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Cambridge History Essay Competition 2015

The Robson History Prize is an annual competition for Year 12 or Lower 6th students. The Prize was established in 2007 in memory of the historian Robert Robson, who was for many years a Fellow and Tutor at Trinity. The aims of the Robson Prize are twofold: firstly, to encourage ambitious and talented Year 12 or Lower Sixth students considering applying to university to read History or a related discipline; and secondly, to recognize the achievements both of high-calibre students and of those who teach them.

Candidates are invited each year to submit an essay of between 2,000 and 4,000 words on a topic to be chosen from the list of questions.

The topics for the 2018 competition are available here.

Submissions must be received by the deadline of 1 July each year. Results will be announced around the beginning of September.


The competition carries a First Prize of £600, to be split equally between the candidate and his or her school or college (the school or college’s portion of the prize to be issued in the form of book tokens with which to buy history books), and a Second Prize of £400, which again is to be shared equally between the candidate and his or her school or college. In addition, further deserving essays of a high quality will be commended.

Any queries should be directed to Dr Peter Sarris by e-mail or by post.

Past Robson Prize-winners


1st Prize: Mr Alex Vinen (Westminster School)
2nd Prize: Miss Anna Brady (Sheringham Sixth Form)


1st Prize: Miss Alexa Stanger (St Paul’s Girls’ School)
2nd Prize: Mr Luke Hallam (Durham Johnston Comprehensive School)


1st Prize: Mr Patrick Hudson (The King’s School, Chester)
2nd Prize: Miss Kathleen Mitchell-Fox (The Marlborough Science Academy, St Albans)


1st Prize: Miss Poppy Freeman-Cuerden (Finham Park School)
2nd Prize: Miss Eleanor Smith-Hahn (Westminster School)


1st Prize: Mr M Rees (St John the Baptist High School, Aberdare)
2nd Prize: Miss H Gass (The Queen’s School, Chester)


1st Prize: Mr S Galimberti (International School, Milan)
2nd Prize: Mr S Lock (King’s College School, Wimbledon)


1st Prize: Mr C. Easton (Newcastle College)
2nd Prize: Mr D. MacDonald (Sgoil Lionacleic, Isle of Eriskay)


1st Prize: Mr P. Hoffman (Stonyhurst College)
2nd Prize: Mr C. Humphreys (Bolitho Sixth Form College)

Four others were commended: Mr T. Gibbs, Miss N. Rainey, Mr R. Smith and Mr C. Wilson.
There were 134 applicants.


1st Prize: Mr Aaron Taylor (Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys School)
2nd Prize: Ms Louisa Caines (Cheltenham College)


1st Prize: Mr Josh Mills (Nottingham High School)
2nd Prize: Mr Christopher Bond (Cheltenham College)


1st Prize: Mr Ben Slingo (Bedford School)
2nd Prize: Ms Nisadha Bandara (Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls)

Essay Prize 2017

The Robinson College Essay Prize is an annual competition that is open to all students in Year 12 (Lower Sixth, or equivalent) at a UK School. It is designed to give students the opportunity to develop and showcase their independent study and writing skills. By creating the opportunity for students to experience the type of work that they might be expected to do at Cambridge, we hope to encourage inquisitive and industrious students from all backgrounds to apply to Cambridge – and hopefully to Robinson College.

This year's questions were:

Discuss, with reference to any academic discipline, any area of interest raised by one of the following


1. "....A novel isn't simply a vehicle for private expression, but it also exists for social examination." [ATWOOD, M.]. Discuss.

2. "The greatest advances of civilisation, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralised government." [FRIEDMAN, M.]. 

3. If our ideas about gender are culturally shaped, should children be allowed to watch Disney films? Discuss 

4. If you could take one item, which must fit in your pocket, back in time with the goal of advancing science or medicine, what would it be, where would you go, and what would you do with it?

5. Whose political speeches are superior: Donald Trump or Barack Obama. Discuss

The winners and Highly Commended Essayists were invited to the college to have a celebratory lunch with Dr David Woodman. 

Essay Prize 2017 Winners and Highly Commended:


Owen Dowling

Owen addressed the question concerning the ability of centralised governments to produce great advances of civilisation by discussing, in great depth, the successes of the healthcare system in Cuba. Most impressive were his ability to logically construct an argument, marshalling various academic disciplines to make a strong and defensible case, whilst also looking beyond the face value of the question to grapple with larger economic arguments behind Friedman’s statement. This is achieved from start to finish with a cogent structure, pleasing pace, and excellent referencing. It is an outstanding piece of work. His essay demonstrates an exceptional awareness of modern social, economic and political history, a capacity to reflect upon the subject matter critically and most importantly, to write with lucidity and a skilful command of language. 

Rayna Koshy

In her essay, Rayna argued ingeniously to take a pocket spirometer back in time to its original inventor in the 1850s. The essay is a tour de force examining the history and context of smoking and global warming and how taking back such a device to measure vital capacity would have demonstrated the link between cardiorespiratory illness, smoking, air pollution and life expectancy to dramatically change the course of history. She has demonstrated clear evidence of thorough and detailed knowledge, along with an impressive capacity to reflect upon her research, which itself was wide ranging, relevant and all impeccably referenced. The response to the question was intensely creative, vivid, and above all exceptionally persuasive.  

Sachin Bhangra

​Sachin chose to discuss the potential of taking a testosterone pill back in time to America in 1919 after the invention of the mass spectrometer, to counter doping in sport. This ingenious idea was all the more enhanced by the captivating narrative style which Sachin imbued in his essay, and served not only produce an engaging argument but also to succinctly get his ideas across. He demonstrated sound knowledge of the context of doping in sport, and competent grasp of the scientific theory without sacrificing the discipline of closely answering the question. The result is an erudite piece of work that is astute, credible, and above all, convincing. 

Highly Commended

Connie Bernardin

Connie has produced a creative and incisive reflection on the nature of gender in our modern society and the impact that negative gender connotations in Disney films can have on young children. Her essay attends very well to the question and successfully considers a wide range of factors without be swayed by prevailing public attitude. The opening lines of her introduction take the reader straight to the heart of the issue: the idea that damaging stereotypes often engulf our perception of gender. This argument is then woven throughout the essay in tangent with the chronological discussion of gender portrayal in Disney films since their first conception.  The conclusion that children should not be banned from watching Disney films is soundly substantiated and well presented. 

Rebecca Fox

Michael Fraser

Michael’s essay was a brilliant, lively and ‘hands on’ essay that remained thoroughly anchored to the question, without any deviation or lack of clarity. He managed to remain ruthlessly unserved by moral norms or conventions external to the actual question and assess the merits of Donald Trump’s speeches without falling into the trap of being swayed by his own political view point. It was clearly the fruit of exceptional primary and secondary source work, coupled with reflection on the speeches themselves, put to great use in drawing an interesting conclusion. Overall and very interesting and eye opening read. 

Leoni Fretwell

Charlotte Gross

In her expansive essay, Charlotte explored a plethora of potential items that could be taken back in time with the goal of advancing science and medicine. The essay was thoughtful, reflective, and considered the question from a variety of angles before drawing a strong conclusion. Its greatest strength was its multi-perspectival approach which was executed to great effect. From her dissection of the phrasing of the question, she was the only candidate who discussed whether the best approach would be to advance medicine with the most impact or to create the highest certainty of positive change that the chosen item would bring. This was an impressive piece, which explored many of the options that other candidates mentioned, before critically evaluating them and exploring further, superior possibilities. Noting that all of the arguments she marshalled were dependent on the interpretation of the question itself, she came to the witty conclusion that the most important consideration was to extensively plan and prepare before engaging in time travel. 

Georgia Hayes

When faced with finding an item, small enough to fit in one’s pocket, that if taken back in time would advance science or medicine, Georgia came up with the notion of taking the copper intra uterine device back to the year 1873. Of the 20 answers to this question, this was one of the most impressive and ingenious responses, which was matched by her eloquent reasoning, and strong, lucid argument. A well written, thorough, and uncluttered piece of work, it grapples well with the core issues of the theory behind the copper coil and further, precisely how the IUD would be theoretically introduced into Victorian society to the greatest advantage. She presents a careful, yet moralising argument and pontificates that the IUD has the potential to make a great deal of difference in our modern society still - to give women the power and knowledge to make choices about their own bodies. A pleasure to read from start to finish. 

George Richmond

George has written a highly creative piece, approaching the question through the structure of a Platonic dialogue which resulted in a highly competent essay and an enjoyable read. It was truly ingenious to adapt the Platonic format, derived from his study of philosophy and ethics, to ensure the clarity of his argument which then developed to interrogate the question along economic, historical, and political lines. A particular highlight was the use of Hegelian ‘Owl of Minerva’ imagery, which was woven through the essay, to illustrate his over-arching concern that political philosophies should not use history as a predictor of what is to come.  This piece of work is multi-disciplinary in scope, sharp in focus, eloquent in presentation and a pleasure to read.  

Ashley Smith

Ashley addressed the question that “the greatest advances of civilisation have never come from centralised government’ with a flair and panache that made his essay stand out from many of the other answers in this category. Particular noteworthy is his adroitness in utilising quotes in the narrative arc of his essay to their best advantage, to drive home and elucidate his argument about social security and neoliberal economic ideology. He demonstrated an excellent grasp of the context surrounding Friedman’s quote and an impeccable understanding of modern political history and climate. This piece of work was exceptionally well considered and sophisticated. 

Jordan Urban

Jordan’s concise and persuasive essay was above all a fair examination of a topic that has the potential to be divisive and inflammatory. The terms of the essay are lucidly interrogated in the introduction, which then gives way to a careful and balanced examination of gender as a cultural construct from two opposing viewpoints. The student demonstrates an impressive grasp of sociology and command of language in a scholarly comparison of matrilineal societies with our own patriarchal society in the UK. Jordan then seamlessly segues into a discussion on free speech which ultimately and above all, logically, leads us to his conclusion. This essay was an effortless to read and above all sophisticated, clear and informative. 

Ella Williams

Ella’s essay is an exceptional combination of original thought, incisive reflection and wide ranging scope coming to the conclusion that private expression and social examination are both inherent elements of a novel. The introduction expertly interrogates the terms of Margaret Atwood’s infamous quote and condenses the question down to its essential theoretical components – the dichotomy between moralism and aestheticism in literature.  This debate is skilfully examined in relation to various intellectual movements across Europe showing an impeccable awareness of context that is impressive in reach.  A thoroughly enjoyable, lively and scholarly piece of work that encapsulates the writer’s enthusiasm for Literature, Languages, and History. 

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