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The Ugly Sweater Contest at the Kluge Center

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I want to update you on a Kluge Center holiday event that may become a seasonal ritual. In December last year, Wendy W. Fok (Kluge Fellow in Digital Studies, 2014) suggested that the Center’s Fellows hold an “ugly holiday sweater contest.” The mood was, “Yes. Let’s do it.” Thus the Center’s first “ugly holiday sweater” contest was held on December 12, 2014, during a 12:30 lunch gathering.

We needed a contest prize for the winner so I donated a colorful plaster Brazilian seahorse given me a few years ago by Shanna Marrinan (Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellow, 2008) because it seemed appropriate that the award should come from “in house.” My colleagues Travis Hensley and Jason Steinhauer dubbed the seahorse trophy “The Sweaty Award.”

This year the “ugly holiday sweater contest” made a comeback because the current Fellows wanted a contest re-do. Last year’s winner, Bradford Lee (Kissinger Chair, 2014), was back in town (doing research in the Manuscript Division) and joined us upstairs at the Kluge Center for this year’s holiday lunch on December 16, 2015. Brad agreed to be emcee for this year’s contest and to present the award. The winner, Emily Coccia, was selected by the heartiest round of applause from the group and was presented with the seahorse. (While the trophy does not leave the Kluge Center it may be held by the winner for the duration of their stay – should they so choose.)

Emily is working at the Center as a research assistant for Nathaniel Comfort (NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, 2015). Since her arrival last summer she has been an all-around help to many others at the Center, too. Emily’s sweater-vest is a multi-colored knit piece displaying a winter scene. The vest, Emily tells us, is passed from family member to family member as the gift that keeps being re-gifted and is hauled out for display on an as-needed basis. Although no one will admit to having purchased it, the vest now has earned two “ugly holiday sweater” awards: Emily’s father wore it to a similar contest in another location a few years back and also was awarded first place. What more can one say?

Ugly Sweater
A photograph from the 2014 ugly holiday sweater contest at the Kluge Center. Back Row: Pier Pischedda (AHRC Fellow, 2014); Wendy Fok (Digital Studies Fellow, 2014); Sarah Chadfield (with a guest) and David McLaughlin (AHRC Fellows, 2014); Peter Zilahy (Black Mountain-Kluge Fellow, 2014); Nancy Lovas (staff); Nicole Lindenberg (German Fellow, 2014). Front: Travis Hensley (staff); Ben Phillips (AHRC Fellow, 2014); Mary Lou Reker (staff); Bradford Lee (Kissinger Chair, 2014); Max Buschmann (Bavarian American Fellow, 2014).

This year’s runner-up for “The Sweaty Award” was Joe Thorogood (Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellow, 2015). A very close second, Joe modeled a red sweatshirt that displayed the faces of five different cats each adorned in holiday attire. And just for the record, last year’s runner-up was David McLaughlin (Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellow, 2014), who sported a green sweatshirt that defies description.

Remember, all former Kluge Center residents, the brown-bag lunch still continues on Wednesday’s at 12:30 p.m. Should you be in town and wish to attend you are welcome. No need to be in touch in advance but if you wish to do so feel free to call the Center’s main number (202) 707-3302. Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us at the Kluge Center!

No sweaters were harmed in the writing of this post.


  1. Great story – Ugly sweater contests are not that rare, but having the same sweater handed down from father to daughter and winning in each generation – that’s pretty cool.

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