Winner of Postgraduate Dissertation Prize

Each year we select and award dissertation prizes for outstanding essays written by undergraduate and postgraduate students. Winning and shortlisted essays are assessed on the quality of their originality, research and method, and form and content.

Prize Winning essay
We are delighted to announce that Caitlin Powell (University College London) is the winner of the Association for Art History’s 2019 Postgraduate Dissertation Prize for her essay, ‘Gebärpflicht: The Subtractive Posthumanism of the Reproductive Body in Weimar Germany’. An abstract of her dissertation is below.

Shortlisted runners up

From a large number of extremely high quality essays we shortlisted two worthy runners up. These are:

Laura Marie Feigen (Courtauld Institute of Art) for her essay, ‘Meeting in the Margins of the Barcelona Haggadah: Marginalia as a Nexus for Ritual Tradition and Interreligious Tensions in Fourteenth-Century Catalonia’.

Lydia Wilcock (Queen Mary University ) for her essay, ‘Messy Bitches: The Use of Mess in Contemporary Feminist Performance’.

Winner’s Abstract

‘Gebärpflicht: The Subtractive Posthumanism of the Reproductive Body in Weimar Germany’ by Caitlin Powell, University College London.

The narrative of the reproductive body in Weimar Germany is a totalising one of enforced bioproduction. Despite this being a period of shifting perceptions of selfhood, well-explored through the masculine figure of the inventor, prosthetics, the New Man and the cyborg, the primacy of women in this period is often relegated to the rhetoric of the New Woman.

This dissertation aims to reinsert the advancements afforded to woman at the time in the realm of reproductive technologies into the historical narrative, to use the available representation to propose why this has been ignored and ultimately pose an intervention into the established conventions of posthuman debate in this period. I then conclude by investigating what happens when we cross notions of bio-productivity with the abject.

Informed by the legacy of Material Feminism in the texts of posthumanists such as Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti and N. Katherine Hayles, this dissertation explores the implicit violence done to the female body through representation which is inherently cyborgian or engages with Freud’s theory of the uncanny.

As a dissertation focusing on absence, the main goal of this paper is to understand the modes of representation in the public sphere and how they affect the reproductive woman’s understanding of selfhood. I am interested in the negative space in terms of representation, the subtractive technologies of termination, and how the female body can be reinserted into a thus far masculinised narrative.

I conclude by considering how the images available, paired with a notable absence of a visual language of termination has led to a dangerous cultural moment of reproductive bodies being politically contingent without autonomy.

The Dissertation Prize is assessed by our Doctoral and Early Career Research (DECR) committee. Many thanks to those on the committee who read and shortlisted this year’s submissions. The quality and originality of this year’s postgraduate essays has been extremely high. Thanks to all who submitted nominations for this prize, and thank you for our patience in awaiting the delayed announcement.

Read more about our 2019 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize winner and shortlist.

Image credit: John Heartfield, Zwangslieferantin von Menschenmaterial Nur Mut! Der Staat braucht Arbeitslose und Soldaten!, 1930, photomontage, location unknown.