Thanks to a Large Nyhus Travel Grant, I spent five days at the end of winter break this January at the Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives looking through the Benjamin Pogrund Papers for my Honors Project in African History. My thesis analyzes the career and writings of Benjamin Pogrund, from the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg to the Center for Social Concern in Israel. The Benjamin Pogrund Papers provided inviable primary sources for my thesis because it contains correspondences and writing from throughout his career not available anywhere else.
During my time at the archives, I sorted through many folders that became the substance of the second chapter of my project, detailing the relationship between Benjamin Pogrund and Pan Africanist Congress leader Robert Sobukwe. Some of the most valuable and exciting papers to find were his original letters between Pogrund and Sobukwe between 1964-1967 while Sobukwe was imprisoned on Robben Island. In addition to the letters, there are also many notes authored by Pogrund as well as transcripts of speeches he gave throughout the United States, Britain, and South Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s which I am using in the third chapter of my project. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have traveled to Yale and am happy to say that it has enriched greatly enriched my thesis.
Near the city of Kunming in southwestern China lies Dianchi: a 115-square-mile lake. The body of water is central to the city--and region's--past and present identities. Having inspired Qing Dynasty poets to write vivid couplets about its pristine qualities and grandeur, the lake's ecosystem was altered in wake of Mao's Great Leap Forward beginning on New Year's Day in 1970, and during Kunming's rapid industrialization at the turn of this century. Today, Yunnan Province is a burgeoning hub of global environmentalism (Hathaway, 2013), yet its centerpiece, Dianchi, is currently classified as Grade V water quality (not fit for industrial or agricultural use) according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People's Republic of China. Still, the lake is steeped in the vibrant cultures of Yunnan Province's diverse population, which includes 26 of China's 56 ethnic minority groups.
This past August, building off my coursework in History, Environmental Studies and Chinese, I traveled to Kunming using two research grants from Bowdoin, including a Paul C. Nyhus Large Travel Grant, to produce a preliminary historiography of Dianchi, which will be the focus of my senior honors project. I gathered existing data on Dianchi from both the Yunnan Provincial Library and the Yunnan Provincial Archives; I performed site visits to the lake itself and the Yunnan Nationalities Village. I also informally spoke with locals during my stay. My extensive study of Chinese language allowed me to grow my network on the ground and will continue to be crucial to my project in the future as I continue to read primary and secondary sources throughout my final year at Bowdoin.
I had three main objectives for my research: grasping a sense of the site, understanding the historical context of Dianchi, and learning where to look for more information. As my research continues this year and possibly with a Fulbright grant next year, I intend to be able to describe and write about the site visit with accuracy, as well as understand the local perspective of Dianchi's role in regional identity, having completed my fieldwork in Kunming this summer. Experiencing the place firsthand was an imperative component of beginning to write this environmental history.
Because Dianchi represents the intersection of culture and environment at a pressing time in Kunming and greater China's history, I hope my research will provide a case study for others to address the question in this age of globalization: how can nations negotiate economic pressures and the preservation of nature and culture? I also hope to contribute by building bridges through the interdisciplinary lens of environmental history. In China, environmental history is under researched and I hope to contribute to this growing field, like scholars Judith Shapiro and Mark Elvin, whom have spearheaded such work.
The Nyhus Travel Grant allowed me to live in Johannesburg, South Africa for three weeks, where I did research at Wits University's GALA archive, the only archive of gay and lesbian history in all of Africa. The research I did there is forming the basis of my honors project this year, which focuses on the gay rights movement in South Africa during the height of the apartheid government's power.
Most of my research was on a man named Simon Nkoli, a black South African who combined his fight for gay rights with the struggle against the racist apartheid regime. I was able to comb through documents from various gay rights groups of the 1970s and 1980s, most of which were based in Johannesburg, as well as the personal letters of Simon Nkoli. Most of these letters were written between Nkoli and his lover while Nkoli was in prison for "treason," and they gave me a fascinating insight into this period of his life.
The opportunity to travel to South Africa and perform research in the GALA archives has already proven integral to my honors project, and I am excited to build upon this research in the coming months. Living and working in South Africa was a life-changing experience, and I hope to be able to return sometime soon.
Thanks to a Nyhus Travel Grant, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC and conduct research for my honors project on the city's failed midcentury highway program. Over the course of a week, I was able to access primary source documents at the DC Public Library and the Historical Society of Washington, DC that would prove instrumental to my project. Additionally, having time to walk through the city and see where these roads might have been built helped me to better conceptualize the issues at play in the freeway fight.
As this was my first real experience with archival research, the amount of material I had to dig through was a little overwhelming. My two main resources were court documents related to the lawsuits brought by community members in order to halt highway construction, as well as the collected papers of several local community organizations involved in the anti-highway movement. While not all of the briefs, newsletters, correspondences, flyers, and newspaper clippings I found were directly relevant to the scope of my project, they were crucial in helping me learn more about the people involved in this fight over the nation's capital.
Having access to documents from different groups involved in the same fight allowed me to parse out the different reasons Washingtonians had for opposing the roads, as well as the different methods they used to push back against government initiatives. While much of my earlier research was based in secondary accounts of the story or in newspaper coverage of the events, being able to read the words of the citizens fighting to protect their neighborhoods helped me add a level of intellectual nuance to my project that I could not have achieved without the assistance of the Nyhus Grant.