Joining the Congo Research Network

Joining the Congo Research Network

I am a bit of a unique Fulbrighter in Belgium. I have had the unusual privilege to serve as a grantee twice here, thirteen years apart. The first time was to teach English in 2005-6 at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve. That experience was the beginning of a lifetime connection between me and le plat pays. In the years since then, I returned many times for short visits and to maintain old friendships, including those with my cokotteurs (student dorm roommates) and my original Fulbright contact person in Hasselt, with whose family I have become very close. Meanwhile, after finishing my studies at Berkeley, I established an academic career in African studies. Now, in 2018-19, as an assistant professor at George Mason University, I have had the honor to return to Belgium. This time, the Fulbright Commission welcomed me as a scholar in order to undertake archival research on colonial literature and history at the Africa Museum in […]

International Fairs, the Post-Colonial Nation, and Archives: Doing Research in Brussels

When I first arrived in Brussels as a student researcher in September 2018, I was excited to finally do extended archival research for my dissertation. My project focused on sovereignty and the intersection of private, colonial, and local actors in southeastern Congo and Central Angola during the early 20th century. The project considered a situation in which interests among people from Congo, Belgium, Angola, Britain, Portugal, America, France and elsewhere all seemed to overlap in one region of Central Africa. Within the archives I expected to find consistent struggles among these actors over issues of economic and political authority during the early 20th century, and while I found some of these conflicts, it became clear that these struggles over authority really came to a head around Congo independence in 1960. Part of this was due to the fact that many of the available sources come from colonial officials who had an interest in presenting images of tranquility during the early […]

Beyond Mai Fulbright Experience

Absolute silence, the sound of a tranquil morning, was something completely foreign to me. Yet most of my mornings are now like this; filled with a sense of peace and comfort, similar to the feeling one gets from drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a cold night. I may not sleep as often as I would prefer, but I no longer wake up with a sense of immediate urgency, the way I used to in college. It’s hard to imagine that a year ago, my life was consumed by an endless stream of courses, organizational meetings, volunteer activities, and side jobs. I remember free time being scarce with mornings that consisted of repeated rings from my alarm. Starting my day involved checking my emails and trying to set a new record for how fast I could get out the door. So far, it’s 10 minutes. Who needs a lunch break when you can scoff down your sandwich on your […]

Conducting Interviews as a Fulbright Student in Belgium

During my time as a Fulbright grantee and European Studies graduate student at KU Leuven in Belgium, I have conducted interviews with Muslim communities from various backgrounds to identify the factors they believe lead to polarization within subsets of their communities while analyzing their perceptions of the Belgian ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ strategies. I have learned some key lessons in conducting such sensitive research in Belgium and I will highlight them in this post.

Discussing Diversity While Surrounded by Homogeneity

As the students file in for their first seminar of the semester, I cannot help but notice how homogenous they appear. They quietly take their seats and proceed to converse with their friends in hushed whispers. Among these mostly white students, I hear mostly Flemish. This is understandable since, as soon as I begin the seminar, we will all be committed to the English language for the next two hours.

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