the enduring influence of colonialism in our society and culture and to address some of the difficult and uncomfortable questions that it poses.

Whilst interest in British colonialism and its legacy provides the specific context for these prizes, colonialism is an activity with a much longer and more geographically diverse extent. Essays can address any relevant aspect, historical phase, cultural manifestation or geographical centre of colonialism.

The prizes will be awarded on the occasion of an annual lecture also on the topic of ‘Colonialism and its Legacies’, which will take place in Trinity term (April-June) each year.

The prizes and annual lecture series are dedicated to Oriel alumnus and Honorary Fellow Rex Nettleford, in recognition of his distinguished contributions in the fields of scholarship, culture, and education.

Find out more about the Rex Nettleford Prize for Year 12 Students.

Find out more about the Rex Nettleford Prize for Undergraduate Students.

A portrait of Rex Nettleford, a Jamaican man with short grey hair wearing a white collarless shirtRex Nettleford

Ralston ‘Rex’ Nettleford (3rd February 1933 to 2nd February 2010) was an author, academic, dancer and activist.

Born in Falmouth, Jamaica, Nettleford grew up in the country and graduated with a degree in History from the University of the West Indies. In 1957, he received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford and obtained an MPhil in Political Science. He returned to Jamaica in order to take up a position at the University of the West Indies, where he was Vice-Chancellor from 1998 to 2004.

In his academic work, Nettleford focused on issues of cultural identity particularly in the wake of colonialism. He repeatedly stressed ‘the importance and force of the exercise of the creative intellect and the creative imagination […] in shaping a new and civilised society out of slavery, colonialism and their aftermath, and building democratic nations out of erstwhile colonial fiefdoms’; ‘for the arts are a form of action.’

His portrait, pictured above, sits in Oriel College's Hall.