Friday, 21 August 2015

Back in the Saddle Again

Life Goals Accomplished: Married, PhD and Baby by 30

I told myself I would take six months off of thinking about work after the baby arrived, but I started working on my writing again after about six weeks. Our little George Pierre is lovely and I'm so grateful to have this time at home with him. It's wonderful to see him develop and change day by day--his latest trick is smiling and he has such a sweet little gummy grin. I can't imagine leaving him at daycare at this young age, and I know I'm really lucky to be a stay at home mom. Old habits die hard, though, and I'm already feeling guilty for not being employed or in school (somehow I didn't feel as bad about it while pregnant, but I did have a part-time marketing gig with the international office, so I was technically employed then). It's part of being driven and goal-oriented--the qualities that have helped me succeed are also the same ones that make me feel guilty when I'm not pushing myself to full capacity. Instead of taking a break and celebrating my accomplishments (PhD and baby), I'm already stressing about the next goals (publications, fellowships, career). It's not fair to myself or to the baby, really.

Baby George is eight weeks today, and currently napping in his bouncer seat--now that he's sleeping a bit better these days, I'm going to try to get back to blogging at least, as a gentle way of thinking about my research again. If J.K. Rowling could write Harry Potter with her sleeping baby beside her, I can update this blog more frequently!

A couple of quick PD-related thoughts:

1) US Election
 I watched some of the Republican primary debate last night and am embarrassed by the way the U.S. election system looks to the rest of the world. Firstly, the election is over a year away. Politicians will likely change their positions and sound bite lines a dozen times between now and election day, so why is Fox News holding debates at this early stage? (Putting aside the obvious answer that it's Fox News...It's too early, even for Fox News to be doing this!) 

Secondly, the front runner at the moment is Donald Trump. Really. His comments on immigration (build a wall?) and women are ignorant, populist and far right-wing. If you criticize his statements, he says the problem with America is that we're too concerned with being politically correct, and he refuses to be politically correct. No, Trump, it's not political correctness, it's common decency and respect for people who aren't white men--immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ, etc. He's like an exaggerated version of Nigel Farage. I know he won't get elected, but the fact he's doing well in the polls (even temporarily) is so disheartening for me to watch. 

Thirdly, Jeb Bush looked and sounded like a viable candidate. He's currently in second place and is probably going to have the staying power and electability that populist Trump lacks. But what is the world going to think of America if the 2016 race is between a Bush and a Clinton? During the 2008 primaries, I went to Obama's rally with some of my exchange student friends from Germany and the UK, and I remember even then some of them commenting that they preferred Obama because having another President Clinton would be too dynastic. If both parties opt to continue these dynasties, the 2016 election is going to look ridiculous.

2) My friend Caitlin shared this piece from the Washington Post yesterday on the US State Department's online counterterrorism efforts. It raises some very interesting points about the nature of Islamic State's online recruitment. Rather than use centralized messaging, they crowd-source their efforts--individuals spread propaganda on Twitter, sometimes with help from automatic systems that allow them to post thousands of tweets. The State Department's campaign, on the other hand, is able to tweet only a few authorized messages to counter these thousands of IS messages. Jane Harman also points out that the State Department often jumps into online conversations where it is uninvited and unwelcome, rather than using the subtle infiltration of ideas that characterized past efforts. She urges the U.S. to consider using a networked approach to counterterrorism messaging:

"When top-down government approaches are flawed, then bottom-up, grassroots organizing is an obvious next try. The government still has skin in the game — dollars and cents, and, more important, convening power and information-sharing — that can make these public-private partnerships work. But it needs to lead from behind. Get religious leaders, political consultants and tech firms in the same room, then step back. This is a community effort and an American effort — the feds aren’t the right face for it."

I especially like her idea of working with the tech firms. From a civil liberties stand-point, firms like Google and Facebook already know far too much about people for their own purposes (profiting off of targeted advertising). Wouldn't it be worthwhile to get them on board, to use their vast data to help the State Department target messages that promote moderate, mainstream Islam and denounce extremism?  Better yet, remove the State Department by another degree and use religious leaders and community members to construct these messages, increasing their credibility. The digital age is introducing new opportunities and platforms as well as new challenges.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Archive trip day 7-8

On Saturdays, the archives are open 10am-2pm, so I had a lovely short day of research followed by lunch at Popeye's and shopping.


I managed to get through 2 boxes of yet more scholarship correspondence from the 1960's. I covered the period after the Fulbright-Hays Act was passed but before budget trouble really begins. One thing that really stood out was the 1962 election—Senator Fulbright was often away from his Washington office, as he was busy campaigning in Arkansas. His assistants signed responses to constituents' letters more frequently that summer/fall, whereas most of the time, Fulbright himself seems to have responded (or at least signed the letters). It was an interesting reminder of the electoral cycle that influences everything else that goes on in Washington. How much worse it must be for Representatives (every 2 years) and Presidents (every 4 years) than for Senators (only every 6 years)!

The Senator's stance on civil rights seemed to be the biggest issue of the campaign. Interestingly, though, there was a letter from a student from Sierra Leone which began, "Civil rights or no civil rights, we need you in the Senate." She expressed her appreciation for his views on foreign affairs. The student also requested a grant to continue her studies at University of Pennsylvania, so maybe she was just trying to compliment him and get a grant, but I found it really interesting that she was prepared to overlook his (presumably offensive to an African person) civil rights stance.

On Sunday, the archives are closed--I planned my trip so that I would travel on Sundays and have just one real 'day off' during the 2 weeks at the archives. I drove out to Eureka Springs, a Victorian spa tourist town about 45 miles away in the Ozarks. Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday and off-season, the town was pretty dead, so I drove around the historic sightseeing routes and headed back to Rogers for lunch at 5 Guys burgers & fries. Apparently we're getting one in Leeds--I can't wait! Whatever critics may say about globalization and cultural homogenization, I'm thrilled when I see certain brands that I miss come over...

Archive Trip Day 6

Day 6 was much the same, with more information enquiries and 'thank you' letters. There were a couple letters that caught my attention, though:

1) A request for a grant that (in my opinion) had a presumptuous, pompous tone to it, from an American wishing to study James Joyce in England. I checked this to make sure--Joyce's papers are held in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, not England. There was a Fulbright Program with Ireland at the time, too, so it's not as though he couldn't have applied for one to Ireland. The scholar didn't mention the British Library, but maybe that's what he was going for...or maybe I'm giving him too much credit. At any rate, the scholar's pompous tone made the mistake really funny.

2) Italian Fulbrighters Umberto and Marisa Bar named their baby after the Senator. He received a little birth announcement card for "Pierluigi Fulbright Giovanni", and a letter from Umberto:

"As I had always said that if I won this rather difficult competition I would put your name to my son, we finally did, after asking a special permission to the Mayor of Torino, because we wanted a foreign name. When our Italian friends ask to us why we chose the name Fulbright, we tell them why, and when they ask what it means, we say that it is a very meaningful name, since it means 'full of light.'"

Archive Trip Day 5

Now that I'm recovered from jet-lag and caught up on other projects, I need to finish off my trip blog posts!


On day 5, I found what I think must be the first mention of a Fulbright alumni organization, in a letter to Senator Fulbright from a Mr. Joseph T. St. Lawrence, Chairman, Department of Health & Physical Education, Suffern High School, Suffern, New York. In his lengthy letter, dated 31 January, 1961, Mr. St. Lawrence lays out a 13-point plan, covering the purpose and scope of his proposed organisation. I love JWF’s brief response to the letter: “You have evidently given this idea much thought, and your suggestions have a great deal of merit.” No action appears to have been taken at the time, at least--most likely because the exchange community was more immediately concerned with getting the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (Fulbright-Hays Act) passed that year, in order to strengthen the program and ensure its continuation.

The actual Fulbright Association wouldn't be established for another 15 years or so, and its foundation is usually attributed to Arthur Dudden, the Bryn Mawr history professor (and two-time Fulbright grantee) who served as the Association's first president.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Archive Trip--Day 4

On my third day in the archives, I finished up my first cart and moved on to my second--a huge improvement over my last visit to the archives, when I only completed 2 carts over the whole week. Using a camera really does make a massive difference. Last time, I just took notes and even though I'm a fast typist, it's still much quicker to just snap a picture. It's also more accurate--there are no typos, no confusion over page numbers or dates.
The second cart was correspondence from the first accession in the Fulbright papers, so I moved back in time from the post-senatorial (post-1975) era to the start of the exchange program (1946). There seemed to be more "scholarship enquiries" in the earlier set and more "thank you" letters in the later set. It makes sense--in the early days, people didn't know where to get information about this new program they'd heard somebody mention. By the time Senator Fulbright was out of office in 1975, there were thousands of potential letter writers amongst the program's alumni.

My favorite find of the day was a series of letters between a concerned mother of a grantee, Senator Fulbright's office and the State Department. The woman wrote to Senator Fulbright on behalf of her son, who had just arrived in Germany and was struggling to find accommodation. The Senator's office wrote to the State Department, to make enquiries about getting him assistance from the embassy. The Senator replied to the woman, in the meantime, to let her know that they had taken the matter up. The next letter was an update from the woman--her son has found accommodation in Germany and is settling in just fine, so please don't proceed with your enquiries. The Senator's office sends her an acknowledgment and writes to the State Department to cancel its last request. Now, this is all very mundane, but the reason it was my favorite letter? This whole thing took place within a week. Even today, it takes my letters about a week to make it through the post between the UK and US. You can imagine what happened--this guy wrote to his mom when he arrived and said he was struggling to find accommodation, the letter took a week to get to Mom, he found accommodation, then wrote to tell his mom the address. In the meantime, she's taking it up with the program's founder! He might have only been staying in a hotel for a few days before finding permanent accommodation--it certainly wasn't a matter to bring up with the embassy!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Archive trip--day 3

Day 2 was more post-senatorial correspondence, but this batch had more to do with the Fulbright Association, the program's alumni organization. In the literature, you really get the impression that the Fulbright Association was a separate, private activity, initiated by alumni and nothing to do with the Board of Foreign Scholarships or Senator Fulbright. Reading correspondence between Senator Fulbright and Arthur Dudden, the founder/first President of the Fulbright Association revealed, however, that the former Senator really did take an interest. He encouraged Dudden and discussed the nature/role of the Association. He believed in an advocacy and lobbying role--something I really didn't see in the literature or in official documents.
To the extent that archive research can have new 'discoveries', this was my first big discovery for this trip--evidence of Fulbright's support for alumni activities, including advocacy and lobbying.

There were still some enquiry letters, even as you get into the 1990's. I still just can't believe the cajones of people who would write to the octogenarian founder of the program and ask for a recommendation. Some people even name-dropped, telling Senator Fulbright of a connection he shared with their father/grandfather/cousin/etc. I almost laughed out loud at one enquiry letter addressed to Senator Fulbright that said "Dear Sir or Madam," and asked for application materials. It wasn't even a language barrier issue--the letter writer was American!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Archive trip day 2

Going back to the archives was weird on the first day--it's been 2 years since my last visit, but everything was the same. Campus looked just the same, the library & the student union looked unchanged, the Special Collections staff were the same (although Vera, the Fulbright papers archivist, was the only one who remembered me--she's lovely and it was great to see her again).

The good thing about everything being the same--it was easy to get stuck in. I knew what I was doing, what to ask for, and I didn't have to fill out researcher permission paperwork as they already had it on file. Vera set me up with 2 carts of boxes to get started. This is the luxurious thing about doing research at a smaller place--2 carts, 18 boxes! And I don't have to put them away when I go to lunch or go home at the end of the day--my desk is my desk, waiting for me when I get back to it. It's such a different experience from the Textual Archives room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I used to skip lunch, work straight through and only leave when I was done for the day, because I hated to have to return my cart and then request it again after a break.

This trip is all about correspondence--I didn't touch it last time, because I was only here for a week and it's very time consuming. It's really important, though, and my book reviewer specifically mentioned it as something that would strengthen the archival/historical side of my book.

I started with Fulbright's post-Senatorial correspondence about the exchange program (8 boxes, records dating 1975 to 1993). Most of my first day was spent flipping through letters he received from people asking for info about the program, requesting application materials--even flat out asking Senator Fulbright to give them a grant or put in a good word for them! He responded politely but firmly that he wasn't involved in the selection or administration of the program--indeed, by this point, he was in his 70's/80's and long since retired! My first reaction was to shake my head at the nerve of these people--I would never contact the founder of an exchange program to ask for an application form, or to request a recommendation.

But then, I thought about the different context in which these letters were written. The people who were asking (stupid) basic questions about applying didn't have Google. There was no Fulbright Program website, where you can apply online or download an application form, or check the FAQs before you dash off an e-mail to the program's administrators. These people didn't have the information resources we do now--all they knew was the name "Fulbright", so they went straight to the top. They probably didn't even know he wasn't a Senator anymore, to be fair. And besides, it's not the fool who asks!