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Society for the History of Natural History

Awards, Honours and Medals

William T. Stearn Student Essay Prize

SHNH William T. Stearn Student Essay Prize 2023

Stearn Student Essay Prize 2023

Instituted in 2007 to commemorate the work of  William T. Stearn (1911–2001), a scholar whose work contributed much to the field and to this Society, the prize is awarded to the best original, unpublished essay in the history of natural history.

The competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students worldwide in full- or part-time education, and to postdoctoral students within two years of the award of their doctorate. It is not limited to members of SHNH.

The winner will receive £300 and the winning essay will normally be published in the Society’s journal Archives of Natural History, following peer review.

Closing date is 31 July 2023

Download 2023 Application Form

Download Stearn Student Essay Prize Poster 2023


  • Prize winners are chosen by a panel of 3 judges (all members of the Society).
  • Competition opens on 01 February 2023.
  • All entries must be received by the Secretary by 31 July 2023 .
  • Essays should not have been previously published, and must not be under consideration at another journal.
  • Essays should not have been submitted for consideration for the William Stearn Essay Prize in a previous year.
Archives of Natural History

Selection Criteria

  • The prize will be awarded to the essay which contributes most significantly to the history of natural history, including its social and cultural aspects


  • Entries must be in English and between 5,000 and 8,000 words in length including footnotes and references. Each entry must be accompanied by an abstract of between 300 and 500 words and keywords.
  • Entries must follow the Style Guidelines of Archives of Natural History (
  • A copy of the essay (either a Word document or a PDF) should be e-mailed to the SHNH Secretary ( Images and graphs can be included within the main file.If the files are large please send by We Transfer (
  • There should be no reference to your name or your institution on the essay itself.
  • The completed Application Form SHNH-Stearn-Student-Essay-Prize-Application-Form-2023 and proof of student status should also be attached.
  • Applicants will be notified of the results when the judges have reached their decision.

SHNH Stearn Essay Prize Winner 2023

Mia Uys
Stearn Essay Prize 2023

The Council of the Society for the History of Natural History is delighted to announce that the winner of the Stearn Essay Prize, 2023, is ‘A soft-hearted fool? Eco-cultural networks and Alwin Haagner’s role in private animal trading through South Africa’s National Zoological Garden, 1922-1926, by Mia Uys, who is studying for a PhD at the University of Cape Town. Readers described this as ‘a well-presented and carefully-researched essay which offers new insights into animal trading in colonial South Africa’.

In writing about the award Mia says:

“I am honoured and delighted to win the William T. Stearn Student Essay Prize for my paper on Alwin Haagner’s directorship of South Africa’s National Zoo and his role in the wild animal trade during the early 1920s. Animal trade, scientific pursuits and zoological collections in southern Africa are practices that continue to reveal their global historical significance. Thank you for this consideration and for the opportunity to contribute to this field.”

The Society of History of Natural History sends Mia its warmest congratulations.



SHNH Stearn Essay Prize Winner 2022

Cameron Barber
Stearn Essay Prize 2022


SHNH Stearn Essay Prize Winners 2019-2021

Max Long
Stearn Essay Prize 2021

Amelia Urry
Stearn Essay Prize 2020

Nathan Smith
Stearn Essay Prize 2019


  • 2023
Mia Uys (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
‘A soft-hearted fool? Eco-cultural networks and Alwin Haagner’s role in private animal trading through South Africa’s National Zoological Garden, 1922-1926
See also:
  • 2022
Cameron Barber (University of St Andrews, Scotland)
‘Biological Jewels’: the glass specimens of Herman O. Mueller and the forgotten tradition of the specimen-glassblower
Archives of Natural History, April 2023, 50 (2): in press.
See also:
  • 2021
Max Long (University of Cambridge, UK)
Nature on the airwaves: natural history and the BBC in interwar Britain
Archives of Natural History, April 2023, 50 (1): 1-21.
  • 2020
Amelia Urry (University of Cambridge, UK)
Hearsay, Gossip, Misapprehension: Alfred Newton’s secondhand histories of extinction
Archives of Natural History, October 2021, 48 (2): 244-262.
See also:
  • 2019
Nathan Smith (University of Cambridge, UK)
Provincial mycology and the legacy of Henry Thomas Soppitt (1858–1899)
Archives of Natural History, October 2020, 47 (2): 219-235.
See also:
  • 2018
Carissa Chew (University of Edinburgh, Scotland)
The ant as metaphor: Orientalism, imperialism and myrmecology
Archives of Natural History, October 2019, 46 (2): 347-361.
  • 2017
Aaron van Neste (Harvard University, USA)
Practising taxonomy: Joel Asaph Allen and species making
Archives of Natural History, October 2018, 45 (2): 197-212.
  • 2016
Lee Raye (Cardiff University, Wales)
The Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) in early modern Scotland
Archives of Natural History, October 2017, 44 (2): 321-333.
  • 2015
Etienne Stockland (Columbia University, USA)
Patriotic natural history and sericultural natural reform in the French Enlightenment
Archives of Natural History, April 2017, 44 (1): 1-18.
  • 2014
Matthew Holmes (University of Leeds, UK)
The perfect pest: natural history & the red squirrel in nineteenth-century Scotland
Archives of Natural History, April 2015, 42 (1): 113-125.
  • 2012
Andrea Kennedy (University of Cambridge, UK)
The beauty of Victorian beasts: illustration in the Reverand J. G. Wood’s “Homes without Hands”
Archives of Natural History, October 2013, 40 (2): 193-212.
  • 2010
Nils Petter Hellström (University of Cambridge, UK)
The tree as evolutionary icon: Tania Kovats’s TREE in the Natural History Museum
Archives of Natural HistoryApril 2011, 38 (1): 1-17.
  • 2009
Stephanie Pfennigwerth (University of Tasmania, Australia)
‘The mighty cassowary’: the discovery and demise of the King Island emu
Archives of Natural History, April 2010, 37 (1): 74-90.
  • 2008
Ross Brooks (Oxford Brooks University, UK)
All too human: responses to same-sex copulation in the common cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha (L.)
Archives of Natural History, April 2009, 36 (1): 146-159.
  • 2007
Heather Brink-Roby (Harvard University, USA)
Siren canora: the mermaid and the mythical in late nineteenth-century science
Archives of Natural History, April 2008, 35 (1): 1-14.

Professor William T. Stearn CBE FLS VMH

William T. Stearn, CBE FLS VMH, was an outstanding botanical scholar, deemed the complete naturalist and was described in his obituary in The Times as “the greatest botanical authority of the twentieth century”.  Born in Chesterton, Cambridge, he developed an early interest in books and natural history.  He worked at the British Museum (Natural History) from 1953–1976, retiring as a Senior Principal Scientific Officer. After his retirement, he continued working there, writing, and serving on a number of professional bodies related to his work, including the Linnean Society of London, of which he became president. He also taught botany at Cambridge University as a visiting professor (1977–1983).

Professor Stearn is known for his work in botanical taxonomy and botanical history, particularly classical botanical literature, botanical illustration and for his studies of the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. His best known books are his “Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners”, a popular guide to the scientific names of plants, and his “Botanical Latin” for scientists and he is the the botanical authority for over 400 plant species. William Stearn received many honours for his work, at home and abroad, and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1997. He received the Linnean Gold Medal of The Linnean Society of London (1976), and the Society for the History of Natural History’s Founders’ Medal (1986).

The SHNH Stearn Student Essay Prize was established in his honour by the Society for the History of Natural History and Cameron Barber (2022) is the fourteenth winner of the prize.