Every year the History Department awards a best essay award an undergraduate who has written an exceptional research paper in a history class. To win this award, the essay must be nominated by a faculty member. This year’s winner is “Servitude or Employment: An Analysis of Language Construction and Spelling Surrounding Nubian Mercenaries in the Old and Middle Kingdoms,” written by Charles Rhodes, a senior history major who graduated in December 2019. Mr. Rhodes wrote his essay for a course on Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs taught by Dr. Julia Troche. Mr. Rhodes is a history major with a minor in religious studies.
In making its selection, the Scholarship Committee chair, Dr. Brooks Blevins, wrote: “Charles Rhodes’s essay is a well-organized paper that blends history and the study of language construction to argue that Nubian mercenaries were not viewed as subservient by the Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom. He skillfully uses a variety of both secondary and primary sources to support his argument, taking his cue from previous scholarly works but digging farther to illuminate his argument. All in all, it is a great example of a paper with a clear and original argument supported by solid research.”
What is particularly impressive about Mr. Rhodes’s essay is its careful reading of language to better understand how Egyptians understood their relationship with Nubian mercenaries. In the interview below, Mr. Rhodes discusses how historians and Egyptologists have miscast this relationship because they read contemporary definitions of servitude and attitudes towards foreigners back in the historical record rather than carefully analyzing how Ancient Egyptians wrote about these relationships. Rhodes challenges historians to pay careful attention to language and to understand historical peoples on their terms. By doing so, Mr. Rhodes demonstrates that contemporary attitudes are not a natural outgrowth of historical processes but must be explained.
In the attached interview, Mr. Rhodes discusses how he came to study Ancient Egypt. He notes that his love for history emerged from a dual credit class he took on Western Civilization and the critical thinking skills taught in that class. He began his career at Missouri State planning to study early modern Europe but changed his mind as his love for Ancient History in general and Ancient Egypt grew because of Dr. Troche’s classes. He encourages all students to be open minded as they approach their own intellectual journeys and open to taking classes that might interest them even if they are not part of their immediate career goals. Mr. Rhodes plans to continue his studies in Ancient History at the University of Memphis and eventually pursue a Ph.D. in Egyptology. He hopes to inspire students as his teachers have inspired him.