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Rex Nettleford Prize for Year 12 Students: Essays on Colonialism and its Legacies

About the Essay Competition

In November 2021, Oriel College inaugurated the Rex Nettleford Essay Prize for year 12 students.

The prize is intended to encourage students to engage with the legacies of colonialism in all its forms – historical, political, economic, 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, ancient or modern.

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 (early summer).

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

Rex Nettleford

Ralston “Rex” Nettleford (3 February 1933 to 2 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.”

Rules of the Competition

The Rex Nettleford Prize is an essay competition open to students in Year 12. The prize is £250.

The purpose of the Prize is:

  • To promote awareness amongst students in Year 12 of issues relating to colonialism and its legacies.
  • To encourage students in Year 12 to develop their abilities for independent research and thought.
  • To support teachers of able pupils by providing interesting and challenging further work and by bringing such students into contact with Higher Education.
  • To encourage able students to consider applying to study subjects in the Humanities and Social Sciences, either at Oxford or at another university, by giving them experience of the type of work involved.
  • To recognise the effort and achievement of the most successful submissions by a prize and commendations.

Note: the judges will not able to provide feedback on submissions.

Assessment Criteria

  • Entrants should be in Year 12 (or equivalent) at a UK school or college.
  • Students must address a topic that is not directly related to their A level course.
  • The judges will look for a clear grasp of issues addressed, clarity in structuring and presentation of the argument, a critical approach to primary and secondary source materials, and originality of thought.

How to Apply

  • Essays should be no more than 2,500 words in length and should be on ONE of the given questions below.
  • The candidate may answer the question they select from the perspective of any discipline of their choosing (e.g. History, English Literature, Economics, etc.) but they must indicate at the head of their essay which discipline they have chosen.
  • Essays should be word processed and submitted to Submissions should be in PDF format and attached as a copy to email. Essays that are submitted as cloud files may not be considered.
  • A font size not less than 12pt should be used; page margins should be set to no less than 2.54cm.
  • Essays should be accompanied by a bibliography, which does not count towards the word limit.
  • Entries must be sent with a completed entry form, which is available to download below.
  • Submissions should be accompanied by a signed statement from a teacher that the essay is the student’s original, unaided work and that it does not directly relate to the syllabuses of the A level subjects they are studying.

Essays must be received by 12 midnight on Friday 15th March 2024.

Prizes will be awarded at Oriel College on the occasion of the Rex Nettleford Lecture during Trinity term 2024.


Download the entry form

Questions for the 2024 Competition

Candidates must answer ONE of the following questions. Candidates should feel free to focus their answer in terms of its historical period, geographical centre and cultural range.

  1. How have ideas about nature shaped the histories and legacies of colonialism?
  2. What role has education played in the history of colonialism? Discuss in terms of specific educational practices, institutions, or curricula.
  3. How, if at all, has ancient imperialism influenced modern imperialism?
  4. Pick an example of popular or vernacular culture (for example, a song, film, sartorial style, novel, poem, dance, dish, meme, etc.) and explain it in relation to the histories of colonialism. How does your chosen example represent, contest, reflect, or otherwise respond to some specific aspect of colonialism?

further information

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About the Rex Nettleford Prizes