De Gruyter Award: Honorable Mention

During the last Rencontre’s general meeting, the winner of the De Gruyter Award has been announced. Although Tobias Scheucher’s dissertation was worth the first prize, Eva van Dassow mentioned in her speech that the evaluation committee was pleasantly surprised by the very high standard of dissertations that where handed in. There were others who had also written some excellent dissertations and we of course do not want to deprive anyone who was not present in Ghent from knowing about them, or these talents from being honoured. We therefore hereby give you the kind words Eva von Dassow spoke about the award and the dissertations handed in by Ilgi Gercek and Nicolas Vanderroost:

If the IAA means to increase competition among junior entrants to the field, offering prizes seems to be a good way to do it. Nine dissertations were submitted for consideration for the prize established together with de Gruyter, in this first year of offering it. The evaluation committee consisted of myself, Michael Jursa, Daniel Schwemer, and Piotr Michalowski as president of the IAA. We all read all nine dissertations from end to end – well, maybe skipping pages or footnotes here and there – and we did our best to apply similar standards to these very dissimilar works. Our criteria for assessment included the following: clear formulation of the enquiry; capable treatment of a substantial body of primary source material; correct use of relevant scholarly literature; sound arguments and interpretations; and original contribution or critique that advances the state of knowledge about the subject treated – or, to put it another way, how much of a difference the dissertation makes. Applying such criteria, we arrived at a remarkable consensus about which dissertation wins the prize. But we also want to recognize two other dissertations for their importance to the field and their caliber of execution. The two dissertations that win honorable mention are the following:

First is that of Ilgi Gercek, titled “The Kaška and the Northern Frontier of Ḫatti,” written under the supervision of Gary Beckman at the University of Michigan. (I hasten to note that Piotr Michalowski, who was a member of Ilgi’s dissertation committee, recused himself from discussion of this dissertation.) Ilgi’s inquiry addressed the nature of the Kaška as a distinct population group and the relationship of this population to the Hittite state. She conducted a thorough examination of the pertinent primary source material, including archaeological evidence. As well as critically evaluating previous literature, she brought to bear on the subject theoretical approaches to state formation, frontier formation, and ethnicity. The result is a well-founded analysis of Hittite-Kaška relations, complete with editions of key texts, in particular the Kaška treaties and the Prayer of Arnuwanda and Ašmunikkal. Her analysis suggests understanding the Kaška as a rubric for “those who withdrew from the state” – in this case, the growing Hittite state – and lays the groundwork for fruitful comparison with other such populations within and beyond the ancient Near East.

The second of the two dissertations we selected for honorable mention is that of Nicolas Vanderroost, titled “Organisation administrative du bureau d’agriculture d’Umma à l’époque de la Troisième Dynastie d’Ur,” written under the supervision of Philippe Talon at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. This dissertation treats the agricultural landscape of Umma, the administrative organization of labor, and the social background of the laborers, based on a fine-grained examination of the massive quantity of textual sources available – and everyone who has worked on Ur III tablet archives knows what kind of task that is. The work includes a comprehensive prosopographical study that will, together with the analysis of the management of agriculture, be of immediate and lasting use in the field.

And the prize-winning dissertation is that of Tobias Scheucher, bearing the long title “The Transmission and Functional Context of the Lexical Lists from Ḫattuša and from the Contemporaneous Traditions in Late Bronze Age Syria” (the dissertation itself was commensurately long, but the prize isn’t for length), written under the supervision of Wilfred van Soldt at the University of Leiden. Scheucher conducted a comprehensive and detailed examination of all these lexical lists and their local contexts. In doing so he systematically inquired into aspect after aspect of the underlying realities that could or would have produced the sources as we have them, where we have them, employing current methodologies derived from other disciplines. As few scholars hitherto have done, he addressed the complexities of transmission, textual history, function, and local variation, yielding a rich and deep analysis that makes a substantial contribution to the field. This thesis, which also includes new editions of the lexical texts from Ḫattuša, constitutes an exemplary conjunction of meticulous philology and sound interpretive method. What is more, for such a ponderous study on such an arcane subject, it’s practically a page-turner – I, at least, wanted to keep reading to see what would come next. In short, this year’s prize goes to Tobias Scheucher.

In closing, I have to remark that all members of the committee, notwithstanding the pleasure and intellectual profit we derived from reading some good dissertations, found this to be an awfully labor-intensive way to get €1000 for someone else. We want a cut – in the form of copies of the volume, courtesy of the publisher!