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Society for the History of Natural History

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SHNH Stearn Essay Prize 2023 has been awarded to Mia Uys, University of Cape Town

SHNH Stearn Essay Prize 2023 has been awarded to Mia Uys, University of Cape Town

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’.

The prize was instituted in 2007 to commemorate the work of Professor William T. Stearn CBE FLS VMH (1911–2001), a scholar whose work contributed much to the field and to this Society. 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and to postdoctoral students within two years of the award of their doctorate and is awarded to the best original, unpublished essay in the history of natural history. As well as the author receiving a cash prize, the winning essay will normally be published in the Society’s journal Archives of Natural History, following peer review and normal editorial practice.

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.

More on the W. T. Stearn Essay Prize and previous winners of the award.


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”.  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 SHNH Founders’ Medal (1986).

The SHNH Stearn Student Essay Prize was established in his honour by the Society for the History of Natural History and Mia is the fifteenth winner of the prize.