I was rather proud of my article, so I thought: why not see what others think of it!
At the General Meeting during the Rencontre in Ghent this year, not one but two prizes were awarded. Next to the De Gruyter Award, the IAA was proud to present it’s very own IAA Prize, which is given to two up-and-coming Assyriologists that had written the best article after the PhD. First-prize winner was Gabriella Spada (Italy) and Erik van Dongen (Finland) was the runner-up. Twelve papers had been submitted.
The only thing they have in common is that they both won the IAA prize. Specialized in economic and administrative aspects during the Ur III Period, Gabriella Spada wrote her article about Old-Babylonian model contracts. Van Dongen, with a background in Classics, focusses in his article on a Hittite mythological text. Very different subjects, but both written in award-winning ways.
“My article is the edition of an unpublished Old Babylonian prism containing a collection of several model contracts, written in Sumerian”, explains Spada. “They were used for the training of apprentice scribes in the Mesopotamian school. The 4-sided prism is preserved for ca. 60 % of the whole text, with 44 model contracts dealing with loans of barley, sesame, silver, wool (32 texts), and slave sales, marriage, adoption, inheritance and the public announcement of a lost seal (belonging to the genre of “model court cases”).”
It strikes one how complete the article is: besides a translation, transliteration and a commentary, it features a hand-made copy, photographs, an index of personal names and a concordance of Sumerian terms.
It was during last year’s Rencontre in Leiden, that Spada decided to enter her article in the contest. Thanks to many positive reactions to her research, which she presented at the RAI, Spada knew that an article about this subject could have potential. “My contribution was met with great enthusiasm: the scientific community, aware of the lack of a comprehensive study of this aspect of scribal education, welcomed the announcement of a project on model contracts, which would serve to fill this gap in the Assyriological knowledge on Mesopotamian education.”
But the decision that your article might have prize-winning potential, can also come from within yourself. Van Dongen: “When I saw the announcement for the contest earlier this year, I thought right away that my article would qualify. I was rather proud of it myself, so I figured: why not participate, and see what others think about it!” And it was a good thing he did, because as it seems, others thought it was great! “In my article, I offer a reinterpretation of CTH 344, best known as the ‘Song of Kumarbi’ or ‘Hittite Theogony’, but which originally was called something like ‘Song of Going Forth’”, Van Dongen summarizes. “It is a Hittite mythological text with a Hurrian background, which describes the birth of the storm-god and other deities, and how divine kingship passed from one god to another. Focusing on the storyline, I went through the text bit by bit reconsidering specific lines, sections and events in the context of the song as a whole, and propose new interpretations of individual parts as well as of the overarching narrative.” His most important proposition, is that various figures with unusual names (da.gilim, dka.zal and dnam.hé) should be identified as the storm-god, and that he played a much larger role in the song than is commonly assumed.
Writing an article is one thing, but getting it published is another. Most scholars can have difficulties when they try to get attention for their work. But not for our two prize-winners, as it seems. Knowing what your audience wants and knowing who to talk to, are two important aspects in the world of scientific writing. Having published before, Van Dongen knew what journals to look for. “A few things are important, I think. Apart from working on the content and writing style of my articles, I like to make sure that I have a good knowledge of the various subjects that my articles touch upon, and to make this clear through comments and references”, he explains. “That way, not only is it more likely that what I am saying is up-to-date, accurate and relevant, but I might also avoid problems with reviewers, who might otherwise suspect that I don’t really know what I am talking about. Additionally, I usually spend time myself figuring out which journal is best suited for my article, both considering the level of the article and its actual subject. If a journal had featured articles on my subject before, it might be more likely to be interested in my contribution.”
For Spada, also networking was a powerful tool for the publication of this article. “In 2009, I stayed for a while at the Institut für Assyriologie und Hethitologie in Munich in order to finish my study on the Old Babylonian prism”, she remembers. “Professor Walther Sallaberger offered me insightful remarks and advice and proposed me to publish my study in the journal of which he is the editor.”
The key to writing a strong article lies within your ability to present your ideas in a clear manner, both winners agree. “A poor or too flowery writing style can make an argument become muddled or obscure, forcing the reader to go over the text again and again to find out what may have been meant”, says Van Dongen. “Probably many good ideas have been overlooked or misunderstood that way.” Spada adds: “I think that in order to write a strong article you need a thorough knowledge of the subject matter, since in a relatively small number of pages you have to concentrate a great deal of concepts in a clear and accessible way to the readers.”
For the future, both authors have great plans. Spada is working to complete her research project, which aims at collecting all model contracts known in literature, by adding to tablet-collections all over the world. At the moment, she is using CDLI for pictures of contracts, but she hopes to be able to travel around Europe and to the United States to catalogue all of the available data.
Van Dongen is currently working for the Melammu project and hopes to continue doing so. He also wants to study the early development of Anatolian alphabets, and hopes to be able to work on a large project on our conception of socio-cultural units in antiquity.
Gabriella Spada’s article: “A Handbook from the Eduba’a: An Old Babylonian Collection of Model Contracts”, was published in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie. It can be found on the website of De Gruyter Publishers.Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie. Volume 101, Issue 2, Pages 204–245, ISSN (Online) 1613-1150, ISSN (Print) 0084-5299, DOI: 10.1515/za.2011.012, November 2011
Erik van Dongen’s article: “The Hittite Song of Going Forth (CTH 344): A Reconsideration of the Narrative”, was published Die Welt Des Orients. It can be found on the website of Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
The IAA will be awarding this prize again next year, so if you think you also have what it takes, don’t hesitate to hand in your article! Visit the IAA-website for more information.