The glaring need for scholarly, historical publications encompassing the various socioeconomic and sociopolitical forces that contributed to the emergence of the modern-day Bahamas – and honoring the academics that will write them – was the impetus behind a recent significant financial contribution from the Wilson Family Foundation to University of The Bahamas (UB).
On Thursday, July 29th, UB executed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bahamian icons Sir Franklyn Wilson and Sharon Lady Wilson, for the establishment of the Franklyn & Sharon Wilson Awards, which will encourage scholars from multiple academic disciplines to produce full monographic studies on major themes related to The Bahamas’ transition from a British colony to an independent nation and the first 50 years thereafter.
The first offering of the Franklyn & Sharon Wilson Awards is intended to coincide with the 50th anniversary of independence in 2023; the second will coincide with the 55th anniversary of independence in 2028. It is envisioned that the Franklyn & Sharon Wilson Awards will be bestowed every five years thereafter, culminating in a permanent and perpetual system of awards that will recognize and honor excellence in academic scholarship.
“The signing of this memorandum of understanding fundamentally does two things. Firstly, it recognizes and affirms the very vital role of the University of The Bahamas as a catalyst for research, which helps to create and to sustain a Bahamian culture that upholds integrity and confirms truth and fosters sustainable development,” said Lady Wilson during Thursday’s MOU signing ceremony.
“Secondly, the memorandum of understanding recognizes in a small way that the Bahamian people and all who love The Bahamas must take responsibility for our institutions, since they can only be as good as we help to make them. Everyone can play a part in the building process. It begins only with the inclination to do so.”
Pursuant to the MOU, UB is tasked with issuing a call for the submission of book-length manuscripts on topics of historical, socioeconomic and political significance. The theme. of the initial awards will address the fundamental issues of the advancement of collective consciousness and nation formation that emerged from the post-independence era, and what forces, factors, organizations, and leaders in whatever sphere made seminal contributions to the development of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. However, it is anticipated that the subsequent bestowing of awards will carry a different emphasis.
Regardless of what theme is espoused, UB Associate professor of history and prominent Bahamian historian Dr. Christopher Curry said the new award scheme demonstrably propels the production of major works of first-rate scholarship under the auspices of the premier tertiary institution of The Bahamas.
“By encouraging writers to produce studies that focus on the period of nation formation, the award scheme addresses an important area of scholarship that has been neglected for far too long,” said Dr. Curry. “Indeed, although there are voluminous studies of the early colonial period and important biographical works on the period of the Quiet Revolution, there is a dearth of scholarship on the post-independence period, where the nation was collectively imagined as a community and a confluence of various forces and factors shaped the development of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas as a unique territory in the Atlantic world.”
The donor has generously committed to providing up to $350,000 to support the first and second Franklyn & Sharon Wilson Awards and to engage with the university relative to funding support thereafter. The foundation explained that the financial disbursements plan is strategically constructed to allow persons who feel they are too late to begin the process in time for the 50th anniversary to begin the required research to be eligible for the 55th anniversary. It is envisioned that the awards will be bestowed every five years thereafter.
At each awards ceremony the authors of the three publications which are adjudicated to be the most significant shall receive an aggregate of $100,000 as a part of the award. The winner of the 2023 award will receive a commemorative art piece designed by a Bahamian artist and a financial gift valued at $50,000, along with the publication of the study by the University Press. Once presented to the awardee, the commemorative award will be enshrined in the atrium of the Keva M. Bethel Building and the entrance to the Performing Arts Centre.
The second-place finalist will receive a financial award of $30,000 and the publication of their book. Likewise, the third-place finalist will receive a $10,000 award as well as the publication of their study.
Outside of the endowment provided to the finalists, the Wilson Family Foundation will provide generous financial support towards the visual arts by commissioning a Bahamian artist to produce a handcrafted authentic award that will be presented to the writer of the winning manuscript. The selected artist will receive a $5,000 award along with $2,000 for materials to be used in the production of the award.
Governance of this prestigious award will be managed by seven trustees of the Franklyn & Sharon Wilson Awards: three selected by the university, three selected by the donor and one to be selected by both sides.
Proposal Committee member, UB Chair of Social Sciences and Associate Professor Dr. Nicolette Bethel, in her welcome during Thursday’s MOU signing, lauded the Wilson family for its continued commitment to research and innovation. She also noted that as the outgoing chair of social sciences, Thursday’s MOU was the appropriate sendoff.
“I am so very pleased that this is my last act as chair of social sciences at the University of The Bahamas,” said Dr. Bethel.
Besides publishing the manuscripts of the top three finalists, the award scheme provides funding via the existing Stanley Wilson Award to seven writers whose proposals were initially approved by an editorial review board. In turn, those seven scholars will be commissioned to write chapter-length articles that will also be published as an edited collection.
Lady Wilson said such a momentous investment was made in the spirit of establishing and preserving the quest for knowledge as a means of self-development. “As we approach our 50th year of independence, it is no more than a numerical fact that many who are in leadership positions in our country would not have first-hand knowledge of the facts and of the events that contributed to the development of our sojourn and to the years through independence,” said Lady Wilson. “Initially, it is hoped that this memorandum of understanding would help to fill that void by the time our nation is 50 years old. The mandate of the memorandum is intended over the future to cover a very wide range of matters relative to our development. The memorandum is structured to last.”
UB President Dr. Rodney D. Smith, in his remarks, noted that all universities around the world have one thing in common: the production and documentation of new knowledge. He said that thanks to Sir Franklyn and Lady Wilson, UB is now strategically poised to produce and document new knowledge, and spearhead more in-depth analyses of historical economic and social factors that have influenced the growth and development of The Bahamas.
“Every developed society has a clear and in-depth understanding of its past,” said Dr. Smith. “This level of understanding comes from asking the kinds of questions of which scholars have the skills to not only interpret, but document into perpetuity. I have no doubt that the works that will be worthy of The Franklyn and Sharon Wilson Awards in years to come, will become historical and literary classics for generations of scholars, both locally and internationally.”