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ICS Alumni Spotlight: Isham Randolph '00

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March 21, 2016

While I didn’t know what International Comparative Studies (then called Comparative Area Studies) was prior to stepping foot on Duke’s campus, it was clear very early on that it was the perfect major for me. Furthermore, the tools I developed through ICS have been crucial in my career as a documentary filmmaker. 

I arrived at Duke coming off a leap year living, working, and studying Spanish in Argentina. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in but I had a keen interest in the relationship between the United States and Latin America. ICS allowed me to delve into that relationship by way of courses in Spanish, Political Science, Literature, and History, among others, while providing a global context through capstone courses like Global Human Geography and Comparative Approaches to Global Issues. Even if my papers continued to skew toward Latin America (my final paper in the Comparative Approaches class was on Italian immigration to Argentina and the US at the turn of the 19th century), I appreciated the program’s insistence that we look beyond our regions of focus in order to gain a greater, global, perspective. In fact, Martin Lewis’ emphasis on the roots of language in the Global Human Geography course has helped me connect the linguistic dots on numerous occasions while working on National Geographic documentaries.

ICS has always put a premium on not only studying abroad but also doing it in a serious manner. I took that to heart, studying at a small research institution called CIDE in Mexico City, taking courses with CIDE students (unlike many other study abroad programs where you are placed in classes for foreigners) on Mexican history and international relations and gaining new insight and perspective on the shared history between Mexico and the US. The study abroad program — which allowed exchanges between a handful of colleges and universities in the US (Duke and Northwestern), Canada (McGill in Toronto and the University of Montreal) and Mexico (CIDE and UDLAP in Puebla) — had been created during a unique post-NAFTA moment and unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist anymore.   

Finally, as I moved toward graduation, the department’s course flexibility gave me the space to pursue a certificate in the Program in Film and Video (now the Program in Arts of the Moving Image), opening my eyes to the power of documentary to explore the same cultural and historical questions that had already guided my course work. It was then that I felt that I had the right medium for me for pursuing these cultural and historical questions. 

After graduation, this very ICS-oriented skillset plus my newfound interest in documentary led to a Benenson Award in the Arts to document the lives of American Expatriates in Mexico — asking the question, when there are so many people trying to reach the United States, why do people leave?  Building off of the footage that I had captured while on my Benenson award, a Fulbright Scholarship to further pursue the project then followed. During the Fulbright, I spent most of my time in retirement communities in Mexico, as it seems that most Americans head to Mexico to fulfill what could be considered the final chapter of the American Dream, to retire comfortably.

Now I work as a freelance documentary producer for such groups as National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian Channel and the Rockefeller Foundation. The job requires the tools to be able to jump between a wide range of topics in a wide range of locations around the world — from US-Mexico border issues to exploring the changing dynamics of cities in places like Accra, Ghana and Bangkok, Thailand — tools I honed by way of the opportunities afforded to me through a degree in Comparative Area Studies (now ICS).

Here are some links to recent or pertinent projects:

Informal City Dialogue, Rockefeller Foundation: Bangkok

Informal City Dialogue, Rockefeller Foundation: Accra

What Would You March For? Trust for the National Mall/National Geographic Studios

“Photography by Danielle Hill/Still Life Projects”
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ICS Alumni Spotlight: Megan Benham '10

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November 17, 2015

Duke University is a mesmerizing, intimidating place for a small town Midwestern girl, so I had few goals beyond passing classes for my future at the university when I arrived on campus in 2006.  I knew two things: my varying interests made it difficult for me to focus on my desired area of study and I wanted to learn as much as possible about as many subjects possible.  It was shortly after taking a course called “Religions of Asia” that I discovered International Comparative Studies.  I became fascinated with the close relationship societal and religious culture had in Asia, and my advisor informed me that the ICS major would allow me a strong platform for exploring that relationship more in depth.  I discovered the interdisciplinary nature of ICS appealed to my desire to expand my knowledge base, less by subject and more by theme.  The academic breadth of the major prepared me for a variety of positions and a career path that has been both unconventional and rewarding.

International Comparative Studies served as a strong foundation for my growing career.  I have utilized my knowledge of the Middle East and Islam to build relationships between different religious and cultural communities.  I helped Iranian refugees resettle in Indianapolis by introducing them to local resources.  I helped the Wesley Foundation at Purdue develop new lines of communication between various faith communities on Purdue’s campus.  I served as an AmeriCorps fellow for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights helping a Muslim school and mosque in the northern suburbs of Chicago create community opportunities in their facilities to better connect them with the non-Muslim residents of the neighborhood. 

All these experiences led me to my current position at Benedictine University.  This small catholic university has strong religious and ethnic diversity with 15 percent of the student body self-identifying as Hindu and 30 percent as practicing Muslims. As the Global and Intercultural Program Coordinator, I work with faculty and staff to develop both academic and extracurricular events to educate the university’s community about religious and ethnic diversity.  The events not only create educational opportunities, but they also provide venues for important interaction and discussions among ethnic and religious communities.  My ability to organize these types of programs comes in great part from the cultural understanding gained through the International Comparative Studies program at Duke.  The ICS program empowered me to spread cultural knowledge here in the western suburbs of Chicago, and maybe someday beyond.

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ICS Alumni Spotlight: Aislynn Turner '11

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October 1, 2015

I started at Duke majoring in Public Policy, thinking that one day I wanted to go into government and policy. However, I soon found myself falling in love with all of the cultures embedded within Duke’s campus, and I took on a second major in International Comparative Studies (ICS). The courses I took and professors I learned from opened my eyes in ways I never expected. I developed a passion for languages, cultures, and for understanding why different types of governments operate the way they do. While at Duke, I had opportunities to conduct research in Egypt, China and Kenya. My research in Kenya led to the development of my ICS honors thesis, which was later published as a book about Kenyan education and economic policy as it relates to women’s empowerment. I graduated from Duke with a keen interest in government operations and international development policy, but I also wanted to further my education and focus on a specialty. Thus, I headed to the University of Southern California to work on my Masters of Public Administration. Because of the international research I had conducted at Duke, USC offered me a Dean’s Merit scholarship that covered the majority of my tuition expenses.

While in grad school, I was selected for a highly competitive internship program with the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department. Though I had never before heard of the field of emergency management, it intrigued me from the start. Natural and man-made disasters affect all nations, can happen at any time and can have devastating effects on the economy and day-to-day life of local residents. During my first week at the internship, I was assigned with writing a Mass Feeding Plan for a city of 4+ million people. It didn’t take long for me to see the relationship between the policy I was shaping and the impact it had on local people. This field was exactly where I wanted to be, forming policy that had a direct impact on peoples’ well-being.

I have continued to advance in my career in emergency management, working as a Homeland Security Analyst in government consulting and then moving to Atlanta to work for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security. My studies in ICS remain very relevant to my career. Whenever a major disaster happens in any part of the globe, we learn from one another and support one another. It wasn’t long ago that our executive leadership traveled to Japan after the major earthquake/tsunami/nuclear incident that devastated the country. Our executives brought back lessons learned from that incident that we have now applied to our own plans and policies in Georgia. In this field, nations and states continuously work together to share resources and knowledge so that we can prepare people for disaster and adequately respond to and recover from any incidents that occur.

You can follow my Twitter updates on emergency management trends at @AislynnTurner

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Alumni Spotlight: Sung Bae Park '14

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February 20, 2015

My name is Sung Bae Park and I graduated in December 2014 with a double major in International Comparative Studies and Economics with a minor in History. This year, I will be joining J.P. Morgan’s investment banking team in Hong Kong. As a Korean national who grew up mostly in Singapore, ICS was a natural choice for me while exploring different options as I was keen on learning about different cultures and transnational issues.  

As a college freshman, I did not know that I wanted to be an ICS major. I had always been interested in Economics, but it was only later that I decided to pursue ICS as my major as well. At first, I became interested in ICS for the prospect of exploring cultures and languages that were new to me. Beyond mere exposure, however, I feel that one of the hallmarks of the program is how it can change the way one views the world.

Economics tends to rely on numerical analysis to look at various issues, while this is useful to bring to the table tools applicable for evaluating efficiency and equilibrium, it often leaves out other issues like justice and fairness. ICS fills this void perfectly. Entities that occupy merely a variable or two in economic analysis take on entirely new significance and become the focal point of discourse in courses offered by the ICS program. ICS helped me to see how relationships among governments, corporations, NGOs, and individual citizens can be identified and reconfigured in various discursive contexts and the importance of having this understanding, which I have learned to apply in research projects in my classes.

I cannot overstate the usefulness of the ICS program in honing skills applicable outside of academia. I had previously assumed that Asian countries share similar backgrounds and hence that the issues and challenges they face would be similar. As an ICS major with concentration in East Asia, I learned that couldn’t be further away from the truth. By comparing and contrasting situations faced in different parts of the world, I learned to grasp a more nuanced understanding of an issue. This is of particular importance for investment banking, where there is no "black and white" when looking at strategic options for a company, just as there is no such clear cut answers for many of the critical issues discussed and analyzed in courses under the ICS program. The ability to grasp the nuances in a company or an industry is a valuable asset that must be developed over time, so I am grateful that I decided to pursue ICS as a major.

One thing that surprises me is how fast the ICS curriculum has been growing over the past few years. When I returned to campus in the fall of 2013 after a 2.5 year hiatus for military service, I was surprised at how the list of approved classes had grown compared to the spring of 2009 when I took my first ICS class. The wide array of courses now available makes ICS a truly attractive major that can foster variety of interests and career paths. The growth in curriculum also makes it much easier to complement the major with a minor by taking cross-listed courses as I have done to graduate with a minor in History. I recommend those who decide to major in ICS to explore as many options as possible to make the most out of the opportunities that are offered in this fast-growing program, a program that exposed me to new ways of understanding the world and equipped me with tools that I will continue to leverage in the future. 

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Alumni Spotlight: Megan Moskop '08

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September 2, 2014

By: Megan Moskop

This is my 6th year as a Special Education teacher at the best middle school in America.  I’m biased of course, but I love working at MS324, which is a public middle school in Washington Heights, a Latin-American neighborhood in northern Manhattan.  In addition to my daily work of helping students recognize their value, intelligence, and potential for success, I help our 8th grade students and families navigate the NYC high school admissions process. 

I spend my “free time” as an active member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers (NYC’s teachers union), and as the “Learning Labs Director” of the Manhattan Young Democrats.

Through these and other community-based organizations, I strive to be an advocate for educational systems and polices that will help our students thrive. Majoring in ICS prepared me uniquely to listen, learn, grow, build community, and share knowledge all over the world, or, where I am right now, in a very worldly corner of the world.

At Duke, the flexibility of ICS allowed me to simultaneously pursue my passions for working with youth, for exploring the world, and for sharing stories. 

Through various Research-Service-Learning courses, I volunteered with several programs in the Durham public schools.  With my “Women as Leaders” course in public policy, I mentored girls at Brogden Middle School.  Through Educational Psychology, I tutored a fourth grader at Watts Elementary, and my junior year, through a Collaborative Art course at the Center for Documentary Studies, I led an afterschool art program at Club Boulevard Elementary School. 

My largest community-based project at Duke, however, began my sophomore year in a class called “Durham’s Black Wall Street.” The focus of that class became my Documentary Studies Certificate “Capstone” project, and continued even beyond my graduation.  Under the guidance of Barbara Lau, then at CDS, I worked with local historians and archivists at NC Central University, UNC, and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company to conduct oral history interviews with African-American businesswomen in Durham and across the south.  Radio Documentary classes with John Beiwin, and a web-design class I took to satisfy math requirements taught me how to present and share those stories, both on Duke’s own WXDU and in a web exhibit:  

My senior year at Duke, I worked towards bringing city and campus activists together by sharing information, co-sponsoring events, and hosting parties under the auspices of the Duke Progressive Alliance.

Away from home base in Durham, Duke provided me with even more opportunity to serve and learn. As a rising sophomore, the Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship program partnered me with the Boys and Girls Club in Aynor, South Carolina, a two-stoplight town on the way to Myrtle Beach. There, I spent the summer designing playgrounds, making monsters, and supervising seascapes with children aged 3 to 16.  My junior year, while studying abroad in Perugia, Italy with the Umbra Institute, I volunteered as an English Tutor at the local Montessori School.

Perhaps my most formative lesson in global thought and local action, however, came when I taught English for three months at a school for Tibetan Orphans in Kathmandu, Nepal.  My students and host family taught me to breathe deeply, seek simplicity, live in laughter and joy, and spend each day working hard for myself and for those around me.

Just after graduation in 2008, I continued to teach and learn globally as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malta. There, I worked closely with the cultural ambassadors at the US Embassy, officials in the department of education, and teachers and students across the island.  A typical week in Malta involved traveling on antique yellow buses from one end of the island to the other, reading stories at a village primary school, playing football at an all-boys secondary school, and rounding out some days at University of Malta where I co-taught a “professional communication” course and studied Arabic and Art Education. 

All of these formative experiences through ICS and Duke brought great perspective to my current work within the New York City School System. In 2009, when I began teaching here, I was prepared to navigate, and learn from the complex cultural interactions I faced on a daily basis.  To learn more about how to help my students do the same, I attended Hunter College, where I received an M.S. in Special Education, further expanding my capacity for understanding and problem solving. Teaching still challenges me, and I continue to learn from my community every day.  You can follow some of my learning on twitter @msmoskop.

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Student Spotlight: Ieshia Smith '14, ICS Distinguished Thesis Award Winner

May 2014

Each year the ICS Program presents the Distinguished Thesis award to the student whose thesis represents the best work accomplished in the yearlong honors seminar. This year’s winner is Ieshia Smith, who earned highest honors for her thesis, The Plastic Face: Nation-Branding and Personal Branding in 21st Century South Korea

To convey a sense of Ieshia’s achievement, here is the assessment of her thesis by her research supervisor, Professor Cheehyung Kim (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies)

Ieshia’s originality in her thesis, “The Plastic Face,” lies in her contextual and non-essentialist approach to the often exoticized trend of plastic surgery in South Korea today. Ieshia locates such surgery within multiple, interconnected settings: nation-state building; economic development; gendered modernization; and neoliberal social life in which competition and self-branding and marketing have become key components in the transition to a stable adulthood. At the same time, she equally considers the tradition and history of the importance of physical and facial features in Korean society, which have survived to this day as the commerce of physiognomy (or face-reading). 

Especially powerful is Ieshia’s argument that women’s self-branding is part of South Korea’s nation-branding, as the country and its industries transform from a  “masculine” development model based on physical labor and heavy industries to a more “feminine” model based on technology, service, and capital-driven accumulation. The representatives of the nation-state’s advancement are no longer sweaty, thick-forearmed men but slim, cosmopolitan women.

Ieshia Smith’s thesis is outstanding in other aspects, too, especially in her clear prose and use of primary sources such as advertisements, Internet testimonials, and firsthand experience living and studying in Korea. Her work exemplifies the kind of interdisciplinary scholarship that is redefining the meaning of scholarly work today.

We are delighted to congratulate Ieshia on her superb achievement.

Ieshia sat down with us on the eve of graduation to offer some thoughts about her experience as an ICS major and her hopes and plans for the future.

ICS: Ieshia, you just graduated with degrees in ICS and Political Science. What’s next for you?

I must confess that the foolproof life plan I had since the first grade fell apart at the beginning of my senior year at Duke. Prior to this point, I strongly believed that I would attend an elite law school immediately after graduation and spend the rest of my days practicing law. However, after a bout of self-reflection in early October, I realized that my personal priorities had rapidly shifted, and my new life trajectory no longer aligned with my childhood fantasy. Ultimately, I made the difficult decision to forgo law school at this point in my life and focus on gaining work experience before potentially committing to higher academic pursuits.

Now like many of my classmates I’m still figuring out who I am as a person and what I want to do with my future. To judge from the experiences I’ve heard about, the path ahead may be long and daunting, offering a journey filled with slammed doors, missed connections, and dead ends. But I believe in two beautifully simple aspects of human nature: the audacity to hope and the will to push forward. I also believe that graduating from college without a firm grasp on the future is absolutely okay. There are limitless possibilities ahead and with a bit of patience, I expect I will find that special satisfying something.

ICS: What would you say to students thinking about taking on honors projects or other self-assigned challenges?

Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.”  At times when I was working on my thesis I felt like I reached my breaking point and questioned why I had decided to do honors. The work was often demanding; the suggestions my advisors gave were sometimes difficult to understand; the feedback on my writing-in-progress was occasionally hard to take. And no one told me that these cruel brushes with reality would lead to the most rewarding moments in my life thus far. Duke challenges its students to maximize their potential using the vast resources available—and I ultimately felt fulfilled that I had taken advantage of some of these opportunities.

Looking back over all the courses I have taken at Duke, the honors seminar courses were hands down my favorite. However, I would not have applied for the honors program had I not taken other courses in which I was able to explore several of my interests, such as Korean culture, human sexuality, and social media. From these courses, I found the necessary theoretical discourses and research methodology that proved instrumental in conceptualizing my thesis proposal and ultimately completing The Plastic Face.

For students interested in undertaking ICS honors, I highly encourage you to examine your passions and build from there. A successful thesis is born when the writer truly loves the subject matter, and you cannot write a thesis if you lack the internal fire to guide you through the dark spots of the process. Find the lighter that ignites your flame and you’ll realize that you can achieve greatness, whether you want to write an ICS thesis or challenge yourself in another dimension.

ICS: Any thoughts you want to share with your classmates as you look forward?

I do follow some principles that work for me, so here’s an easy, breezy rundown of my advice to recent graduates and young professionals:

•          Avoid measuring yourself against the success of others; in the end, you’re the one who controls your destiny.

•          Be cautious of people who undermine your accomplishments, because these people only hinder your ambitions.

•          Sooner rather than later, cut the toxic elements out of your life and surround yourself with friends and family who uplift and encourage you.  There’s no point in making life harder—it’s already difficult enough!

•          Stay true to your passions and your dreams; there is no right or wrong way to reach a destination so long as you do not lose yourself in the process.

And, as a true Trekkie, I leave you with these words: live long and prosper.

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Jamie Bergstrom selected as Truman Scholar

This article originally appeared in Duke Today on April 18, 2014 

Two Students Selected as Truman Scholars

Duke University juniors Dominique Beaudry and Jamie Bergstrom are among 59 students selected as 2014 Truman Scholars.

Students are selected based on their records of leadership, public service and academic achievement, and their likelihood of becoming public service leaders. The Truman Scholarship Foundation received 655 nominations from 294 schools.

Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government.

"It is a tremendous honor to have two Duke students selected for this prestigious scholarship," said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. "Dominique and Jamie both exemplify the spirit of the Truman Scholarship, with their passion for social change combined with the intellect and work ethic to effect that change. They have taken full advantage of Duke's extraordinary opportunities and have worked to make both Duke and Durham better. I know they will continue to make an imprint on their communities."

Beaudry, a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar from Concord, N.C., majors in public policy studies and minors in education and psychology. With Truman funding, she plans to pursue dual master's degrees in public policy studies and education at Stanford University. As part of the Truman 2014 Washington Summer Institute, Beaudry plans to work in the district's public school system next summer.

"I want to work in D.C. public schools to gain experience in a large district challenged by racial and socioeconomic inequities," Beaudry said. "I aim to be a high school teacher in a low socioeconomic-status city in North Carolina that is struggling with racial tensions. I believe policy-makers and leaders must experience first-hand how policies affect teaching, students and assessments before they can implement the best solutions."

This summer, Beaudry will teach middle school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in Miami who want to go to college.

A volunteer tutor in Durham Public Schools, Beaudry would eventually like to be a superintendent for a large school district. "I hope to use my leadership to implement and guide education policy that provides all students, regardless of their background or circumstance, a high quality and nurturing education like I received," said Beaudry.

At Duke, Beaudry chairs the Honors Council; is founder and director of Future in Sight, a community group that organizes free eye screenings and exams to elementary students in Durham Public Schools; and is an instructor in the Intergenerational Ethics House Course.

She also has worked as a research assistant at Duke, and has done volunteer work in South Carolina and Samoa.

Bergstrom, from Warren, Mich., is an international comparative studies major, with a concentration in the Middle East. She plans to seek a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University, where she will begin her study this summer as a public policy and international affairs fellow.

For the Truman Summer Institute, Bergstrom intends to work in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

"This experience would allow me to work toward advancing refugee admissions policy and prioritizing global human rights issues," Bergstrom said. "I would simultaneously further my understanding of international displacement and the multilateral efforts already in effect."

On campus, Bergstrom is a peer mentor for 1-G Network, which offers advising and peer mentor for first-generation undergraduates at Duke. She was also editor of "Juhood: Journal for the Middle East and North Africa."

Bergstrom worked as an intern for CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS"; was an elementary school tutor and volunteered as a refugee tutor for the International Rescue Committee, among many other volunteer experiences. She also completed an Iraqi refugee resettlement research internship for Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

Ultimately, Bergstrom would like to become a human rights officer with the United Nations.

"I believe that no one should wake up stateless, fearing for his or her life," said Bergstrom. "My mission is to develop policy that protects displaced individuals and secures human rights."

The Truman Foundation also selected two Duke students last year.

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Read ICS' Student Spotlight on Jamie Bergstrom

Ms. Bergstrom was also awarded the 2014 Oliver W. Koonz Prize for her project, "Beyond the Classroom"

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Senior Spotlight: Leilani Doktor '14

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April 4, 2014

You've recently had an article based on your ICS capstone paper accepted for publication in the Sigma Iota Rho Journal of International Relations. Tell us a little about your article. 

My article, “Defining Democracy in Algeria: The Continuity and Change of Post Colonial Political Representation,” focuses on the democratic moment of Algeria from 1988 to 1992 that immediately followed the Algerian Revolution. During this democratic moment, there was an outburst of uncensored freedom of speech. For this article, I analyzed the documentary The Bloody Years which was directed and produced by Thierry Leciere, a pied noir:  a French national living in Algeria. This film captured the democratic moment I was interested in and the ensuing violence. Through analyzing the film and the relevant history I was able to see how French constructions of kabyle, the prevalent social hierarchy in Algeria, dictated the decentralization of government and ensuing civil war. This analysis led me to discover that it was French definitions of the kabyle, and moreover French ideas of modernity and the democratic state, that had divided the Algerian population. This divide then led to the civil violence and in its most extreme form—guerilla terrorism—throughout the Algerian civil war. In conclusion, I discovered that Algeria was a very specific case due to its depth of colonial occupation in comparison to other colonial entities in North Africa.

How did you first become interested in this topic, and what led you to picking it for the subject of your ICS Capstone paper?

I am a fluent French speaker and my region of interest has always been Europe, specifically France. I began to turn towards the effect of colonization on the colonized nations, and after studying in France, the deep-seeded effects of colonization on Algeria and the strong presence of Algeria in the French memory led me to become deeply interested in the country. Then with the recent events of the Arab Spring, I was interested in looking at how democracy is formed and in my research came upon this moment which is significantly overlooked in global memory.  I decided to delve into this and see what I could find about democratic state building in North African states.

What was your research process like?

The beginning of my research was very nebulous. I knew I was interested in involving politics with the theories of identity that I had been working with through ICS, and I knew that I would really want to look into French origins because I had recently become fluent in French. While exploring possible areas of interest that had been colonized, I began to focus on the relation between France and Algeria. Then in our capstone course we watched the film Caché (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005), which further inspired me to investigate the topic of France’s influence on Algerian politics, so I began to look into the democratic process in Algeria and came upon this moment of 1988 to 1992. When I found that moment, I contacted the Duke University librarian for Middle Eastern Studies, Christof Galli, and he helped me enormously in finding preliminary materials and research to see what kind of question I could form about the topic.

What materials did you use, and how did you locate them? 

After reading several different genres of literature, such as US originated international relations articles, political science research papers, historical accounts, foreign policy briefs from the US, and even French newspaper articles on Algeria and North Africa in general, I found the effects of French colonial social constructions seemed to be much stronger in Algeria than I expected, and so I began to do some research for primary resources and came upon a gem of a source called The Bloody Years, which I mentioned earlier. From this film, I was able to pull the inferences that I outlined in my paper as well as back those inferences up with historical sources on French colonial influence in Algeria, and through a combination of that secondary research as well as an in-depth analysis of that primary source, I was able to find some very interesting conclusions about the violence that followed the 1991 elections in Algeria.

What were you most surprised or intrigued by in your research? 

Probably the most fascinating turn of my research was when I began to analyze the violence that came out a democratic moment. Specifically using the text of Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (2005), and Talal Asad’s On Suicide Bombing (2007) I was able to see a first-hand experience of how creating a democratic state can create exclusion, and within that exclusion is a structural violence, which in Algeria manifested itself in physical violence.  While I couldn’t make any conclusive statements about the prevalence of terrorism in Algeria, I could definitely see how the process of state-building during their democratic moment contributed to the civil war.

What inspired you to submit your capstone paper for publication? What was the publication process like?

I was inspired to submit by a call for papers on the ICS major listserv. I was really supported by Professor Namakkal when I told her I was considering publishing. The process was surprisingly blind, and I mean that.  I went through and edited with Professor Namakkal and submitted my paper to this anonymous e-mail of the journal, and I didn’t even receive an e-mail that they were reading it, just that they received it. Then suddenly four weeks later I received an e-mail that I had been accepted! When I received this e-mail, I was ecstatic and relieved--but that was only the beginning of the process. After they accepted my essay for publication they informed me they would send my article to multiple peer institutions for editing over a two-week period, and that I would have to sort through these edits and refine my paper according to all of these critiques from senior undergraduate students from other universities. I had to deal with some harsh criticism in those revision requests, but I went through and reconsidered my evidence and re-wrote some parts of my paper,  then resubmitted my final draft, which was approved.

Any advice for ICS Capstone students on choosing a thesis topic?

What I think I found most valuable in choosing my thesis topic is that it combined a variety of things I was very passionate about, even though the topics that I wanted to explore didn’t necessarily connect. Through my preliminary research I was able to find intersections of these interests, which made my paper not only interesting to other people but interesting to me. What’s most important is that you find what you’re curious about and something that you don’t know everything about, so that you will experience a continuous learning process throughout the writing of the paper. That way, you’re still learning and interested by the end of the semester.

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Alumni Spotlight: Ariana Curtis '02

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March 17, 2014

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Duke. My undergraduate years were amazing—transformative for me as a person as well as intellectually stimulating. But, after a certain number of years out of college, no one asks you about your undergraduate major. Although I have a doctorate in anthropology, I am excited for the opportunity to acknowledge that the foundation for my academic and professional success was created during my undergraduate years as an International Comparative Studies major (and a political science and history minor) at Duke University.

The ICS major provided the intellectual freedom to explore Latin America and North America through truly interdisciplinary lenses. I took classes in several disciplines including literature, sociology, history, anthropology, education, and political science. Understanding the theories and methods that define a discipline is important academically. ICS demanded this fundamental level of understanding for each of these disciplines, but also pushed a larger issue of connectivity. Since each student in the program is able to explore their areas of interest within geographic boundaries, it provides the independence to explore all facets of an area. My interests have always been in the nexus of education, identity, politics, and culture. My ICS training has served me beyond my Duke experience and enriched my research, my career, and my life.

I studied abroad as an undergraduate through the Duke in Cuba summer program at Casa de Las Americas in Havana. From this experience, in graduate school I was able to serve twice as a resident director of an undergraduate semester in Cuba. I loved talking to my students and my Cuban colleagues about Latin American literature, U.S. immigration, political systems, differential treatment, economic trends, music, sports and anything else that arose in conversation. My experiences abroad as well as my interest in global competency allowed me to travel to China with K-12 public school teachers from all over the U.S. with the NEA Foundation on their Pearson Foundation Global Learning Fellowship. I also had enriching research opportunities in D.C. and Louisiana before undertaking my own dissertation research. The year that I spent in Panama as a Fulbright Scholar researching my dissertation was one of my best experiences to date. I have a million stories that begin, “When I was in Panama....” But I will share only one overarching and relevant one. When I was in Panama, people were impressed by my deep knowledge of Panamanian political and economic history, but even more so by my familiarity with national and regional musical, literary, and artistic references. 

ICS really inspired in me a holistic way to analyze “culture” at various levels—international, national, and local to the quotidian. This thinking is represented in the lyrics of the famous Panamanian song “patria” by Ruben Blades.

He reminds us, 

“no memorices lecciones de dictaduras o encierros/ don’t memorize lesson of dictatorships or imprisonment

la patria es un sentimiento como mirada de viejo,/ homeland is a feeling like an old man’s gaze

sol de eterna primavera risa de hermanita nueva/ sun of endless springtime, laugh of a newborn sister

te contesto, hermanito: patria son tantas cosas bellas/ I answer, Little brother, homeland is so many beautiful things"

I joined the Smithsonian Institution in January 2013 as the first curator of Latino Studies at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. I often describe my job as “everything I never knew I always wanted!” My diverse training allows me to lead research and documentation about Latino urban experiences. 

I had a number of wonderful experiences as an undergraduate, but I can honestly say that my ICS major inspired in me an ability to connect, appreciate, and represent the many historical, political, social, musical, literary, economic, cultural, and political frameworks that influence the various forms human expression.

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Dr. Curtis graduated with distinction with a doctorate in anthropology, concentration in race, gender, and social justice from American University in May 2012

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Faculty Spotlight: Robin Kirk

Professor Robin Kirk directs DukeEngage in Belfast and her article "Northern Irish are giving Americans a masterclass in the potency of the past" was recently featured in Belfast Telegraph. View original article here.

Northern Irish are giving Americans a masterclass in the potency of the past

by Robin Kirk

Sept 23, 2013

Images of Belfast’s brick-hurling thugs seem like unwelcome eruptions of ancient history on American internet feeds. Rooted in England's very first colonial venture under Henry II in the 1100s, the continuing argument over Northern Ireland is both impenetrable to outsiders and embarrassing to most natives.

Even writing about Northern Ireland is filled with roadblocks. It's Protestants vs Catholics, except faith is really beside the point; loyalists vs republicans, though most Northern Irish identify as neither and want nothing to do with violence; or unionists vs nationalists, except a growing number of Catholics support remaining with the United Kingdom and thousands of Protestants have voted with their feet by leaving the island.

Some dispute that the English colonised Ireland at all, since Henry's troops were actually invited in by a desperate Irish nobleman, who then watched the monarch swallow the island whole. Why haven't these people gotten over it yet, Americans might ask. And why exactly should we care?

A Chicago native with Ulster roots, I've watched for years as the Journeyman Plumbers dump coloured powder into the Chicago River on St Patrick's Day, dying the murky water a virulent green.

Billed as a spectator-friendly celebration, in fact it's a Catholic/nationalist/republican insult to any member of the Protestant/unionist/loyalist faithful, who call themselves Orangemen after King William of Orange (another acquisitive European monarch).

The quick answer is that the past always matters, everywhere. On the streets of Belfast, the Northern Irish are giving Americans a masterclass in its potency.

What is less heralded is that in this tiny, lovely corner of the old sod, people are also acknowledging the past and finding creative, effective ways to drain it of hatred.

Maybe it doesn't look that way in July and August – the so-called 'marching season' – but for most of the year, there's a lesson here that Americans would do well to learn. In North Carolina, where I live, the governor just signed a voter ID law that reads like a primer on how to disenfranchise African Americans and the poor, Jim Crow-style.

When I protested the bill (and was arrested) at the state legislature in June, accompanying me was 92-year-old Rosenell Eaton, an African-American woman who, unlike any whites, had to recite the preamble to the US constitution perfectly just in order to vote.

Yet white America, in particular, denies, or just doesn't see, that racism is alive and even thriving.

I've been bringing Duke University students to Northern Ireland since 2009. The students volunteer with groups working toward peace. In the city, the walls between communities are concrete and chain-link, not lodged in the colour of our skins, as they are Stateside.

More than 90% of Northern Irish schoolchildren aged four to 16 still attend segregated schools. Most people live in self-segregated neighbourhoods, mixing only downtown, or when an international act books in at the Odyssey. Even favoured vacation spots in Spain and Portugal are divided up by tribe.

So what, exactly, could the Northern Irish possibly be doing right? Most importantly, not a soul on the island denies that history shapes the present and matters.

History matters a lot. People talk about history constantly. Institutions like the Churches, the Government and international funders engage in and support efforts to bridge communities divided by the past.

People marry across the divide, work in mixed offices, club in mixed groups and play on mixed teams. At the nursery gate, birthday parties and graduations, formerly warring tribes find new bonds that build on, but aren't split by, the past.

For the first time this summer, Northern Ireland's leaders proposed a plan to disassemble so-called 'peace walls', erected to dampen cross-community attacks. The plan remains aspirational, but it's something everyone discusses – a healthy sign.

Amnesty International recently released a report showing how much work needs still to be done. Yet there are people and groups who have already dedicated themselves to this necessary work – a positive sign.

Discussion, in the end, is the first step to addressing the past. But to discuss, you have to first admit that there is a problem. That's where Americans fail.

President Obama doesn't support a White House forum to discuss our history of racism, and I agree. These sorts of discussions work best closer to home, when people know each other as neighbours and colleagues.

Instead, the president should propose a plan to encourage American cities and towns to hold their own forums, with the power to take action, whether it is to devise ways to address racism, recognise forgotten heroes, or simply come together to celebrate.

Whites who don't see a problem need to step back and listen hard. Blacks who claim nothing has changed need to review. No-one is exempt from the past; but no-one is its prisoner, either.

One of my favourite murals in Belfast is topped by a version of a Winston Churchill quote: "History is written by the winners." The truth is that each generation writes its own histories.

In Northern Ireland, people want their histories to lead toward peace and coexistence, in whatever form. In spite of the intermittent thuggery, they are winning.

Americans would do well to ask the same of their own stories.

    • robin k

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