The recipients of the 2013 Oliver W. Koonz Prize — which recognizes the innovative work being done on human rights by students — were Katie Contess (’13) and Taylor Henley (’14) for their outstanding essays.

Below are the responses of the 2013 Koonz Prize judges, Professors Claudia Koonz of History and Erika Weinthal of Environmental Policy:

ContessKatie Contess (Class of 2013)History and Memory in Wajda’s Katyn, written for her Capstone Seminar for International Comparative Studies with Professor Leigh Campoamor.

Do people have a right to know the history of their community?  In a well-crafted essay, Katie Contess argues that they do and uses a notorious massacre as her case study.  As long as Poland remained in the Soviet sphere of influence, Polish history books blamed Nazi soldiers for the 1940 massacre of 21,857 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.  No eye testimony existed because all victims died.  Archives opened after 1989, however, documented that Josef Stalin bore full responsibility for this infamous crime.  Using Andrzej Wajda’s feature film, Katyn, as a case study for examining factual accuracy, collective memory, mediated experience, and audience reception, Katie balances Poles’ need for absolute truth against the contingencies of meaning.  For example, Wajda framed the Katyn massacre with the tropes of classical Greek and Roman heroic narratives and Catholic myths of martyrdom.  Not surprisingly, the qualities that make the film credible in Poland render it suspect abroad.  In the absence of absolute “truth,” human rights, she concludes, evolve amidst contestation about their meaning.

Please click here to read Ms. Contess’ essay.

Taylor Henley (Class of 2014),“This Time for Africa”: FIFA, Politics, and South Africa’s Struggle for Human Rights written for the DukeImmerse Freedom Struggles in the 20th Century with Professors William Chafe and Karin Shapiro.

Standard histories of the end of South African apartheid focus on the role of international boycotts, the struggles of the African National Congress (ANC), and heroes Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu.  But Taylor Henley explores an often overlooked battle that played out in a surprising arena – the Fédération International de Football Association (FIFA).  In her elegantly written and exhaustively researched paper, Taylor traces the political calculations and cultural ideals of both pro-apartheid defenders of the imperial tradition and anti-apartheid multi-racial soccer organizations from 1961 through the 1980s.  She demonstrates that anti-apartheid activists in the world of soccer were among the first to arouse international protest; and that in some cases their strategies within the FIFA framework anticipated those of ANC leaders in other areas. Like a seasoned sportscaster, Taylor blends blow-by-blow reporting with “backstory” and commentary.  Her essay is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of how persistence, organizational savvy, and a sense of justice contributed to a victory for human rights in South Africa.

Please click here to read Ms. Henley’s essay.