Posted: October 11, 2012 in Anastasia Kocher
In the course of my research this summer, I had the opportunity to speak with a professor from Kazakhstan, who had just obtained her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at KIMEP University (Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research). From our telephone conversation, I deduced that Western views on women’s issues do not always reflect the perspectives in other cultures. This reality is particularly true when it comes to the views of Kazakh women. According to the professor, women in the Kazakhstan region are relatively content with their present situation and, in some cases, would prefer to remain in their traditional roles.
I also became aware that even though the countries of Central Asia attained their independence in December of 1991, it is impossible to neglect the continued influence of the Soviet legacy in this region. At the same time, I uncovered one obvious exception to the Soviet way of doing things. The ruling elites in these countries treat women differently relative to their Soviet counterparts. This discovery shocked my “Westernized mentality.”
During the Soviet era, women benefitted from quotas that endorsed gender equality in the workforce. They also enjoyed protection from religious practices such as polygamy in Uzbekistan, or being forced to wear traditional Muslim attire covering the entire body; family-based discriminatory practices, such as newlywed women becoming the sole providers for their own family and their in-laws’ families; and servitude-like conditions within the home as a result of family customs and traditions.
All this information made me realize that the challenge I face in my research is beyond the mere understanding of the deterioration of women’s rights in Central Asia. It is a journey to make women aware that under the veil of returning to the former practices, which countries were deprived of by the Soviet Empire, stands a simple desire of men, once again to control, dominate, and veil their women. Almost everything that was prohibited during the Soviet era has been renewed and encouraged by the region’s government on the grounds of returning their countries to their longstanding traditions, of which they were forcefully deprived. Furthermore, I recognized through my preliminary research that analyses of international treaties or legal records related to women’s empowerment would not be enough to understand the real situation inside these states. The ultimate test lays is gaining an accurate and more contextualized understanding of women’s perspectives on their rights in Central Asia.
Posted: September 20, 2012 in Wayne Duerkes
The complexity of the research project that I am undertaking has been exhilarating, but at the same time, it has presented some expected and unexpected challenges. The expected challenges are all part of the process of conducting research and the college experience. Examples include: unfamiliarity with a new aspect of history, heavy and tired eyes consuming reels of microfilm, and pouring through box after box of archival material only to discover all the fascinating items that I had just spent hours digging through have no use in my present project. I have come to the realization that these challenges are “par for the course” for a historian, and I have actually come to enjoy these experiences.
However, it is the unexpected challenges that have really tested me; and this project has presented me with a whopper. What is funny about the challenge is that every history professor that I have encountered has warned me about it. That challenge is: historiographical debate. I had some knowledge of historiography prior to this specific project. But looking back, I must admit, it was mostly leaning heavily to one side. It became predictably easy. However, in the case of my present research, the predictability and ease are gone. The debate as to whether or not frontier settlers in the mid-1800s moved to western locales, such as Illinois, based solely on capitalistic intentions is a major source of contention amongst historians. Both sides have convincing arguments in support of their respective points of view. Academia has proven that historiography is alive and well by introducing a third theory, which describes the period as more transitional between the two. The challenge that I face is to attempt to wrap my head around the different viewpoints, calculate where my research best fits in this debate, and then meld it within the scope of its broader context.
Posted: August 16, 2012 in Wayne Duerkes
My mentor for the University Honors Summer Scholars Program is Dr. James Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is a professor of nineteenth century American history with expertise on the labor and legal fields of study. Dr. Schmidt’s general historical focus aligns with the approach that I wish to pursue in my study. However, what drove me to seek his assistance was his recent historical work. Dr. Schmidt’s book, Industrial Violence and the Legal Origins of Child Labor (Cambridge University Press, 2010),explores accidents of child workers in mills, mines, and factories in the late nineteenth century and how their subsequent legal battles helped shaped American society’s view of child labor.
I found Dr. Schmidt’s work fascinating on several levels. Instead of attempting to tell the story of the entire United States, he focuses on the South, providing a more intimate investigation as well as acknowledging American regional differences as important explanatory factors. I was also captivated in his ability to tell the story from one specialized category of primary source material. Primary sources, when available, are essential to capture a comprehensive story. Dr. Schmidt’s masterful utilization of over 100 court cases is especially impressive. The ability to use primary sources properly and effectively is an essential skill every budding historian desires to perfect. I chose Dr. Schmidt for his historical expertise and demonstrated skill in retelling a much overlooked American past, a skill that I wish to emulate.
I have also asked Dr. Bradley Bond, Dean of NIU’s Graduate School and a historian of the American South, for his assistance in my new project. Dr. Bond, who served as my mentor during my NIU Research Rookies experience, was instrumental in helping me develop my research, critical thinking, and writing skills. He has continually challenged me to concentrate on what are the truly important elements of the story and why these factors are significant. Working with two excellent professors, a requirement in graduate school, will provide me with the expertise and guidance that I need to complete a superior University Honors Capstone.
Posted: July 30, 2012 in Anastasia Kocher
My faculty mentor for the University Honors Summer Scholars Program is Dr. Kikue Hamayotsu. Dr. Hamayotsu is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She is a native of Japan and a specialist in comparative politics. Her specific research and teaching interests are extensive. They include religion and politics, political Islam, Southeast Asian politics, democratization, state formation and bureaucracy, identity politics, politics and development in the Muslim World, political violence, and Ethnic Conflict. In 2011, she was appointed a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI). ARI is located at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Hamayotsu’s research in Singapore has focused on religious intolerance and the quality of democracy in Muslim Southeast Asia. She has also published a number of scholarly journal articles and book chapters. I chose Dr. Hamayotsu as my mentor, because I enjoyed her Political Violence course. In her classes, she amazed me with her inexhaustible energy and her shining personality. She possesses great knowledge and experience in areas that pertain to my current study. Dr. Hamayotsu has offered me valuable guidance in my research project and demonstrated a sincere desire to assist me with any challenges along the way.
I have also asked Dr. Michael Clarke to assist me given the value that these mentoring relationships provide me. Like Dr. Hamayotsu, Professor Clark is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and a specialist in comparative politics. He has worked with several students in the NIU’s University Honors Program, most notably the University’s 2011-2012 Student Lincoln Laureate, Nora Lindvall, who wrote her Honors Capstone under his direction. Impressively, Nora has received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Amsterdam with the goal of earning a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution. Dr. Clark has been teaching at NIU since 2008. He offers undergraduate courses in Western European politics, British politics, research methods, and comparative politics. He has published his research in the American Journal of Political Science, the British Journal of Political Science, Electoral Studies, Party Politics, and Comparative Political Studies. Professor Michael Clark is honest, knowledgeable, patient, and enthusiastic. He is a great listener, and someone who guides you in the right direction by posing a number of challenging questions. Dr. Clark provides insightful feedback and has a good sense of humor. He is personable and immediately made me feel very comfortable. He is inspired by Winston Churchill for keeping Britain together during World War II and standing up to Nazi aggression. I admire Churchill’s speeches as well.
Both of my faculty mentors are smart, experienced, and always have my best interest at heart. I am grateful to NIU for providing me such an excellent selection of scholars to assist me with my challenging research project.
Posted: July 26, 2012 in Wayne Duerkes
My decision to research the market in the DeKalb-LaSalle region of Northern Illinois during the mid-nineteenth century is threefold. The particular focus of my research will broaden my knowledge in my chosen field of study, which in turn, will make me a more viable candidate for graduate school and allow me to contribute to the historic knowledge base of my hometown area.
As a student of history, my central focus is the United States of the nineteenth century. My first independent research project, which I completed last year, related to the Civil War; and the Civil War remains one of my major areas of scholarly interest. However, discussions with my mentor and other history professors have led me to broaden my focus to other facets of U.S history during this era; and this project will allow me to refine what I have learned about this period. Thus far, the work has helped me significantly in developing a sharper picture of American society in the nineteenth century.
During my time at NIU, I have designed my academic experience to prepare me for graduate study. To be successful in this competitive graduate admission process, a candidate’s application must stand out. With the assistance of the University Honors Summer Scholars Program, I have been able to devote special effort in completing an exceptional senior honors thesis that hopefully will demonstrate both my cumulative skills, ability to conduct scholarly research and understanding of the discipline, thereby affording me an edge in the selection process.
Finally, I have lived most of my life in the DeKalb region and I have always enjoyed local history immensely, but the one era in local history that has been the least studied and least understood is the one I chose to study. If through my research and writing, I can add to the knowledge of my hometown area for others to enjoy like I have, then I can think of no better capstone to my undergraduate experience at NIU.
Posted: July 24, 2012 in Wayne Duerkes
In the autumn of 1833, the vast Illinois frontier, which had been sparsely visited by Anglo-Americans, began to be occupied by settlers lured to the region by good soil and the recent removal of Native Americans. Settlers from New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and as far away as Europe migrated to the fertile prairies of northern Illinois in hopes of establishing a new life. They chose to leave behind organized communities with established markets for a chance to build new ones. The settlers were beset with a multitude of challenges, but their determination and fortitude were based on a willingness to succeed. To accomplish this goal, they also had to create a local market. Between 1833 and the arrival of the railroads in 1852, how did the settlers create the local market, how did it grow, and what was it based on? The creation of a local market forced settlers to develop social, economic, and labor relations with one another. The commercial relationship with other young communities, such as Chicago and Ottawa, was also crucial to the development of the local markets forming in the region.
The land encompassing southern DeKalb County and northern LaSalle County, or the lower Fox River Valley, provides an arguably unique sub-region to study the development of local markets, as well as the relationship with the other markets. From this specific sub-region, settlers, unlike most of northern Illinois, had a choice of two markets with direct access to navigable waters. Which market did the settlers in this specific area choose and why? The choice could be based on commodity values at the market, transportation, or both. The development of transportation in this region grew not only with the market, but because of it. What role did transportation play in the development of commerce in the study region?
Scholars have categorized the northern part of the state of Illinois, outside of Chicago and Galena, as an undifferentiated region in the mid-nineteenth century. While similarities within the region can be seen in the joys and hardships of day-to-day lives, certain geographic locations offered some groups of settlers better access to local and more distant markets. The specific region of study, the lower Fox River Valley, contained a representative sample of the settlers of northern Illinois that had both the Great Lakes and the Illinois River at their disposal for the distribution of crops and goods. It was not until the railroads crisscrossed the state that Chicago could finally claim dominance over the vast hinterlands. By examining primary sources from the region and era as well as analyzing various demographic evidence, the study will demonstrate how the settlers in this region developed their local market and made connections with more distant ones. Finally, by reviewing these findings and comparing them with various secondary sources, the study will also determine how this region fits into the historiographical debate as to the capitalist intentions of this particular generation of settlers from this region.
Posted: July 24, 2012 in Anastasia Kocher
As a Political Science major with an emphasis in International Politics, my primary focus rests with the countries of Central Asia. For the first 22 years of my life, I lived in Russia where I came to encounter people of many different nationalities, including Central Asians, who were compelled to assimilate to a Russian-centric society under Soviet rule. My former home-city of Omsk is near Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which allowed me to travel to those places and admire their cultures. I also went to school with children of Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek, and Kirgiz families; and many of my neighbors and my friends were Central Asians. Their generosity, enduring spirit, and cultural uniqueness won my heart.
My project seeks to understand the changes that have taken place since the political independence of the Central Asian region in the early 1990’s, including national leaders’ encouragement of traditional roles for women and the resulting gender gaps in almost all spheres of life. I understand that I cannot solve the world’s problems, but I feel morally obligated to relieve the suffering of women wherever it exists. I feel true compassion and personal responsibility to those who do not have a voice. I believe that all women have certain inalienable rights that cannot be legitimately withheld under the façade of religious or cultural “laws” or “traditions.” It has long been recognized that ensuring women’s human rights is essential to a society’s overall growth and development. The United States is founded on democratic principles. However, I have witnessed that the United States often chooses to assist particular countries based on its national security interests rather than concern for the individual rights and liberties of people living in those countries. In my opinion, the lack of adequate American support and tangible actions on behalf of women in Central Asia constitute a human rights violation.
Living in a democracy for the last 10 years has made me appreciate liberties that I did not enjoy in my homeland. It also afforded me the capacity to care about others, and the strength to make a difference. I would like to dedicate the rest of my life to seeking universal equality and to fight women oppression, starting with an improvement of conditions for women in Central Asia.
In the words of one of the greatest cellists of all-time, Pablo Casals: “Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.” My study on the status of women in contemporary Central Asia is motivated by this inspiring perspective.