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Kelsey Prize

What is the Kelsey Prize?  

Behind every archaeological object is a story—or many stories. Who created it and why? What challenge did it help address? How and when was it abandoned? Who found it? What did they think of this object? What new purpose does it now have? 

The Kelsey Prize for Excellence in Archaeological Research and Interpretation invites University of Michigan undergraduate students to explore and discover the stories behind the objects at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. This competition is open to any undergraduate from any discipline at UM-Ann Arbor, UM-Dearborn, and UM-Flint. The projects that best demonstrate excellence in research and interpretation of the Kelsey Museum’s archaeological collections will be awarded a cash prize (up to four projects).

What do I need to do to compete?

We are asking students to submit a project—an essay, artwork, online exhibition, etc.—that examines and/or is inspired by an object or objects from the Kelsey Museum. The object(s) may be on display or from collections storage. They can also include papyrus documents from Karanis, which are housed in the U-M Papyrology Collection. You can submit a project you have already completed for a class or one created specifically for this contest. This includes group projects as well as the result of individual research. 

Essays should be 5 to 10 pages in length and include an image of the object(s) from the Kelsey Museum. For other projects, please include any links or images of the final results (i.e., image of the artwork or link to an online exhibition) along with a 1- to 2-page project or artist statement and an image or images of the Kelsey object(s) involved. 

In addition, professors can also nominate a student if they feel their project demonstrates excellence in archaeological research and interpretation. To do so, professors can email Cathy Person with the names and email addresses of the nominees, along with any digital version of the project they may have (e.g., a link, an essay, an image of the artwork). We will contact the students directly for the rest of their nomination documents. 

The subject matter of the projects may vary, but submissions need to incorporate a Kelsey object or objects and to reflect careful research and interpretation. Here are some suggested topics to explore: 

  • What was it made for and how was it used? Does it reflect social or economic structures in that society?
  • What can we learn from the history of the object itself—its original purpose, later uses, and afterlife in the museum? 
  • Where and how was the object discovered? Under what circumstances did it come to the Kelsey Museum? What are the ethical concerns about these circumstances?
  • What does the object remind you of from your own cultural experience? How does this object connect with our modern experiences?

What objects can I use?

Please feel free to use any object on display, but keep in mind that objects in special exhibitions will not be available after the exhibition closes. Please check with the museum for the closing date of any special exhibition.

Ready to submit your nomination?

Your nomination documents can be submitted at any time up until 8 AM on Monday, January 24, 2022. Submit your nomination documents via this Dropbox link. They can be in either .docx or .pdf format. You will receive an email within 48 hours confirming that the essay was successfully submitted.

These nomination documents should include: 

  • Your essay, project statement, or artist statement.
  • Essay or statement MUST have a title page which includes the title of the project, your name, and your email address. If there is a website for the project, please include the link on the title page.
  • Please include images of the Kelsey objects discussed in the project as well as photographs of the final project or of the artwork (if applicable). 

Nominations will be reviewed by a selection committee overseen by Kelsey Museum staff. Up to four winning projects will be selected and contacted in mid-February 2022. The winners will be invited to assist in creating an exhibition of the objects they wrote about and will be awarded the Kelsey Prize during a ceremony in late March.

Questions? Concerns? Please contact the Kelsey Museum Director of Education, Cathy Person (