Undergraduate Awards

Trouillot Essay Prize

The Michel-Rolph Trouilliot Essay Prize for Undergraduate Students was established in the memory of Michel-Rolph Trouilliot (1949-2012), a leading anthropologist of the Caribbean who received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1985.  This competition is open to all JHU undergraduates who are invited to submit original writing, an essay written for a class assignment, or an excerpt from a thesis or independent study.  The winner of the competition receives a cash prize of $500 and the runner a cash prize of $250.

Ryan Aghamohammadi, Winner of the 2022 Trouillot Essay Prize 

Ryan Aghamohammadi is an Iranian-American poet and anthropologist from Connecticut. Their work on exile, mysticism and magic, and language — which combines Western and Middle Eastern poetic traditions — has appeared in The Missouri Review, Ligeia, and Bear Review.

“Ecological Place-Making: On The Garden In Guilford” excerpt from final thesis


This paper attends to the everyday project of place-making, taking Baltimore’s private Sherwood Gardens as the primary field site, to understand how green spaces are practiced, negotiated, and articulated in daily life, insofar as they are produced by the combination and/or intersection of different perspectives. Voice is centralized here as the primary instrument of place-making through which places are summoned, conceptions articulated, and tensions manifested.

The conceptual geographies of place are inextricably caught up in the convergence of disparate actors, who arrive with resonant and dissonant conceptions, upon it. Actors include neighborhood associations, scientific researchers, and park users, as well as the voices of the ‘ghosts’ of historical actors, manifested through exclusionary deeds, built architecture, environmental design, as well as the effects of historic and on-going systemic racism. 

Everyday park-users negotiate with the accumulation of voices, including their own, consciously and unconsciously, in the moment they interact with the gardens. Through such negotiations we trace not only individuals’ interaction with the gardens and what definition of place they arrive to, but how the neighborhood’s mechanisms of access and denial reverberate in life and practice. 

This project argues that place-making is therefore never neutral, contingent, fluid, and always unfinished. The policing of space, eco-violence, conceptions of public/private property, and green imaginaries are bound up within ecological place-making. Everyday urban green spaces such as Sherwood Gardens provide an inroads into understanding how urban inequity weaves into built, ecological, and conceptual architectures, as well as the centrality place holds, in all its multiplicities, in the future of our relationship with the environment and amongst ourselves. 

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Ryan’s essay:

Ryan’s strong commitment to ethnographic fieldwork and writing shines through in this essay, illustrating the great potential of ethnography to provide crucial insights into pressing social questions, including those around place, power, and racial inequity in American cities. Through close attention to knowledge production about and embodied experience in seemingly innocuous everyday sites such as urban parks and gardens, Ryan persuasively demonstrates how these become key sites for the contestation, negotiation, and reproduction of urban inequity. The paper very productively puts original ethnographic fieldwork and archival research into conversation with social theory to craft original arguments. This is a fascinating and important project and a well-deserved winner.  

Stella Lee, Runner-up for the 2022 Trouillot Essay Prize

Stella Lee is a rising sophomore majoring in international studies (minor track in Anthropology), neuroscience and psychology. She is passionate about sustainable design and responsible tech, working on projects from urban metabolism, politics of information, to tech ethics. 

“Moral Order in Reform-Era Rural China: Implications of Village Modernization and Capitalist Transformation” 

China’s rural landscape has undergone significant changes in the post-Mao era. The rapid diversification of rural economy, increased importance of markets and restructuring of institutions created both opportunities and vulnerabilities for the rural population. Decades of transformation have contributed to a changing moral order in rural China, characterized by rising individualization, moral confusion, negative stereotypes of the rural, changes in intergenerational relationships and declining political trust in local cadres. As individuals cope with moral uncertainties and adapt to capitalist transformation, many devised strategies to neutralize its destructive effects while seeking ways to participate in capitalist development. Increasing rights awareness has also led to rightful resistance against local cadres. The disappearance of the village’s sociospatial reality and the decline in villagers’ agency in village decision-making raise further questions about the disjuncture between the existence of the village as a formal administrative category and its sociospatial transformation into something unrecognizable.

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Stella’s essay:

Stella has written a very impressive essay, which makes an important intervention into conversations around China’s economic and political transformations over the past century, examining changes to the moral order in the Chinese countryside. This essay has a very strong intellectual foundation, built upon exceptional secondary source research and nuanced analysis, which utilizes anthropological theory to complicate standard historical narratives. Stella places her sources into conversation fluently and skillfully, in a way that is rare at the undergraduate level. The writing is lucid and well-structured. This paper shows considerable promise for Stella as a scholar.  

Tanya Wongvibulsin, Honorable Mention, 2022 Trouillot Essay Prize

Tanya Wongvibulsin is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Anthropology. During her time in the Anthropology department, she focused her studies on medicine and violence and wrote her honors thesis on Covid-19 vaccine resistance in Thailand. 

“Vaccine Resistance in Thailand: An Exploration of Twitter and Traditional Media”

This paper hopes to explore the issue of vaccine resistance as it gets embedded into the pro-democracy movement through using web semantics to analyze trending Tweets related to Covid-19, the government, and the pro-democracy protests. The output is used to create a framework for comparing conversations about Covid-19 vaccines and the pro-democracy movement on Twitter and Thairath, the biggest news outlet in Thailand. This allows for analyzing vaccine resistance in Thailand by looking at two different media through the framework of trust vs. mistrust rather than other common frameworks, such as modern vs. traditional and rational vs. superstitious. The organization of this paper proceeds as follows: Section I provides an overview of the Covid-19 situation and 2021 pro-democracy movement in Thailand; Section II discusses the research performed on Twitter during the summer of 2021; Section III analyzes conversations on Twitter and Thairath; Section IV concludes, articulating the promise of using tools from computer science to perform anthropological research.

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Tanya’s essay:

Tanya’s essay should be commended for its extensive and innovative primary research analyzing Twitter posts. It poses a fascinating and important question about the ways vaccine resistance becomes embedded within pro-democracy discourse in such online forums. The dedication to methodological innovation in anthropological research by employing techniques from the computer sciences is impressive.  

Larkin Gallup, Honorable Mention, 2022 Trouillot Essay Competition

Larkin Gallup

Larkin Gallup is a rising junior, originally from Carlsbad, California. She is currently majoring in Anthropology and International Studies, with a minor in Environmental Studies.

Abstract: This paper discusses the current evolution of Anthropology and ethnographies, especially the emergence of more public and visual forms. It examines the popular Instagram account, Humans of New York, as a case study and discusses firstly how it resembles ethnography and secondly how it improves upon the writing form. The paper discusses Brandon Stanton’s, the creator of Humans of New York, interview and writing methods and compares them to anthropologists, and examines the dual form of written caption and visual photograph as a sort of ethnography. In addition, the comments sections of the posts are discussed as a potential form of collaborative anthropology, where readers are able to prove instant feedback to the anthropologist, as well as add on their personal stories and thoughts. The paper finds that the Instagram account, while far less formal than anthropology is used to, is a way to make the field more accessible and a way for it to be held accountable, forcing it into the modern era.

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Larkin’s essay:

Larkin’s essay should be commended for its inventive approach, examining a popular Instagram account to prise open important ethical questions around power, transparency, and collaboration within the praxis of anthropological fieldwork. The essay offers a series of well-considered provocations with which anthropologists should grapple.