Summer Research Update: Sam Carp and his project in Ghana

Untitled2Hi all,

I asked the SOAN students conducting AHSS summer research projects to drop us a line and update us about their exciting projects. While most of Sam’s time in Ghana is spent off the grid, he was able to communicate this to me, and he sent along a few pictures as well! Here’s what he had to say:

It was all a dream: Volunteering and researching in southwest Ghana…

Oh man, I swear if I hear one more rooster crow I am going to lose it! It’s not so bad usually, but when you’re trying to sleep in past 5:00 a.m., it’s not conducive to live in a village where everybody owns at least ten chickens. It’s 1:00 p.m. now in Frankadua, a small farming community in the Volta Region of Ghana located about two hours northwest of the country’s capital city, Accra. I’ve just sat down to drink a second cup of instant coffee after having a lunch of peanut soup, chicken, Untitled6and rice, a dish I know I am going to make when I get back home. Now that the rainy season has come, the temperature has decreased to about 25 degrees Celsius (or 80 degrees Fahrenheit) with only moderate humidity, and people have begun to walk around in brightly colored shirts and long pants. Kids are running around in their school uniforms and playing on the porch of the volunteer house, and the people of the village are out and about selling goods like pepper and corn, or laundry detergents, or out working hard on their farms.

It has been a long four and half weeks so far, but overall my experience here in Ghana has exceeded my initial expectations. Before I left, the piece of advice I was given the most from friends, family members, and professors was to go into this trip with few expectations and to expect my daily experiences to help govern the direction my volunteer work and research would progress. Now that over a month has passed, and with only two weeks left in my journey, I am so glad this was also the piece of advice that I took to Untitled5heart the most. Since I was going to be a volunteer, student, and tourist all at the same time, I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me when dealing with how to balance all of the things that I wanted, or at least thought I should be doing.

So far, so good though. Each day I wake up at 5:30 to go work on the farm that my volunteer program helps to manage. There we help to harvest corn and cassava (a type of root), plant beans, cabbage, and eggplant, and help to weed with machetes and turn the soil. Work on the farm ends around 8-8:30 because it begins to get too hot to do much more physical labor, and at this point we begin the 25 minute walk through the mud (because it’s the rainy season) back to the house to have a breakfast of either pancakes, toast, or egg sandwiches. After this, I usually work on my research or help with various projects around the village. By four, I am usually done with whatever research I have done for the day, which usually entails doing interviews, having short conversations, or conducting simple observations. By this time most volunteers are also back at the house playing with the children, who are done with school by then.

Untitled4My experience so far, though amazing and mind blowing, hasn’t been as balanced and smooth as the description above would appear to depict. Every day has been filled with conflicting emotions and decisions, both with the volunteer work and the research that I have been doing. Frankadua is a town stuck in a cycle of poverty, mainly because it is inhabited by 90 percent subsistence farmers. Because of this, it takes a lot of thought and discussion to coordinate volunteer projects that are beneficial to both the volunteers and the locals. IVHQ is a program that generally hosts volunteers for 2-10 weeks, and because of this, there are a lot of projects that go unfinished. Many volunteers also come in with differing opinions, and while we all get along, we have to constantly be discussing how we want to be interacting with the kids that come by the house, or how we teach in the schools, or how we appropriately give money for varying purposes around the village. The conflicting feelings also accompany the work I have been doing for school. I have made a lot of Untitled8friends and met many engaging and hard working people so far through my interviews, and while they understand that my ability to help them is severely limited, they still consistently ask me for things that I am not able to give them — like heavy machinery, or contact info for non-profits.

While I am not able to help the people that I meet as much as I want to, they have drawn me towards countless realizations and understandings of the realities of the world we live in and how varying systems interacting on a global scale affect the lives of people all over the world. I’m excited to get back to America, but when I leave I know I’m going to miss the experiences I’ve had here so far. Hopefully my volunteer work and research leaves me in a position where I will be able to continue to think about the work I have done in Ghana and what I want to be doing in the future.

So glad to hear from you, Sam, and good luck wrapping up your research. We’ll see you on campus in a few weeks!

 

Andrew

Summer Research Update: Kathryn Stutz wanders through the forest of Qatari museums

Kathryn in Qatar

Kathryn in Qatar

Hi all,

I asked our students with AHSS summer research grants for an update about their progress and experiences. Kathryn’s project, focused on museums outside the Euro-American west, carried her to Qatar and London. Here’s her update from the summer swelter of the hot Qatari peninsula …

I winced as my Uber driver rolled the car slowly into another unavoidable pothole and the Camry’s entire frame jolted. We were out in the outskirts of Doha, the capital of Qatar, a small nation which sticks out like a cupped hand from top edge of the Arabian peninsula, extending into the gulf. Here, outside Doha, the city center’s smooth highways and improbably landscaped desert gardens faded out into bumpy cobblestone roads and migrant labor camps.

From top to bottom: The Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art), and Msheirib.

From top to bottom: The Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art), and Msheirib.

All of the other museums I’d visited thus far had been set somewhere in Doha’s main downtown sprawl: the Museum of Islamic Art, placed in a white wedding cake of a building (which I.M. Pei had been brought out of retirement to design), standing on its own private island along the city’s park-lined shore; the Msheirib Museums, white-washed houses nestled into a quiet pocket of downtown between markets and skyscrapers; even Mathaf, the edgy Arab Art Museum, settled into the fabric of Education City’s foreign universities. None of these museums are further than 20 minutes from the compound where I was staying.

The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani museum, on the other hand, lies far out into the desert. My iPhone’s maps were useless; my driver Jareesh and I were navigating using the tried and true method of asking random passers-by for the rough direction of the museum every couple hundred meters.

Sheikh Faisal Museum

Sheikh Faisal Museum

After a quarter of an hour meandering down thin roads between the walls of labor camps, I spotted the first sign for the museum, and Jareesh took me through the security and up to the front door of the museum, which was housed in an enormous castle of a building, standing amidst thin desert trees and the skeletons of boats.

Inside, the museum is packed with over 18,000 artifacts, ranging from art and calligraphy and religious objects to the Sheikh’s prized collection of hundreds of old cars. Thankfully,

Mahmoud, a museum tour guide, intercepted me at the front door and showed me around, allowing me to grasp the scale of the museum without becoming overwhelmed. It quickly became clear that this museum stood apart from the other collections I’d visited previously – this museum felt alive. Even during the slow summer days, other tourists and residents meandered around pointing at dramatic sailing ship displays and the deep oil wells around which the museum had been built at the end of the 20th century – if you lean over carefully, you can see the glimmer of oil far below at the bottom.

Inside the Sheikh Faisal museum

Inside the Sheikh Faisal museum

The arrangement of prominent – if somewhat austere – prestige museums in city centers, juxtaposed against beloved – if a bit well-worn – community museums, is a familiar one.

Over the past academic year, I’ve been researching museums in the Pacific Northwest, following the work of historian of anthropology James Clifford, who discussed the different types of museums in British Columbia in the chapter “Four Northwest Coast Museums,” of his book Routes.

Back at the end of May, I had begun the summer with a trip through the same four museums Clifford examined: the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) in Victoria, the Kwagiulth Museum (now called the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre) in Cape Mudge Village, the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, and the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver.

The RBCM and the MOA fit happily within the same museum model followed at Doha’s MIA, Mathaf, and the Msheirib Museums. These are all ‘Western’ in style, with tastefully minimalistic exhibits and careful, historical signage. They appear in tourist campaigns and are the subject of thousands of artful photos of their cities’ downtowns.

Museums like the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre and the U’mista Cultural Centre – and the Sheikh Faisal Museum – are different. One of my contacts with the Qatari Museum Authority singled out Sheikh Faisal as one of the few truly ‘Qatari’ museums, founded by a member of the Al Thani royal family, on his own personal land, for the benefit of his friends and neighbors. The objects at Sheikh Faisal feel like personal belongings arranged on a shelf, precisely because they are; despite its size and grandeur, the Shiekh’s museum feels intimate. Museums like this one are further off the beaten path, but offer a look at how the people of a country truly see themselves.

At Al Jazeera

At Al Jazeera

And understanding what makes a museum ‘Qatari’ is vital at the moment, because the new National Museum of Qatar is scheduled to open in December, and it has big shoes to fill: according to nearly every source on the topic, the old National Museum, built in 1975, shortly after Qatar gained independence, was definitely beloved. That museum has been gone for decades, its artifacts in shortage, its signage literally scattered to the desert winds.

Now, it is the task of Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, and her staff of both Qataris and foreign consultants, to construct a museum that brings together the best of both worlds – the new NMoQ will stand near the center of town, but it cannot feel like just another forbidding Western institution. It must be able, like a national flag or the Sheikh Faisal collection, to “represent the [nation] to its people, and its people to the world at large” (Roman Mars, TED2015 Vancouver).

I was reminded of the high stakes the new National Museum faces when Mahmoud pointed to a curiously shaped stone in a glass cabinet.

“You know the National Museum?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Do you know what this is, then?” he prompted me.

I thought back to my first glimpse of the new museum as I’d driven past it on the way from the airport. The jagged white curves and edges were shrouded in construction equipment, but lit up in the night. My housemate had laughed when I told her about this. “You mean the UFO?” she said. I came to understand that many residents of Doha saw something alien in the new construction of the National Museum – a worrying thing for its designer, who had been envisioning something entirely different. The museum’s architecture had been inspired by a natural geological form, found out in the sands beyond the city.

Desert Rose

Desert Roses

Back at the Sheikh’s museum, I nodded once more. “It’s a desert rose.”

Thanks so much for this wonderful update, Kathryn! We hope the rest of your stay there is productive. Safe travels, and we’ll see you back in Tacoma later in the summer.

Andrew

Sam Carp’s AHSS Summer Research Plans

samcarpHi all,

As I noted in last week’s post, students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful last year, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Sam had to say about his new project:

My research intends to analyze the affects of industrialization on the development of small-scale agriculture in the urban and peri-urban regions of Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Since the 1980s, increased urban development and a rise in industrial operations in Accra have had a detrimental affect on the ability of small plot urban farmers to cultivate land for agricultural purposes, resulting in a loss of both income and food for thousands of families. This is problematic because, as urban Ghanafarming becomes less of a priority and large-scale farms become more consolidated in rural areas, the crops and vegetables they produce become harder to access, and food security is decreased for those living in more populated areas. Throughout my observation and interview process, I will be working alongside and speaking to varying members of Accra’s governmental organizations and farming communities. I will also volunteering at an orphanage and working to grow crops for the children and volunteers working in the program. Hopefully I’ll also be able to find some time to travel around Ghana with the people I meet volunteering. I’m excited to see where this research leads me!

Good luck with this project, Sam, and we look forward to getting an update from you once you reach Ghana.

 

Andrew

SOAN Club Social on Friday, May 13

Salmon Beach

The SOAN Club invites you to come celebrate the end of a great semester!

On Friday, May 13th we’ll be hosting an informal gathering at Andrew Gardner’s house (cabin 56) at Salmon Beach to wrap up this academic year. Feel free to drift in and out any time between 4 and 8pm. If your family is in town you’re welcome to bring them too! The more the merrier.

Salmon Beach is about fifteen minutes away by car, and at least one SOAN club leader will be driving. If you’d like to come but need a ride email Elena Becker at esbecker@pugetsound.edu to coordinate. If you want to drive yourself and you have never been to the Beach before, shoot Andrew (gardner@pugetsound.edu) a quick email for directions and parking instructions. It’s pretty straightforward, but you’ll need a code for the gate. And while we’ll have a few snacks around, you should bring your own food or drink.

Congratulations on making it to May, and we’ll see you on the 13th!

Note from Andrew: Carpool if you can, bring something if you want!

Kathryn Stutz’s AHSS summer research plans

Hi all,

As many of you know, students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful last year, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Kathryn had to say about her new project:

IMG_8619

Style options, from the material detritus of the central neighborhood razed for new development in Doha, and now part of the collection in one of the three new Mshereib Museums.

This summer, I’ll be examining how museums in different national contexts communicate notions of individual identity, community, ethnicity, nationality, and global citizenship. 

 My journey will start off in Doha, the capital city of Qatar, a prosperous nation on the Arabian peninsula. As Qatar has risen on the world stage in recent years, foreign professionals have been brought in to consult on many design projects, including the construction of several new national museums. By conducting ethnographic interviews with museum staff and consultants, I’ll investigate how these transnational connections affect curation and exhibit design, and how the new Qatari museums communicate their national identity, and place themselves within the global museum scene.
 
Following several weeks in Qatar, I’ll travel to London, the home base for several museum consultancy firms involved in the Doha-area construction. There, I’ll attempt to unravel the other end of the transnational museum design business, and see how consultants mediate differences between their own culture and the culture in which they create exhibit-based narratives. I’ll also compare Qatar’s museums with historically-entrenched, traditional museum efforts in London and in other prominent cities around Western Europe. 
 
This project will allow me to expand upon several themes I’ve uncovered while studying issues of identity and indigeneity in the museums of the Pacific Northwest, and to begin to get a feel for the enormous scale of the museum networks in our globalizing world. I’m so excited to get started on this research! 
We’re really excited about this research, Kathryn, and as I know from experience — there are so many interesting things going on in museums in Qatar. You know that it’s on the hotter side there in the summer, right?
Andrew

SOAN Senior Research Symposium Today!

IMG_5991

A scene from last year’s SOAN Senior Symposium

Hi all,

The SOAN Seniors will be presenting their research on posters today in the Rotunda. Stop by and check out the fascinating and diverse projects of our department’s seniors.

SOAN Senior Research Symposium
Rotunda, 1:00 to 3:00
Thursday, April 28
Some food and drink available

And note that there’s an informal SOAN reception at Engine House 9 (E9) afterwards, from 5 to 7. Please join us!

Andrew

Dr. Farah Al-Nakib on the Urban History of Kuwait

Farah al-Nakib_0Dr. Farah Al-Nakib, an Assistant Professor of History at the American University of Kuwait and the Director of the Center for Gulf Studies, will visit Puget Sound on Monday evening. Her lecture will encapsulate her new book, Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life (Stanford University Press).

In this book, Al-Nakib traces how decades of urban planning, suburbanization, and privatization eroded the open and tolerant society that had long existed on the northern shores of the Arabian Gulf, resulting in the insularity, xenophobia, and divisiveness that characterizes social relation in Kuwait today. In her analysis, the story of this tectonic shift is written into the urban landscape of Kuwait City.

Key Information:
Date: Monday, April 25, 2016
Where: Wyatt 109
Time: 6:00 to 7:30 PM

Here’s some additional information. We hope to see you there!

2016 Al Nakib Lecture Puget Sound 2