The recipients of the 2016 Oliver W. Koonz Prize — which recognizes the innovative work being done on human rights by students — were Meaghan Kachadoorian and Symonne Singleton for their outstanding essays and Josephine Ramseyer for the best alternative project.

Below are the responses of the 2016 Koonz Prize judges, Professors Claudia Koonz and James Chappel of the History Department, Ingrid Byerly of the Cultural Anthropology Department and Ellen McLarney of the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Department.

2016 Best Essays

MeaghanMeaghan Kachadoorian is a graduating senior studying History and Latin American & Caribbean Studies. She focuses on 20th century social movements in the US, and has been drawn to modern Chilean history since studying abroad there. Next year, she will be working at an alternative boarding school in rural California.

Integrating a rich array of images, interviews, contemporaneous news reports, and scholarly literature, “Radical Aesthetics” analyzes the visual content and political framing of protests against the 1973 US-backed coup against Salvador Allende’s government in Chile. Although they shared a commitment to human rights and socialist ideals, the messages of posters in the USA, the Netherlands and East Germany varied according to the political systems endorsed by their respective governments.

Read Meaghan’s essay, “Radical Aesthetics: Posters of the Chilean Solidarity Movement



SingletonSymonne Singleton is a rising senior majoring in History with minors in Visual Media Studies and Political Science. Highly interested in how major city environments can influence social activism and music trends, she has spent the past year participating in both Duke in LA and Duke in NY. Symonne is currently integrating her VMS studies with these interests by studying how music culture reflects racial relations in the United States.

“Bring About Some Change” explores the often overlooked intellectual foundations of Attica prisoner-activists’ fight for human rights in 1971: their opposition to capitalism and racism, their respect for neo-slavery political analysis; and their faith in the US Constitution. Based on solid research in secondary sources and a close reading of prisoners’ demands, Singleton’s conclusions have ramifications beyond a single massacre in the past and extend to the carceral state in which we live today.

Read Symonne’s essay, “Bring About Some Change: Radical Politics’ Influence on the Attica Liberation Faction Manifesto of Demands and Anti-Depression Platform


2016 Best Alternative Project
JoJoJosephine Ramseyer
is a senior at Duke University majoring in English. Over the last four years, she has immersed herself in refugee studies, research and advocacy through her work with the Kenan Refugee Project. Her involvement with KRP has allowed her to conduct life story interviews with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal (February-March 2014) and Iraqis and Syrians in Jordan (June-July 2015) as well as to engage with refugee populations on a local level. Her most recent efforts include curating a photovoice exhibit on resettlement that featured fourteen Iraqi women from the community, directing a tutoring and mentorship program for local refugee youth, and co-founding and editing a weekly newsletter on global displacement and forced migration. She hopes to return to Jordan to continue her work with refugee populations after graduation and eventually pursue a career in international human rights law.

Observations of four slices of life in Jordan highlight cultural and material gaps — between a bright refugee teen and a hidebound bureaucracy that relegates her to an elementary school; between selfie stick-wielding tourists and their “authentic” Bedouin guides; between a medical clinic manager and a health care crisis too overwhelming to manage; and between the author/ bystander and a Jordanian volunteer who bullied a refugee boy. Each skillfully crafted meditation asks readers to ponder human rights in the context of Westerners’ responses to concrete situations they encounter in daily life among locals and refugees.

Read Josephine’s project, “Letters from the Field: A Collection of Short Essays on the Realities of Asylum in Jordan and the Ethics of Fieldwork”