2021 Winners

Writing Contest Winners

1st Place: Open Doors  by Angel Luo

Read the Essay

Starting from the moment I landed in the U.S. for the first time six years ago, I immediately noticed an interesting difference between here and where I have been and lived before, that is, everyone holds doors for each other when entering and exiting spaces. I lived in a busy and crowded city where people do not have the habit of holding doors for people behind them. The “door-holding tradition”, as I called it, was one of the first “culture shocks'' I experienced during my first year of studying abroad. It was both surprising and comforting when seeing a hand remaining in front of me pushing against the heavy door until my body had passed the doorway half way with my arm holding the door in a comfortable position and angle. The beaming faces and greetings I received from the door holders also made me, as a new international student away from home, feel extremely welcomed.

Since I began my journey at Miami University, I continue to find door holders at almost every doorway I walk through on campus. And beyond this “door-holding tradition”, I continue to find myself being welcomed, cared for, and supported in many other ways during my studies in this foreign country. As a first-year student a couple of years ago, I was still unclear about my plans and goals for my four years in college. And as an international first-generation college student with parents who do not speak a single word in English, I became more anxious about my unknown future direction and unconfident in finding out where I belong in the new environment.

But I realized immediately that my worries and anxiety could not last long. The first “door holder” I met was my academic advisor. After explaining details about each major offered from the academic college and discussing with me about possible directions to pursue, I was able to select my first major at Miami University. My advisor introduced me to Emerging Technology in Business and Design, which is a major that involves creativity and consists of multiple crucial elements in today’s business world. Selecting my first major with the help from my advisor was the first “open door” I walked through during my time at Miami university. Guiding me through steps of focusing my interests and providing me assistance on selecting the correct paths, my advisor slowly released the weight of the door on my arm while supporting and encouraging me at the same time. And that was one of the most memorable moments of my first year at Miami University, as I released my stress, rebuilt my confidence, reached my new path, and realized the enormous support exists within the Miami community. Ever since that day, I continued to meet different people within the community who have guided, assisted, and supported me in different ways. I have already walked through many doors on campus after taking many courses in different buildings, and I have also learned meaningful lessons through challenges I faced. I am thankful for those who have held my hands or provided me with a hand when I was in need, as well as those who have given others a hand to make their days better. Without those hands, I would not have found new open doors in my life, nor be able to combat difficulties on my own in a new environment.

Miami University is truly my second home away from home. I cherish not only my friends and mentors, but also the endless open-door opportunities offered and those “door holders” who provide support and always light up my days here.

2nd Place: First Time on a Plane in 13 Years  by Nathan Gillin

Read the Essay

Last October, I sat in my room in Akron, Ohio. With all online classes, I elected to stay home. Though it was a tough decision, an even tougher decision loomed ahead.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I grappled with applying for the illustrious Miami University Dolibois European Center (MUDEC) Program in Differdange, Luxembourg. There were so many uncertainties regarding the upcoming spring semester. So many Study Abroad programs throughout the world were cancelled…would MUDEC be any different? What sort of experiences would I even have in a COVID-riddled Europe? And would it be worth it to go abroad for an entire semester, once again leaving Oxford behind?

Despite the pandemic and the uncertainties that I was faced with, Study Abroad was something that I have always wanted to do. At this point, I had never been overseas and the last time I was on a plane was 13 years ago.

I thought of my grandma, who battled cancer for many years. Though she lived a life full of love, grandkids, and fun adventures, I know that—had it not been for the cancer—she would have loved to travel more.

I made up my mind: I applied. I was admitted. Before I knew it, I was looking down at the deep, blue ocean aboard the plane to Europe.

Nine hours later, my head was spinning, and I felt nauseous from this new feeling called “jet lag.” I couldn’t take in the European countryside like I’d hoped, and I met my host family…who didn’t speak English. Throw in COVID travel restrictions throughout the continent, and I became nervous about the remainder of the semester. Would I be able to travel? Would I be able to overcome language barriers and make connections with others? Culture shock seemed to be setting in.

However, I soon had nothing to fear. The MUDEC staff—including Executive Director Raymond Manes, Professor Elena Albarrán, and Student Activities Coordinator Daniel Riecker, among others—were so welcoming and they made the Chateau such an amazing place to study, hang out, and plan weekend travel. I will always have found memories of the ivy-covered Chateau walls and the sound of foosball in the student lounge, known as “The Cave.” I even got excited about navigating the train system (“closest tracks to the chateau go to Luxembourg City, the other tracks go to Rodange”)! While shopping for groceries, I found myself relying on pictures and Google Translate as I looked for things like ham and Dijon mustard!

After overcoming some initial culture shock, it was time to travel. This semester, I was able to do things that I’d only dreamed of before, like ski in the snow-covered Swiss Alps and walk through breathtaking national parks in Croatia, filled with flowing waterfalls and lush greenery. I traveled to nine countries in total and each one had its own unique culture and society. Cities on the sea, such as Barcelona, Marseille, and Marsaskala, had fresh seafood in markets and restaurants. Cities like Paris, Milan, and Madrid resembled major U.S. metropolises like New York while blending the new with many millennia of rich European history. Massive cathedrals and castles were lined with centuries of history that I loved exploring. My own country of Luxembourg was a cultural hub that welcomed people from all over the world, regardless of language, creed, or color.

My relationship with my host family was one that made a profound impact on my Study Abroad experience. Though my host parents, Mariana and Silvio, did not speak the same language as me and my housemate, we still had a great relationship with them. We communicated with gestures, Google Translate, and common words between English, French, and Italian. It was so much fun to have dinner with them and take part in family cookouts and celebrations, ultimately making the European experience even better for me. I still enjoy talking to Mariana on WhatsApp and keeping up to date with the family.

I think the thing that I am most thankful for on this whole experience is all the great friends that I made last semester at MUDEC. Each of us made the challenging decision to study abroad through MUDEC, even as the pandemic ravaged the world. Something inside each of us knew that we had to take this chance of a lifetime. The result: memories that will last a lifetime.

Third Place: The Footprints We Left Behind  by Kylee Yam

Read the Essay

Outside the mouth of a large cave, in the tangles of an even larger jungle, hung a troop of spider monkeys. I craned my head upwards awkwardly to view them. Their long lanky bodies walked easily through the canopy of these giant broad leaf trees. I couldn’t take pictures any more because my phone’s battery was dead. It was nice because I was awarded the chance to just focus on my surroundings instead of worrying about getting the best shots. Plus, Hayley’s camera was better anyways.

TreetopsIt was the second time we had seen wild monkeys, not the ones at the zoo. I instantly felt kind of bad because it was clear we were on their land. One monkey, a young male, started shaking the branches and sticking his tongue out at us. I don’t think he wanted us there. This made me wonder how he saw us. We were invaders, disrupting breakfast, making them move, making him change his routine.

A few things on this incredible trip had gotten me thinking about my impact in this beautiful country. A few mistakes I made allowed me to realize the conflict of just being there. Was my presence overall helpful or harmful? It’s tricky business invading an area on the premise of education and conservation meanwhile doing your best not to leave too big of a footprint.

At first I wasn’t sure why it was so bad to take a photo in front of some super cute wild black howler monkeys. We weren’t hurting them physically, holding them, or disturbing their habitat. They didn’t even seem to notice we were there. I loved watching them hang around the branches, climb up and down, swing from vines, and traverse the corridor’s mango trees. But on our walk back through the rainforest with Robert, I realized why. It was about the image and what the image means. Taking a picture with your face in the foreground and the monkeys in the background portrays the idea that you see the monkeys as nothing more than something to make your picture cuter. It makes them seem like a thing and not as a species that deserves equal respect and admiration. Beyond that, if other people see that image, it might fuel them to get similar photos but in not so good ways. The black howler monkeys need to be the only subject of the photos!

Photographs with wild animals were part of the game at the Mayan ruins called Altun Ha. As I stepped off the bus into the blazing heat, caffeine-deprived and wildly exhausted, I made my way over to a man with a very large snake. The snake was beautiful, patterned and cool to the touch. But it didn’t take me long to realize this man did not have the best intentions for snakes and conserving Belizean wildlife. Again, I reflected. I wondered if my presence on this trip was encouraging men like him to go out and capture wild snakes. I wondered if we were unintentionally driving an entire business aimed at manipulating tourists. Not paying ten bucks to get a photo with the snake was a good step and instead supporting the small sustainable farm called a milpa and the conservation-minded tour guides like Peter, was another.

The writer lies on her back and looks up at the sky, with distant pyraminds in viewAs I trekked carefully away from the spider monkeys and into the caves, I thought this must be the best we can do. Not be too much of a physical presence and do the best we can to learn about the delicate relationships between animals and their environment. Listening to Runaway Creek’s presentation about their research initiatives, will help them continue their efforts and support the protection of the spider monkeys. Promoting conservation-minded travel helps to financially support these programs and also reduces impact by tourists.

The monkey sees you
Traveling through his forest
Step carefully by

Honorable Mentions

Disguised Success: A Privilege of Identity  by Lauren Doll

Read the Essay

For the majority of my life, my educational experience has been marked by my determination to work as hard as possible so I could reap the benefits, whether they be grades, scholarships, recognition, or pride. My transition to college showed me many of my seemingly merited rewards are really benefits of my identity. I am white.

I had a “typical” educational experience. I had a dad who assisted me with math homework and a mom who helped me practice my weekly set of spelling words. Motivated from a young age by notions of meritocracy, I thought success meant being the best. In the gifted program, I was surrounded by classmates who similarly worked hard. As we grew, our gifted program turned into honors, AP, and college credit courses. Our desire to get all A’s turned into aspirations of superior scores on ACTs, exams, and a top spot in our class rank. My parents began helping me with economics and zoology instead of basic math or English. By the time I graduated high school, I thought I thoroughly earned my honors, scholarships, and most importantly my spot at Miami. My parents were proud of me, and I was proud of myself.

Before coming to Miami, I was excited for all the new opportunities and experiences I would encounter. I knew college would help me find my identity. I didn’t realize it would help me learn about others’ identities as well. Miami’s frequent training, lectures, and efforts to keep diversity discussions prominent and pertinent opened my eyes about my own life living as a student of dominant culture.

I recall telling a high school teacher that if I were him, I would give every student who had missing or late work a zero on each assignment. “They should’ve been more responsible in completing their work,” I said. He brushed away my comment saying it wasn't exactly that simple. I shrugged and sat down for class. Looking back, I realize the story I believed about meritocracy is a lie. I had married parents, both with master’s degrees and well-paying jobs. I lived comfortably in the middle class with a house in a safe neighborhood. I had a car with gas and insurance paid for. I didn’t have a job after school. I had time and resources to do homework. I had the choice whether or not to study before each test. I could afford to take the ACT as many times as I wanted. I am white. My 35-point ACT, perfect GPA, and even valedictorian position were almost benefits of the luck of being born into the “right” family. With all things given to me, how could I possibly think I earned these, and others just did not try hard enough?

What I thought was hard work was really a product of decades of systematic hierarchies of power working in my favor, almost guaranteeing my success. Coming to Miami helped me realize that my high school classmates that I thought were poor students were students impacted by a number of issues such as poverty, minority status, or family issues, not just lazy students. I never considered that homework and studying are not priorities when you care for siblings or work a job and your parent(s) are working multiple jobs to pay for enough food. Their parents may not even speak English or care to help them with school issues.

In my first semester, Miami showed me how underprivileged and minority students are fighting against battles that I have never experienced. I learned many rewards I thought I was earning were already given to me as privileges of my identity. I learned the importance of constant discussion, knowledge, and education of social issues. I learned sympathy is not enough for social change. Even though change isn’t easy, I must be a part of it because if no one from dominant culture helps, systematic social hierarchies will only prevail.

Growing up as a student, a part of the dominant culture has given me privilege that led me to success in primary school, secondary school, and in college. I am fortunate to have learned about my privilege stemming from my identity and have decided to use this to become a teacher who teaches a new generation of students who understand their identities and how they intersect with issues of equity, equality, privilege, and power. I want my students to understand systematic policies that promote social hierarchies and help them become agents of change.

Exceptional Experience at Miami University  by Xinyue Jia

Read the Essay

My parents always say that education is the best investment in life. Overseas study can help develop language skills and life independence, most importantly, gain global perspectives through cross-cultural experiences. So, they sent me to Miami University with high hopes that Miami will transform me into a successful person. With faith and visions, I came to the United States during the pandemic. And now, I could not be happier that my new chapter started at Miami. Two months into this semester, I already had so much fond memories here.

The first memorable experience at Miami was the orientation. For most international students, coming to a foreign land, the sense of not belonging can be overwhelming. I was very homesick in the beginning. However, after the first day meeting with the instructors at the university campus, it all changed. As soon as we got into the car, Jesse started asking everyone all kinds of questions. She showed great interest in our country, culture, and our hobbies. I could feel the enthusiasm and warmth from her words. All our teachers made genuine effort to get to know all of us. They made us feel like home thousands of miles away from China. They learned our Chinese names even though it’s very difficult for them to pronounce. It is their care and sincerity that made me feel safe and belonged at Miami.

The second memorable experience was about the janitor on campus. I have noticed an old man who seems very kind in here since day one. He is often talking and laughing with the staff, always greeting everybody with positive energy. He seemed like a great old man, very warm-hearted, I thought. I have never talked to him until today. This morning the light in the study area was not on. After searching all around the hall I still couldn’t find the light switch. Someone came to turn the light on after Jerry called the campus security. Later I saw the janitor and approached him. He stopped sweeping and put away the tools in his hands. I asked him where the light switch is. He was confused because all the lights were on, but he still patiently asked me where I needed the lights and tried to help me. I explained what happened and he said, smiling, “Sure, sure. Let me show you”. He then led me to the outer area of the hall front door, turned the light switch for me and said, “There you go, sweetie”. He added “You can always find me if you need anything. I will be here to help you.” He had the brightest smile on the whole time when he was talking to me. I think he might be one of the nicest people I have ever met.

Kindness knows no culture, race, or gender. Despite the differences we have, the love and kindness I experienced at Miami University have been exceptional and forever memorable. I cannot wait to see what amazing experiences Miami has to offer next.

Where the Desert Meets the Ocean  by Cassie Klein

Read the Essay

Piled in a van with 18 strangers is how it started. Piled in a van with 18 best friends is how it ended. We traveled to where the desert meets the ocean. The desert and the ocean seem like opposites, but in fact are very much the same: they both seem vast and lifeless on the surface, but both are teeming with rich biodiversity. This was my first Earth Expeditions graduate course, with field travel to Baja, Mexico, through Project Dragonfly in the Biology Department at Miami-- the course would provide a foundational start for my Master’s journey.

After we drove from San Diego to Tijuana, we became encapsulated by the desert. Miles passed by as did the endless array of cacti. One species caught our eyes. Out of the short, broad, and spiky “leaves” of the base of the plant sprouted a tall, thick stalk at least 12 feet high with yellow flowers on it. It towered over the other cacti, and we started to ask questions. “What is that?” “Why is it so tall?” “What purpose does it serve?”. The vans pulled over in the middle of the desert so we could investigate. Students gathered around the odd plant to discuss this unique adaptation, and work on hypotheses to find out. The discussion of agave reproductive anatomy would be just one of many inquiry-based discussions about the ecology and conservation of Baja wildlife.

Hours later it felt like we’d never reach the Vermilion Sea Institute, a field station midway down the Baja peninsula and our base for the trip. We’d been driving all day through endless desert and watched the sun set behind the cacti. But finally we passed a sign for “B.L.A” Baihia de Los Angeles, a small fishing community located on the Sea of Cortez. We were close. We turned down a dirt road before parking at an unassuming building. I soon realized that, just like the desert, there is more to this field station than first meets the eye. Exhausted from traveling all day and learning many new things along the way, we received an express tour of the essentials: how to flush a toilet with a bucket of water and how to set up cots for sleeping outside, next to the sea, across from the desert, under the stars.

Life at the Vermillion Sea Institute was simple. Take what you need, and no more. Respect the environment and the people around you. And, always find the answers to your questions through community inquiry. We had lessons throughout the day; some inside and some outside. We had assignments and we had the ocean. The breakfast bell was always welcome, followed by dishes and a “cot brigade” putting away beds once everyone was awake. We went to a desert Ranch and back and upon returning to the ocean from the arid desert, we all played in the ocean together for hours. Then it was time for me to face my fear and go out on the boats.

I’m not afraid of boats or the open water, but I do sometimes get sea sick and it can ruin my day. This trip, I was extra prepared with sea bans and bonine. Either it worked or there was something magical about Baja (or a bit of both) but I felt just fine on each of the days we went out on boats. And it was a good thing too because it was an amazing day. We started the trip floating by blue-footed boobies hanging out on the rocks, and I was so excited to see them in person (in avian?). Then as we were moving through open water the largest male sea lion I’ve seen was munching on a fish bigger than his gargantuan head. He was concentrating so hard on eating the fish that he didn’t even notice the three boats that had gathered, at a distance, around him. Finishing his meal, he turned, looked at us, panicked, and dove down into the water. We found an island containing a forest of miniature mangroves, a raft of sea lions who snorkeled near us, a giant pod of dolphins that surfed next to the boats, and finally whale sharks: the biggest fish in the sea. That was just one day; several hours really. Nevertheless, it was easy to see how all of these powerful field experiences inBaja—along with the human connections I made there—would support further inquiry and exploration throughout my life.

Literary London Prize

1st Place: The Case of the Bank Robber and the Cobblestone Streets  by Caroline Funk

Read the Essay

FOREWORD: This was my final paper for ENG 399 in the 2021 summer term of Miami’s Literary London Study Abroad Program. It is a creative story inspired by Sherlock Holmes mysteries and is based on the recreated Victorian streets from the Museum of London. In revising this story, I had a few key ideas and themes from class discussions in mind. The first one is the Week 3 theme of the construction of London as a character. In the example of the Sherlock Holmes story we read, London is the playground in which clues are found and adventures take place. Our readings discussed the description of London’s fog and darkness in Conan Doyle’s writing that creates a tone of mystery and ultimately becomes a character in the story. If it were a bright and sunny day in London, there would not be an ominous feeling of gloom or the suggestion that something dangerous is hiding and lurking in the shadows. I opened up my creative story describing a similar mysterious fog and rain to create the same aura of moodiness and mystery that allows London to become a kind of character and play a role in the construction of the story and ambiance as Conan Doyle does in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Another way I tried to emulate the theme of London being a character is by building into the plot. I came up with the idea for the clue being a footprint in the road because the very streets of London itself now become a physical piece of evidence and an essential part of the plot in the story. It’s not just the backdrop for which the story is taking place; it’s the central piece of evidence in the mystery.

The idea of London being a character ties back to our larger class and study abroad themes about how to read and write historical fiction located in London. I think the argument that you should attempt to write London as a character highlights the importance of physical setting when writing historical fiction. Doing research and knowing accurate information about the real place is an important part of writing historical fiction, and I think physically seeing the streets in the Museum of London as well as being in London itself helped me craft the setting for this story in a way I wouldn’t have been able to had I not been there in person. My story would be fine without the details of London. It could be a generic pub, a generic cobbler, and a generic footprint. But in giving the pub a location in Pimlico, setting it right along the Thames, making the cobblestone streets the central part of the mystery, giving details about the fog and the river and the rain, I characterized London in a way that allows the story to take on its own life. There is a reconstruction of time and an attempt to make this place feel realistic. Those details create verisimilitude and a tone that would not exist without paying attention to the importance of characterizing the setting. Overall, my focus in this creative story is emphasizing setting as a character in order to bring a reality, mood, and theme to my work of historical fiction.

The Case of The Bank Robber and the Cobblestone Streets

James had seen a lot in his pub. The bar would fill each night with all the important locals: the cobbler, the pawnbroker, the barber, the bank clerk. He would hear the whispers of gossip as he passed out pints of beer across the bar. Something about the dark wood surrounding him seemed to blend in with the rest of London. The city was filled with the sense of gloom: the dark paved streets, the thick fog that hung in the air like London exhaling its breath, the dim glow from the city street lamps, the cloudy drizzle of rain that pattered against the window. There was an ominous sense to all of the gray, but also a sense of beauty. James found himself comforted by the dimness of it all, the way the fog melded everything together. The rhythm of raindrops mixed with the chatter in the pub was a peaceful sound.

The cobbled streets, the dark wooden buildings, the barrels of beer and coffee outside their warehouses, the stands of freshly baked bread, the streets were always filled with markets and customers and people selling goods. James was always right there on the corner, watching people peer through windows. He watched mothers drag their children away from the toyshop window, pushing them again and again until they finally followed. He loved to watch people stop and slow down past the freshly baked biscuits and bread, inhaling the warmth of the scent. He would watch the coffee warehouse as workers carried in load after load of beans shipped overseas from Jamaica or Ethiopia. Recently, more and more goods had arrived at their harbors. The demand for new items grew and grew, more shops opened up, more people moved from the countryside to join in on the liveliness of it all. London was an expanding city.

Watney Combe Reid & Co sat right in the center of Pimlico, the neighborhood of Belgravia that expanded into Westminster, on the corner of Bessborough Place. The rushing current of the Thames ran up against the edge of the pub. When it rained, as it usually did, the raging tide would send waves crashing against the wall at the edge: rushing water mixed with the sounds of pub chatter and rainfall. The splashing waves and current had a rhythm, a flow that James grew fond of as it kept a beat running in the background of his daily routine. The rain, the fog, the crowds, the river, the street vendors, the pub was his home at the center of the city in the middle of all the commotion. There was nothing he could possibly miss out on here.

The pub was a family business, one James had planned on inheriting since before he could even remember, like his father and his father and his father before him. Of all the businesses he could own, James was glad it was the pub. The nights were loud and grueling long hours on his feet, dealing with the drunks and shoveling people away when the night had come to an end, forcing people out and slamming the doors shut in their face. But there was no other place where people seemed to come alive in such a way. The shouting and chatter was an energy that James couldn’t quite pick up anywhere else. He loved the gossip he could overhear from his customers, loved the way they would hustle throughout their day busy with their errands and work, and yet would come to his bar to relax. He loved to watch them loosen their collars, let down their shoulders, show a little of themselves.

Once the night struck ten, every surface of the pub was filled. The corner tables were packed full with crowds of people and crowds started to form at the bar as people lined up to order their drinks: dark ales, ciders, India pale ales, porters of Whitbread or Parsons. James helped each and every one of them. He moved effortlessly through the motions of muscle memory: twisting the valve, inhaling the bready foam of beer pouring from the tap, sliding it across the counter in large glass pitchers and watching his customers gulp them down. The bar would shake as they slammed their empty glasses down and pounded the surface, demanding another.

In the bustle of crowds, a familiar face slid through the front entrance and collapsed into the corner seat of the bar. The cobbler: William Whistleby. He was a regular at James’ pub, and a good friend. Without asking, James filled a pint of porter and slid it across the bar to William.

“Long day, eh?”

“They do seem to keep getting longer.”

William was quite a reserved man. He was short and slender, with rough and nimble hands from his work. James himself had gone to his shop a few times to mend a few worn-out soles and peeling heels. Most of James’ regulars wanted to talk for hours. He had just caught up with the barber the other night and heard about an absurd story of a horse carriage that had crashed into the pawnbrokers’ shop and damaged a few antique vases. But William usually kept quiet and to himself. He preferred to fade into the background, settle in with his surroundings, make friends with the shadows in the corners. He would begin and end the night with polite conversation, pause sometimes to request a few refills, but nothing more. But on a night like this, when the place was this busy, James didn’t mind his reserved and calm presence.

“Let me know when you want your next one.”

“Will do, thank you, James.” He tipped his hat slightly, flashing his slicked, dark hair in a polite gesture.

“Help, help!” James looked up and over William’s silhouette to see the bank clerk crashing through the door, flailing his arms about, “I’ve been robbed!”

A crowd immediately gathered around him, demanding questions and trying to figure out what happened.

“I—I—don’t know. I was sitting at my desk when I heard a strange noise coming from outside my door. I peeked through and saw a tall man, a bowler hat low over his eyes and covering his face, rummaging through my drawers and emptying them into a knapsack. I had a large collection of cash, a few pocket watches, and a few bank files in those drawers: all of them gone. I tried to run after him but he got into the boat on the river and I lost him.”

A herd of men ran to the river, trying to see if they could chase after him. James had unfortunately seen one too many robberies in his lifetime, being nearby so many shops. He followed the crowd through the door and peered across the street at the bank clerk’s office. The cobbled streets were uneven, pebbles that swooped up and down along the jagged surface of the pavement. There was a pattern to it, a rise and a fall in between the gaps of each stone, except for one empty spot where a stone had been pulled up from the ground. A large footprint was imprinted into the mud below.

A spark seemed to go off in James’ mind. The pub was in an uproar of gasps: a few shrieks of terror and a rushing noise of concern. James let it all fade to the background, melt into the fog and clouds around him. Instead, he ran back to the counter, back to the dark and quiet man he had just happened to serve, the only man left in the bar who hadn’t run out to the river to find the thief. The bank clerk ran desperately following behind him.

“William, I believe you may be of some assistance.”

He looked up from the murky bottom of his glass, and stared at James as if to say, “yes?”

“I need you to show me all the records you have of your shoe repairs. Please. There’s no time to spare.”

Though he was a man of few words, James could tell that he heard the urgency in his voice. After a few minutes, he came back from his shop around the corner with a stack of papers in hand.

“Here they are. What do you need me to do with them?”

“There’s a footprint, imprinted into the mud on the spot where a stone is missing from the pavement. Would you be able to tell what kind of shoe left it?”

William locked eyes with James. “I just might.”

They raced back outside to the footprint in front of the clerk’s office. William bent down, resting his forearms on either side of his knees, and examined the indentation. Carefully circling around it, he shuffled through the papers in hand, holding them up one after the other, examining the differences and similarities in each receipt, searching for something he could identify. As he examined the ground, a crowd began to gather behind him, looming over his shoulder trying to figure out what he was doing.

“Is that the one?” James asked from behind his shoulder.

“No, it’s not.” William declined, flicking through to the next paper and tossing the ones he had already compared aside. The crowd grew rushed with anxiety. Tension rose in the air with the looming sense of anticipation. After all the chatter and noise from the late night and the pub, the entire street was silent.

“Aha!” William burst up from the ground and threw his arms wide. “That’s it, that’s the one. Sheriff, the man you’re after is Edward Seabury.”

The crowd applauded, joining together in a sigh of relief that someone had managed to catch the culprit. People shouted William’s praises.

“Bless you, William!” James jumped out and wrapped his arms around William in a tight embrace, expecting William to return the favor. His face tightened with awkwardness, and his arms stayed glued to either side of his waist. James quickly let go and took a large step backward. William smoothed out his jacket and cleared his throat. “Sorry. Just, well, however did you figure it out?”

“I gathered all of the records I had on my shoe repairs from the last six months, as you asked. Naturally, I got rid of all the women’s as this is clearly a man’s dress shoe. I discarded all the laced walking shoes, all the Wellington and Blucher boots, until I was left with just the flat leather evening dress shoes.”

James hadn’t heard William speak this often and for this long. There was a level of understanding that struck him, the way William seemed to notice uncommon details, in shoes but also in everything. Maybe that was why he was also quiet, always taking in his surroundings, always noticing the little features everyone else ignored.

“The size was next,” William continued, “this footprint is around 28.6 centimeters long, and there were only seven records I had that fit that shoe type and measurement. The curve of the heel means it would have to have been a fine calf balmoral shoe, made of fine Italian leather based on the way the edges of the footprint fade out a bit instead of drawing a stark line in the mud. The size measurement is unique to begin with, but I know for a fact that I haven’t had a single client with that kind of shoe except for Mr. Seabury. Without a doubt, it must be him.”

They had managed to catch the robber in less than an hour, but there was truly nothing special about it. The missing stone in the mud was like the street setting up its own trap, its own spot to catch the culprit. London had a way of looking out for itself. And its people did too. James knew this town, its texture, its patterned fog, the store owners across the street, the pub regulars like the cobbler who he could summon for the job. William turned to the policeman to tell them more about his discoveries, and James turned back around to the pub to serve the next customer. The drizzle of rain against the window and chatter of customers was, like always, there to welcome him back.

Story based on shops in recreated Victorian streets, Museum of London

Sign for watney combe reid and cointerior of pub

2nd Place: Homeward Bound and Bound to Stay  by Megan Copenhaver

Read the Essay

A woman makes her way down Church Street. The street is bustling with activity, which is to be expected on a warm spring day. She passes by people on their way to Bridge Street to trade in the markets. She clutches her daughter’s hand a little tighter, keeping her close, until they reach their destination.

Susanna makes this trip to New Place daily, bringing along Elizabeth so that her mother can see her only grandchild. She also makes the trip because she oversees the house on her father’s behalf. Her mother despises the trivial tasks of keeping up with the accounting of such a large house.

But Susanna doesn’t mind, in fact, she likes it. It gives her something to do, something to pass the time. It gives her an excuse to get away from the constant callers wanting her husband’s attention. She can’t seem to get a moment of peace before there is another knock on the door. Most of the time, she must tell the poor person that her husband, Dr. Hall, isn’t there, but that he has gone to cure an ailment elsewhere.

Husband. Even though she has been married for almost six years, the word still sounds foreign to her. Sometimes she thinks she’s still just the girl living with her mother and sister instead of the woman living in her own house with her husband and daughter. But her husband is always there next to her, sound asleep at night. She watches his chest as it rises and falls. She can’t sleep unless she sees the signs of his breathing. Once she does, she creeps over to Elizabeth’s room, and watches for the same thing. Ever since her brother died years ago, she has never taken their breathing for granted. Every night she must check, or else her heart doesn’t rest, doesn’t let her rest. And so, the Plague still has its hold on her.

Unknown to Susanna, her father makes his way to Stratford from London as she walks to visit her mother, his wife. His business in the theatre industry is highly successful, the playhouses and his many investments are bringing in quite a lot of coin. He has had his fun in London, and sure, he will miss the city, but he also misses Stratford. He misses his hometown, the quiet of country life, especially now that he’s older and not as able to keep up with the excitement of a big city.

Most importantly, William misses his family. He regrets that he missed seeing his daughters grow up as well as the birth of his grandchild. So, he decided to spend his retirement in Stratford, so he wouldn’t miss anything else. It was his chance to make up for all the years he was gone. He only hopes that it will be enough.

By the time Susanna enters the house, it’s already mid-day. She looks around the house and is told that her mother is at Hewlands visiting Susanna’s uncle. She’s glad that her mother seems to have taken the day off from her remedies. Her mother’s practice did not bother her as much when she was younger, but now that it’s in direct conflict with her husband’s practice, Susanna secretly despises it. She knows that every person her mother helps is one less person that John does. But her mother does not open the window as much as she used to, in fact, her mother doesn’t do a lot. She hasn’t done a lot since they lost Hamnet.

His death changed the family. There’s always an emptiness that looms around the house, even though it’s not as strong anymore. Time has made the feeling faint, but it has not erased the weight of her brother’s absence.

She finds that grief takes its hold on her at random times when she’s least expecting it. The last time she felt the pang was the other day when she saw a blonde-haired boy run past her, with the same playfulness that reminded her so much of Hamnet. She had to stop and catch her breath, and painfully remind herself that it was not her brother. She would never see her brother again, the cruel consequence of a life taken too soon.

Susanna sits at the desk, opening the book that contains the accounting of the house and her father’s other properties. She doesn’t know how long she sits there, but the sound of the door opening, and Elizabeth’s laughter, makes her pause. Smiling to herself, she makes her way toward the sound, expecting to see her mother and her daughter playing in the doorway.

What she doesn’t expect to see is her father, standing in the doorway, holding his granddaughter. For the moment that she stands unnoticed by the pair, she sees the large smile on her father’s face. She feels many things in this short period of time. She feels joy at seeing her father play with her daughter. She feels anger that he was never around to play with her like that. She wants to hug him now that he is here, and she’s realized how much she missed him. She wants to yell at him for being gone so long.

Before she can decide what to do, her father’s gaze finally lands on her. “My dearest Susanna,” he says softly. She tries to stand tall, but her resolve crumbles as she runs into his arms. In that moment, she’s not a wife, she’s not a mother, she’s a daughter, a little girl again. She doesn’t even try to stop the tears, instead she lets them fall down her cheek and land on her father’s shoulder.

“I have missed you so much,” she whispers.

“I know,” he replies. “I know.”

After a few moments, she breaks the hug and wipes her tears away. “So, Father, you must tell me, how have you been?”

William laughs, and just like that they start talking. The tears are gone, and it’s almost like he never left.

Anne walks through the garden on her way home from visiting her brother. The flowers are blooming nicely. She takes in the wonderful scents of lavender and roses as she walks to the house. She can hear laughter from inside the house, unable to be contained by the walls.

Curious, she enters the house and finds her eldest daughter, sitting with Elizabeth on her lap. Her eyes fall on the other figure in the room, her husband, her William. Upon seeing him, she’s surprised and happy, but she also can’t ignore the dreadful feeling that he will not be staying long. She doesn’t know how to tell him how much she misses him when he’s gone and how lonely this big house is. They lock eyes and she can see how London has changed him, he looks older every time he comes home. Life in London has both treated him well and unwell it seems. She looks for what is new about him, as she always notices something different every time he comes home. This time, it’s his new brown doublet.

Susanna notices the intensity in their gazes, and quickly takes a protesting Elizabeth outside to the garden. As soon as they are gone, he’s the first to speak. “Anne, I am staying.”

She says nothing, still quietly observing him, this man that she has not seen in over a year. This man that is her husband.

He touches her elbow gently. “I am not going anywhere.”

His words shock her. He has never seemed to want to live here, with her. She thought he could not resist London’s pull. She has gotten so used to his coming and going that she has abandoned all hopes of him staying. “What do you mean?”

“I bought this house; it would do me good to make it my home.”

And make it his home he did. William announces his retirement and moves in with his wife. It took a few weeks, but Anne finally comes to accept that he’s here to stay. At night, she starts to move closer to him, until her back hits his chest and his arm wraps around her waist. They take walks in the garden and around Stratford, they visit Susanna and John and dote on Elizabeth, but most importantly, they talk.

They talk about anything and everything and eventually Anne starts to recognize the man she fell in love with, the man she married. She stops looking over her shoulder to make sure he’s there and stops trying to memorize his face, so she won’t forget what he looks like when he leaves again. Instead, she memorizes his face because she can’t stop looking at him. It was like they were young again, the passion of their youth rekindled as she finds herself falling in love all over again.

On a day in late June of 1613, the family is getting ready for their weekly dinner. Susanna and Anne are in the kitchen preparing the stew. Judith and Elizabeth are at the table playing a game. The house is warm with the summer heat and alive with the sounds of life. William is in his study, writing, when the mail is placed on his desk. He decides to take a break, seeing that it’s almost dinner time. He combs through the letters, until he sees one from his friend Richard Burbage. He smiles and opens the letter, making his way to the table.

His smile turns to a frown as he reads the words fire, the Globe, burned down. He collapses into his seat at the table immediately drawing all eyes to him.

“What is it?” asks Anne, concerned.

“There was a fire,” William sighs. “The Globe burned down.”

The table is silent as they all take in the information. Susanna picks up the letter and reads it herself. “Well, no one was hurt.” Her father nods. “And they plan to rebuild quickly.”

“When will you leave?” Anne says, almost in a whisper.


“I assume you will leave as soon as possible to help with the rebuild.”

“I will do no such thing.” He stands up. “I told you I was going to stay, and I meant it, Anne.” He pauses as he sits back down. “They can manage without me. I want to stay here with my family.”

A huge smile replaces the frown on Anne’s face. It seems he really is here to stay. “Well then, we better eat this stew before it gets cold.”

Susanna sits in the garden, watching Elizabeth play. Suddenly her father is right next to her. “She’s beautiful, you know,” he muses.

“Yes, she is,” Susanna answers with a smile. They watch as Elizabeth studies every rock and plant.

“She is just like you. Curious about everything.” William chuckles. “I remember how you were full of questions, always eager to know more.” He turns to face Susanna. “Which is why I wonder why you never asked about your mother and I.”

“What do you mean?”

“You never noticed the age gap?”

“I did, but I did not question it.”

“It was quite common for an older man to marry a younger woman, but a younger man to marry an older woman was rare.”

“So why did you get married?”

“Oh, for love of course.” William pauses. “And because your mother was pregnant with you.”

Susanna looks at her father, the shock clearly visible on her face. He laughs. “Oh yes, you caused quite the scandal.”

Elizabeth picks up a flower and shows it to them. They both smile as she starts searching for another one to add to her collection.

“But I did not care about the scandal. To me, it meant that I got to marry your mother sooner.” He takes Susanna’s hand. It is silent between them for a moment, but not awkward. “Have you ever heard the story of how you were born?”

“No, I just assumed it was a normal birth.”

William laughs. “It was anything but normal. When she felt the pains, your mother left. Packed a basket and headed to the woods. Did not tell anyone.” Susanna leans in closer in anticipation. “I was worried sick. No one could find her. It was one of the scariest moments in my life.” William shakes his head. “When we finally found her, she had already given birth to you, a healthy baby girl.”

“She gave birth in the woods? With no help from a midwife?” Susanna asks, shocked once again. Her father nods.

“Your mother is strong. Stronger than me,” William states. “And you are strong too, Susanna, and Elizabeth is too.”

“And Judith?” Susanna asks.

“Yes, Judith as well.” He sighs. “She’ll get through it. I knew I could not trust Quiney, his actions prove that. How dare he ruin Judith’s reputation by whoring around with other women.”


“Sorry, sorry. But Judith does not deserve this. Lord knows she has already suffered enough.”

“Yes, but she is strong. She’ll be okay.”

“Yes, she will. All the Shakespeare women are strong, I have no doubt about that.”

It’s a rainy spring day in 1616 when the strength of the Shakespeare women is tested once again. Susanna stands by her mother’s side and watches as they bury her father. His death was sudden, as death often is. Even so, the Shakespeare family are no strangers to death. Standing at the foot of his grave, Susanna suddenly remembers the plague that quickly took Hamnet, snatching him from right under their noses. She remembers the makeshift grave they made for him, how it was so small, and he was so young. And so, she thinks, the Shakespeare men are finally reunited. Susanna is glad that her brother gets to spend some time with their father just like she did.

Her mother’s cries bring her back to reality. “He promised he would stay!” Anne wails. Even though it seems impossible, Susanna’s heart breaks again. For her brother who never got to live a full life. For her father who had just come back into her life. For her mother who lost the love of her life.

“But Mother, he did stay. He will always be here, right here.” She points to his grave. “He is not going anywhere.”

A man walks down the street. He carries a thick book in his hands. He walks with a purpose, with a very clear destination in mind. He doesn’t stop to chat and doesn’t get distracted. He stops at the front door of the house called New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. He diligently checks to make sure the address is correct. Satisfied that he found the right place, he carefully wraps the book in cloth and sets it down. Then he knocks on the door and leaves.

Susanna is sitting at her father’s desk when Elizabeth, now a teenager, enters carrying a heavy book.

“Someone left this at the door,” Elizabeth says anticipating, and answering, her mother’s question before she even asks it.

“Well, bring it over here.” Together, they place the book on the desk.

Susanna unwraps the cloth and reveals the title of the book: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.

“Is that grandfather?” Elizabeth asks.

Susanna carefully traces her father’s name on the book. “Yes, it is.”

“What is it?”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

Susanna sits down, opens the book, and starts to read.

Honorable Mention: Bridgerton: Historical Fiction and Tackling Race   by Mady Wilson

Read the Essay

The Regency era drama Bridgerton smashed Netflix’s viewership records and became the streaming service’s biggest series ever when it was released on Christmas Day in 2020. Season 1 of Bridgerton was watched by a record 82 million households around the world, 19 million households higher than the four-week projection Netflix issued 10 days into the Shondaland series’ run. It was at the time the streamer’s fifth biggest launch in history. Bridgerton, created by Shondaland veteran Chris Van Dusen based on Julia Quinn’s novels, ranked #1 overall in 83 countries including the US, UK, Brazil, France, India, and South Africa (Andreeva 2021).

What drew so many people to this show? Bridgerton is not exactly like every other British period drama. It begins like many other period dramas about British aristocrats: It opens on a sunny town square with horses pulling fine carriages past elegant 19th century London homes and introduces us to two gentile families that we’ll be following along with the duration of the episodes. But the sunny, serendipitous atmosphere is readjusted when we hear our dear narrator and gossip columnist, pen-named Lady Whistledown, show her true colors. She introduces herself by informing her readers that “It has been said that of all bitches dead or alive a scribbling woman is the most canine. If this is true, then this author would like to show you her teeth” (“Diamond of the First Water” 08:35-08:52). A very unladylike statement indeed. And the show immediately detours from an idealized exposition to one that is gritty and promises a reflection of 21st-century sensibility. Women finding power in this society is a theme that runs through the storyline of Bridgerton. While trying to find love, the initially naïve Daphne discovers sexual knowledge and that having agency over one’s body is power. For Lady Whistledown her power is through writing. And for others, it’s through social manipulation.

There are scandals and seductions, and balls galore. But the most interesting departure is the racial integration of the nobility, explained midway through the season as a reverberation of love. A hot point of debate for the show revolves around the casting of Black actors as powerful nobles in the Regency era. Some people were outraged over this, insisting that the show is not historically accurate and that it is “blackwashing” history. And some are simply left wondering if such casting could be true. In this paper, I will look at Brenda Hoffman’s ideals for historical fiction to evaluate Bridgerton and investigate the single figure that Bridgerton truly hangs on, Queen Charlotte. Because Bridgerton relies heavily on the love between the King and Queen that defies race, the show does not qualify as historical fiction but rather a “historical hypothetical” displayed in a period drama.


According to Brenda Hoffman (2003), the historical fiction genre is characterized by stories that take place in the past with elements that can’t be proven historically but suggest how or the way in which things did happen. Historical fiction has authentic settings and characters, but some things about the characters may not be true. While historical drama or fiction is a drama based on a story that takes place in the real world, with real-world people, but with several fictionalized or dramatized elements, a period drama is slightly different. A period drama is based in a particular time or period, not obviously based on real events and the production features historical places, people, or events that may or not be crucial to the story.

Hoffman gives us two types of historical fiction. In the first, the setting is historical but there are no historical events or persons in the story. The second kind of historical fiction is where both the setting and supporting characters are factual. Bridgerton is closer to a period drama because the historical event the series centers on, the annual “Social Season,” was real, but the only historical people featured in the series are supporting characters—King George III and Queen Charlotte (with nephew Prince Frederick of Prussia making a small appearance).

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Social Season was a series of balls, receptions, and social and sporting events which ran from about April or May to August each year. The presentation of debutantes at Court used to be the traditional marker of the start of the Season. By 1780 the Season was well established, and George III held a ball named after his wife Queen Charlotte and it became a tradition. Veronica Levett-Srivener founder of More Than Good Manners, a British etiquette company, describes the Season as a time that the “well-bred daughters on to the marriage ‘mart’ were involved in a formal presentation of the debutantes to the Monarch, and a whirlwind six months of parties, balls, and attending social events” (2012). After the Second World War British society became more egalitarian and the strict social parameters of the Season were relaxed. Ultimately, Queen Elizabeth II terminated the practice of Court presentations altogether in 1958.

Bridgeton’s season one heroine, Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) is one such debutante who was presented to the Queen in the first episode. Her beauty and grace won her the title of “the Season’s Diamond,” the incomparable debutante of the year. After her debut she is ushered to ball after ball, meeting all the worthy gentlemen in search of a husband while hoping for a love match. In season one’s eight episodes, no less than eleven balls occur along with multiple afternoon teas, wrestling matches, and other parties.

In terms of historical characters, Julia Quin, the book series author took quite a bit of creative license while crafting the English Regency nobility. Simon the current Duke of Hasting, Daphne’s love interest, a Black nobleman who is played by British-Zimbabwean actor Regé-Jean Page, is not a real title. This title doesn’t exist in reality because Hastings is actually part of the Cinque Ports of Kent, the historic group of coastal towns, which also includes New Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich. The Cinque Ports didn’t have dukes but instead barons who oversaw the town of Hastings and the various other ports. In real life, there has never been a Duke of Hastings. Instead, Hastings is a cinque port under the control of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (Debnath 2021). There used to be a Baron Hastings, but a baron is a title that is ranked below a viscount and above a Knight or Lord but is four positions lower than a duke, so the power isn’t compatible with Simon’s on the show.


In her work, Hoffman also says that “Historical fiction can provide an escape from the present, time travel, or examples of human decisions and their consequences” (Hoffman 2003). A very important consequence we see in Bridgerton is one that comes from the relationship between King George III and Queen Charlotte. It is revealed later in the show that the love between the King and Queen allowed positions of nobility for other people of color in the show. In this way, the positions of all the Black nobility figures in Bridgeton revolve around the will of the monarchy.

In historical records and art, Black people were only visible in relation to those in power. Black people functioned in nearly every aspect of society but were rarely acknowledged. It was not uncommon for Black people to be included in paintings of aristocratic goings-on, as we have seen in museums because they operated in those places each painting depicts. However, without proper recordings of Black people featured in art, these Black people seem elusive, and their roles are diminished over time because we do not know enough about them. Therefore, we can only look at Black people in Tudor through Georgian era art and understand them in relation to the person in power. In a similar way, the Black historical figures we do know about found favor somewhere in their lives that projected them to be able to do the things they wanted. And favor sometimes came from the monarchy itself.

According to English-Heritage.org, in the 18th century Black Britons were able to rise in ranks. For example, “A small number rose from servitude (with help of their former masters) to enjoy independent lives. Prominent among this class were the Westminster shopkeeper, lettrist, and composer Ignatius Sancho, the coal merchant and property owner Cesar Picton in Kingston-upon-Thames, and the Nottingham-based George Africanus, who ran a servants’ register in the city” (2017).

In the Tudor era, royal trumpeter John Blanke had considerable favor with King Henry VIII. Blanke’s footprint has been left on history and he remains the only black Tudor for whom we have an identifiable image (2021). His own petition for a pay raise to Henry VIII was one of the few surviving first-person documents about him. Early in Henry VIII’s reign, one of Blanke’s fellow trumpeters died and he took the chance to petition the king for a pay raise (Kaufmann 21). His petition document reads that his wages were not “sufficient to maintain and keep him to do your Grace like service as other trumpets do” (21). And hence, his request was so that he could live in the same style as his peers. When Blanke got married in January 1512, the King himself paid for his wedding outfit (29). While other servants received fabrics as gifts from the Crown, Blanke’s gift was truthful to his rank and not his race. Blanke seemingly had the courage to ask to be paid like white trumpeters and might have been the first of Black people close to the monarch asking for a benefit.

Likewise, in Bridgerton the Black nobility, the late Duke of Hastings, and Lady Danbury were “granted” their social positions. Throughout season one of Bridgerton, we learn Simon’s backstory as he gets closer to Daphne. Through flashbacks, we learn that the Duke’s father was granted the title by Queen Charlotte and that it was his life’s ambition to continue the Hastings’ line. However, that ambition made him extremely cruel to young Simon’s stutter and eventually ignore his son’s existence. In a flashback, the late Duke rages at Simon saying “Do you know how precarious of a situation we are in, boy? We have been granted this line. The monarchy itself has declared it. But it will only remain ours so long as we remain extraordinary. The Hastings name cannot land in the quivering hands of a half-wit!” (“Shock and Delight” 15:20-15:49).

In his adult life, after the late Duke died, Simon feared he would become like his father and vowed never to marry or sire any heirs. He was not on the receiving end of very much love in his life and did not think it could ever be part of his life. Once he fell in love with Daphne she convinced him that he didn’t have to follow the same path as his father, and they were able to begin a family together by the season’s end. Along Simon’s character arc, Lady Danbury, another Black noblewoman who took care of him after his father rejected him, tried to show him that love was the answer to his problems. In episode 4 “An Affair of Honour,” Lady Danbury berates Simon’s lack of confidence in love saying:

But have you any idea those very things are precisely what have allowed a new day to begin to dawn in this society? Look at our queen. Look at our king. Look at their marriage. Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become. We were two separate societies, divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us. Love, your Grace, conquers all. (20:26-21:02)

Lady Danbury’s speech is the only statement in the entire season that explicitly addresses the King and Queen’s biracial marriage. But she very clearly implies that without Queen Charlotte the Black people in Bridgerton would not be where they were.


Before becoming Queen of England, Princess Charlotte was born into the royal family of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on May 19, 1774, on their territory, or duchy, by the same name in northern Germany. She was Queen of Great Britain and Ireland as the wife of King George III from their marriage on September 8, 1761, until the union of the two kingdoms in 1801, after which she was Queen of the United Kingdom until her death in 1818 (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). After the death of England’s King George II his grandson, George III took the throne. It was imperative that the new king took a bride and his search brought him to sixteen-year-old Charlotte as she was already a royal and a Protestant. To get to England Charlotte endured two weeks at sea and multiple storms and arrived on the English shore on the afternoon of her wedding. She was married 6 hours later; meeting her husband for the first time as she walked down the aisle. Charlotte did not speak English at the time. However, the King and Queen enjoyed 25 years of domestic bliss and had a whopping 15 children.

Compared to her Bridgerton portrayal, Queen Charlotte did enjoy extravagant balls and gossip. In 1780 King George held the first debutant ball for his wife and it turned into an annual gathering often referred to as “Queen Charlotte’s Ball.” She elected to move to Buckingham Palace, a fancier venue to please her tastes. Her real-life habits depicted on the show include her love of Pomeranians and her addiction to snuff.

Bridgerton tackles the controversy over her race by blatantly leaning into the belief that Queen was more than one race with the casting of Golda Rosheuvel, a Guyanese-British actress. It is believed by some historians that Queen Charlotte was the descendent of Afonso III of Portugal and his African mistress. Stuart Jeffries’ article “Was this Britain’s first black queen?” (2009), reports historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom’s thoughts on Queen Charlotte. de Valdes claims that the queen “was directly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed, whose ancestry she traces from the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana” whom de Valdes believes to have been a Black African Moor (2009).

The art of the day does not make a good argument for the authenticity of Charlotte’s mixed ancestry. Of the hundreds of portraits of the Queen, she is almost always depicted as pale with very plain facial features. However, it was common for artists to play down the subject’s less desirable features while adding more fashionable ones, therefore a monotonous face was not the last say. de Valdes argues that her features in some royal portraits were conspicuously African. He suggests that the way Queen Charlotte is depicted in Sir Allan Ramsay’s 1762 portrait supports the view she had African ancestors (see below on the left). In this painting, she has a longer, wider nose and more pronounced lips than what was “fashionable.” It also looks like she is wearing a more natural hairstyle, with a natural color, foregoing a wig. In contrast, later portraits of the Queen, like the painting by Thomas Gainsborough in 1781 (on the right), show her as ultra-pale with powdered wigs that sap any bit of color out of her complexion.

portraits of queens

In his own work de Valdes observes that Allan Ramsay’s representations of Charlotte were the most decidedly African of all her portraits. In his time Ramsay made his anti-slavery sentiments well known. He went on to marry the niece of Lord Mansfield, the English judge whose 1772 decision was the first in a series of rulings that finally ended slavery in the British Empire. de Valdes notes “that by the time Sir Ramsay was commissioned to do his first portrait of the queen, he was already, by marriage, uncle to Dido Elizabeth Lindsay, the Black grand-niece of Lord Mansfield” (2021).

Dido Belle, made famous by her portrait with cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, is an example of England’s first Black aristocrats. She was the illegitimate daughter of a young black woman named Maria Bell and a Royal Naval officer, Sir John Lindsay (“Dido Belle”). Dido was raised as part of the aristocratic Murray family at the same time Queen Charlotte was on the throne and at a time when the transatlantic slave trade was at its height. There is no guesswork needed for Dido’s portrait: her warm brown skin and dark hair make it evident that she is a mixed-race person of color. It was very unusual for a Black person to be the subject matter of a painting the way that Dido is. Generally, people of color were included in paintings to show the status of the painting’s true subject—usually a white aristocrat or nobleman. The most important takeaway from this painting is that Dido was well treated and well enveloped into aristocratic life. The painting shows that the two girls were fond of each other and were near equals. Because of the love of her family, Dido was allowed a place in upper-class society.

In contrast to portraits, Rosheuvel who portrays Charlotte on Bridgerton has middle-toned brown skin so that it is obvious that the actress’s rendition of Charlotte is not completely white while not being completely Black. Many actors and other people involved with Bridgerton expressed their happiness at the casting of Black actors and Black Queen. Netflix purposely cast the role of Queen Charlotte with a black actress and the series’ author Julia Quin supported the choice of casting black actors throughout the show. In an interview with The Times, Quin says that “It was very much a conscious choice, not a blind choice” (Lash 2021). Adjoa Andoh who plays Lady Danbury shared that her “reaction to the scripts was ‘hooray’ and ‘about time.’ I think that’s particular for actors of color because we’ve been in the history of this country since before Roman times, in all strata of society” (Davies 2020). Regé-Jean Page (Simon) says that playing a Black love interest in the Regency era “is a critical opportunity,” adding: “Setting the story in the past doesn’t mean that black folks do nothing but suffer. We’ve always lived and laughed and loved and married just the same as everyone else” (Simonds 2021).


While art forms such as paintings and period dramas can let us imagine in Black aristocracy like the characters in Bridgerton, it is still an ideal and not definite. Having black royalty in Regency period dramas can be problematic, given the way the royal family itself profited from slave trade and the exploitation of all the lands under the British Empire. In reality, if the monarchy actually awarded people of color noble titles they would be hyper-hypocritical, favoring some Black people while condemning others to inhumane slavery.

Unlike the early ideals of the Tudor era, particularly Henry VIII’s stance that slavery had no place in England, the late Georgian era was when the transatlantic slave trade was at its height, and Britain’s economy thrived on slave labor in the Caribbean and Britain’s American colonies. Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, British merchants in the transatlantic slave trade exponentially increased the number of Black people living in Britain.

Yes, if Charlotte was a person of color she could have bestowed some fortune onto other people of color. But we don’t know if she was and bestowing such high rankings would be the ideal but not the starting place. Dramas are all about romanticizing love, so Bridgerton allows viewers to engage a hypothetical society in which love is the reason for breaking barriers.

In conclusion, Bridgerton is too loose to be historical fiction and must settle as a historical hypothetical. The historical characters are outnumbered by the fictional characters and there are no records for almost all of the societal events. All in all, this Netflix phenomena centers around love and not just the mushy-gushy kind: familial love, toxic love, possessive love, unrequited love, and the loss of love. To love is to give power to the person you love. Bridgerton comments on what we do with the power we are given even if the show depicts relationships that are not historically accurate.  

Works cited

Andreeva, Nellie. ‘Bridgerton’ Smashes NETFLIX Viewership Records to BECOME Streamer's Biggest Series Ever. Deadline, 27 Jan. 2021, deadline.com/2021/01/bridgerton-netflix-viewership-record-biggest-series-ever-1234681242/.

“An Affair of Honor” Bridgerton, created by Chris Van Dusen, season 1, episode 4, 2020, Netflix, www.netflix.com.

“Black People in Late 18th-Century Britain.” English Heritage, 18 July 2017, www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/portchester-castle/history-and-stories/black-people-in-late-18th-century-britain/.

Davies, Alan. Who Is Lady Danbury in New Netflix Series Bridgerton? Welwyn Hatfield Times, 21 Dec. 2020, www.whtimes.co.uk/things-to-do/netflix-series-bridgerton-lady-danbury-6855002.

de Valdes y Cocom, Mario. “Queen Charlotte | Frontline.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 11 Mar. 2021, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/royalfamily.html.

Debnath, Neela. “Bridgerton: Is the Duke of Hastings a Real Title?” Express.co.uk, Express, 19 Feb. 2021, www.express.co.uk/showbiz/tv-radio/1399908/Bridgerton-Is-the-Duke-of-Hastings-a-real-title.

“Diamond of the First Water.” Bridgerton, created by Chris Van Dusen, season 1, episode 1, 2020, Netflix, www.netflix.com.

“Dido Belle.” English Heritage, 30 Sept. 2020, www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/dido-belle/.

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Charlotte”. Encyclopædia Britannica, 15 May 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charlotte-queen-of-England.

Gainsborough, Thomas. Queen Charlotte. 1781, The Royal Collection Trust, London.

Hoffman, Brenda. “Introduction to Historical Fiction.” Hoffman: Introduction to Historical Fiction, 2003, web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/eng339/Intro/Hoffman.htm. J

effries, Stuart. “ Was the Consort of George III Britain's First Black Queen?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Mar. 2009, www.theguardian.com/world/2009/mar/12/race-monarchy.

“John Blanke.” Historic Royal Palaces, 2021, www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/john-blanke/#gs.8055y7.

Kaufmann, Miranda. Black Tudors. Oneworld Publications, 2018.

Lash, Jolie. “Queen Charlotte Is Getting a 'Bridgerton' Spin-off and Shonda Rhimes Is Writing It.” EW.com, Entertainment Weekly, 14 May 2021, ew.com/tv/queen-charlotte-bridgerton-spinoff-from-shonda-rhimes/.

Levett-Srivener, Veronica. “A History of the Social Season.” A History of The Social Season | More Than Good Manners, 6 July 2012, www.morethangoodmanners.com/social-season/social-season-history.

Ramsay, Allan. Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. 1761-1762, National Portrait Gallery, London.

“Shock and Delight” Bridgerton, created by Chris Van Dusen, season 1, episode 2, 2020, Netflix, www.netflix.com.

Simonds, Deirdre. “Netflix's New Period Drama Bridgerton Has Been Streamed by 63 Million Households within 28 Days.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 5 Jan. 2021, www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-9113193/Netflixs-new-period-drama-Bridgerton-streamed-63-million-households-28-days.html.

Photo Contest Winners

A man walks by a street mural

“Lost in Between Past and Present” By Pankaj Nath Joy

The cottage grove of Chicago Woodlawn street was once a main attraction point of Chicago. It was enriched with lots of economic hubs and other cultural activities. But in 2021, no one can imagine that place has become where the community lost its old tradition and charm. Their life comes to a standstill. Only the remains sometimes try to remind them what it was once. (Chicago, IL, Summer 2021)

A worker's hands sorting a pile of cashew nuts.

“More Than a Way of Life” By Ginger Levinson

Conway from the Community Baboon Sanctuary shows us how local residents can process cashew nuts (Belize, Summer 2021)

under the supervision of a woman of the Surama tribe, a graduate student  learns to make cassava bread

“All Things Cassava” By Kevin Browning

This is a photo of myself, Kevin Browning, learning to make cassava bread with a woman of the Surama tribe. (Guyana, Summer 2021)

A small boy eats snacks with classic european building in background

"Snacks at Sunset" By Abbey Falknor

On my last night with my host family in Luxembourg, my roommate and I took the kids on a walk to the park. However, little Rayan had other plans and cried the whole time, unless we gave him his favorite snack. It was a blessing to live with my host family, who shared their Serbian culture and home. I will never forget watching "Frozen 2" together or singing to "Driver's License" with my host sister. (Luxembourg, Spring 2021)

First Place

A man walks by a street mural

“Lost in Between Past and Present” By Pankaj Nath Joy

The cottage grove of Chicago Woodlawn street was once a main attraction point of Chicago. It was enriched with lots of economic hubs and other cultural activities. But in 2021, no one can imagine that place has become where the community lost its old tradition and charm. Their life comes to a standstill. Only the remains sometimes try to remind them what it was once. (Chicago, IL, Summer 2021)

Second Place

A worker's hands sorting a pile of cashew nuts.

“More Than a Way of Life” By Ginger Levinson

Conway from the Community Baboon Sanctuary shows us how local residents can process cashew nuts (Belize, Summer 2021)

Third Place

under the supervision of a woman of the Surama tribe, a graduate student  learns to make cassava bread

“All Things Cassava” By Kevin Browning

This is a photo of myself, Kevin Browning, learning to make cassava bread with a woman of the Surama tribe. (Guyana, Summer 2021)

Honorable Mention

A small boy eats snacks with classic european building in background

"Snacks at Sunset" By Abbey Falknor

On my last night with my host family in Luxembourg, my roommate and I took the kids on a walk to the park. However, little Rayan had other plans and cried the whole time, unless we gave him his favorite snack. It was a blessing to live with my host family, who shared their Serbian culture and home. I will never forget watching "Frozen 2" together or singing to "Driver's License" with my host sister. (Luxembourg, Spring 2021)