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Sharp Prize History

The establishment of the Southeast Asia Program’s Lauriston Sharp Prize sprang from a SEAP faculty meeting in October 1973, when George McT. Kahin suggested that funds be allocated to establish an internal prize for graduate students in honor of Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology and SEAP founder, Lauriston Sharp (1907-1993).

The Prize has since been awarded annually to the finishing doctoral student (or students) whose dissertation research and community engagement represent an outstanding contribution to the study of Southeast Asia as well as to the community life of SEAP. As a strikingly interdisciplinary cohort, Sharp Prize awardees exemplify the vibrant, interdisciplinary, and collaborative networks that SEAP has worked to cultivate over its seventy-year history.

A number of Sharp Prize recipients have gone on to publish award-winning monographs, including one of the Prize’s earliest recipients, archaeologist John N. Miksic (1979), who was recently awarded the inaugural Singapore History Prize for his 2013 book Singapore And The Silk Road Of the Sea, 1300-1800. The prestigious Harry J. Benda Prize, which honors newer works of scholarship in Southeast Asian studies, has been awarded to three Sharp Prize alumni: historian Nancy K. Florida (1990) for Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future: History as Prophecy in Colonial Java (1995); Mary Callahan (1996) from the Department of Government for Making Enemies: War and State Build-ing in Burma (2004); and, most recently, anthropologist Doreen Lee (2008) for Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia (2017).

Finally, the academic service and community leadership of awardees is demonstrated by the fact that an over-whelming majority of Sharp awardees once served as co-chairs on the graduate student committee, a role that entails the organization of the long-running weekly “brown bag” (now "Ronald and Janette Gatty") lecture series, the annual graduate student conference, the program’s Spring Banquet, and the utterly indispensable SEAP Halloween party. Graduate student co-chairs contribute exponentially to facilitating an internal exchange of ideas among Southeast Asianists at Cornell, while also bringing scholars from around the US and across the world to contribute to and share in SEAP’s intellectual community.

-Excerpted from Emily Donald, "Reflections on the Lauriston Sharp Prize" (SEAP Fall 2020 Bulletin)