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In 2020, the inaugural year of the SCS Erich S. Gruen Prize, the selection committee received 31 submissions from graduate students across North America treating aspects of race, ethnicity, or cultural exchange in the ancient Mediterranean. The committee was impressed with the candidates’ overall quality as well as range. Papers received, all anonymized before review, reflected the temporal and geographical breadth of classical and Near Eastern antiquity and diverse disciplinary perspectives including archaeology, art history, epigraphy, history and philology.

Of these submissions, the committee commends two in particular with honorable mentions. Camille Reiko Acosta’s “Stranger in a Strange Land: the Death and Life of a Tyrian on Samos” (UCLA) examines the funeral and burial of one Tyrian migrant for insights into this individual’s lived experience within the local community. Joseph Holwell’s “Adoption and Innovation: Frontier Cultural Exchange and the Rhineland Mother Goddesses (RMG)" (UW-Madison) explores the iconographical variety of maternal goddess-figures as a key to complex cultural exchange on the German frontier.

It is to Kelly Nguyen of Brown University that the committee unanimously awards the first SCS Gruen Prize. Her paper “What's in a Natio: Negotiating Ethnic Identity in the Roman Empire” stood out for its thoughtful examination of the individual acts of self-fashioning behind funerary epitaphs specifying a natio. Applying insights from modern theorists like Homi Bhabha to a range of Pannonian inscriptions, Nguyen takes an innovative approach to local self-conceptions that exemplifies an exciting new direction in the study of cultural exchange in antiquity. Nguyen’s paper will be recognized at the virtual 2021 SCS Annual Meeting and will receive a cash prize of $500.

The committee thanks and commends all applicants, and above all Kelly Nguyen, for work that extends our understanding of multiculturalism in the ancient Mediterranean, in honor of Erich Gruen’s continuing contributions to the field.

Support the Gruen Fund

SCS has established the Gruen Fund to support this important new prize. The initial value of the prize will be $500 and will be funded by spendable Annual Giving donations while SCS raises funds for an endowment to sustain the prize over the long term. It is hoped that fundraising will be sufficient to increase the value of the prize after the first five years. All other funds raised in this fiscal year will be invested in the endowment for long-term support of the prize. Donations can be made via this online form on the SCS website. SCS has received a challenge gift which will match all contributions made in 2020 up to a total of $10,000. SCS is a 501(c)3 public charity and donations may be tax deductible.