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Centre of African Studies: News


Sam Shepperson prize awarded at GSSPS graduation

Prestigious George Shepperson prize goes to Tom Cunningham

This year's Sam Shepperson prize has been awarded to Tom Cunningham. The prize is awarded to the best Masters dissertation in African Studies or Africa and International Development dealing with a historical topic. Tom's dissertation, submitted as part of his M.Sc. in African Studies, is entitled "'These, Our Games': Sport and the Church of Scotland Mission to Kenya, c1907-1938". Tom was awarded 85%. 

The prize has been made possible by an external donation, and celebrates the role of Professor George ("Sam") Shepperson in promoting African Studies at Edinburgh. Tom received the award from Professor Richard Freeman, Director of the Graduate School of Social and Political Science. 

Cunningham&NugentTom poses with Professor Paul Nugent, the Director of the Centre of African Studies, at a reception held after the GSSPS graduation

Tom's dissertation provides an analysis of the relationship between Church of Scotland missionaries and their Kikuyu converts over the course of three decades through the prism of sport. It probes the question of the extent to which sport, and its regimes of discipline and control, could be said to have provided an instrument of European domination. The study is situated critically with the literature on sport and empire. In extenso, it critiques the position of Bale and Sang that Europeans successfully imposed their own 'body culture' on Africans. The dissertation argues instead that the Kikuyu could hardly be considered a tabula rasa and that they fashioned sport according to their own lights. Tom also explores the possibility that the Kikuyu may have experienced some aspects of European sporting behaviour as congruent with their culture rather than being an entirely external imposition - without seeking to push this argument too far. The dissertation is based on an impressive amount of archival research in Edinburgh and Kenya as well as oral interviews. It is elegantly written and persuasively argued.

Professor John Lonsdale of Cambridge University, who is arguably the doyen of historians of Kenya, has confirmed that Tom's dissertation is of publishable quality and has suggested that it could well provide the basis for two journal articles.

Tom is now beginning his doctoral studies at the Centre of Africa Studnies. He is one of a number of students in his cohort awarded with a Distinction in African Studies. He is joined with Mairi O'Gorman in achieving the outstanding and highly unusual success of distinction-level grades in all six essay assessments for the postgraduate degree. Antony Mwangi and Bryony Bidder were also awarded Distinctions for their M.Sc. in African Studies. They were joined at graduation by Nina van Lanschot, Oliver Davidson-Richards, Roman Bako, Theresia Moyo and Thomas De Schryver. Renaldo Sears graduated in absentia. All now hold an M.Sc. in African Studies, and are warmly congratulated!