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Local Black Women Artists join Professor Neal for Ruby Fridays

three women artists seated on stage, one in middle speakingThree black women artists, members of the vibrant and supportive Durham arts community, shared details of their creative practices, and the challenges and joys of being working artists at a Nov. 15 “Ruby Fridays” event.

Durham-based visual artists Candy Carver and Natasha Powell Walker, and independent filmmaker Natalie Bullock Brown joined Mark Anthony Neal, the James B. Duke Professor of African & African American Studies, for a lunchtime public conversation in the Ruby Lounge at the Rubenstein Arts Center.

The event was held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Department of African & African American Studies.

 

On being a working artist and having “day jobs”:

WALKER: I just got comfortable telling people at my nonprofit “day job” that I’m an artist. It’s easier at a nonprofit where people have lives. It’s been interesting to see how much they intersect, my “day job” and my art.

BROWN: My parents were supportive. They said make sure you get an advanced degree. I had worked on the Ken Burns Jazz series. I was really worried at age 27 that if I didn’t get married soon, I would not have kids. I left New York and moved here. I now have 2 children and I am married. I just got back to filmmaking about 6 years ago. I started teaching, mostly because I had flexibility with my schedule.

Every waking moment is teaching, filmmaking, kids. It’s challenging.

The funding part, in N.C., I have not figured that out yet. I’m 6 years into a project that I could have done in 3 years in New York.

CARVER: I don’t have a 9-to-5 but I work all the time. It’s fun.

I actually work more than 9-to-5. It’s more than a full-time job, if we’re talking about 40 hours a week. My job can travel with me. I have a lot more flexibility than a 9-to-5. I’m currently figuring out balance, and opportunities that won’t cost me time. I need to be happy to make good work, unlike Mary J. Blige.

 

three women seated on stage with micsOn the challenges of being an artist in the Triangle area:

CARVER: There’s a challenge that many of the art galleries are run by white women and that’s a particular perspective that they are choosing art from.

As our area becomes more diverse they will have to seek from a more diverse spectrum of creativity. Black life is way more interesting than shackles, chains and lunch counters. It’s more interesting and it’s broader.

 

On being taken seriously as women:

WALKER: I’ve experienced harassment. I’ve had both male and female mentors tell me to use it to my advantage, or that’s just the way it is.

CARVER: The majority of my clients are men. Why? I would have thought it would be more women. I’m not sure why. But I’m comfortable with guys. Always have been.

BROWN: Women don’t get as much funding as men. You might have to work on projects where you’re token, or the topic is black and you’re being used for your blackness.

It doesn’t matter if you went to film school. What matters is experience. I want the chance to do artwork that will help me to grow.

 

On where they create:

WALKER: I like creating at home. I don’t like people walking up to me while I’m creating. I had a studio space in Richmond that I shared.

CARVER: The whole downstairs of my house is an art studio. My dining room and living room are full of art supplies. I’m social, dialoguing doesn’t disrupt me too much. I actually enjoy it. I paint on the floor. It feels nice.  I’ve painted on the walls. My mother learned pretty early that I was a different kind of kid.

 

What will you be doing 5 years from now?

CARVER: That’s so limiting. If I had done what I thought 5 years ago I would have missed out on so much.

I’m working on figuring out ways to make more money and work less.

 

On “black girl magic”:

CARVER: It’s the ability to pivot, to constantly and successfully adjust.

BROWN: It agree that it is being able to react in the moment to what is needed. It’s being able to have joy in the midst of all of the challenges. Also, it has begun to encapsulate this idea of being a superwoman, which is not real, not healthy, not sustainable.

Magic has be paid, funded, supported or it will fizzle.

three artists seated facing camera smiling with arms around each other

 

Challenging Borders Conference Highlights Severity of Migration

Stephen Smith at podium smiling, Charlie Piot seated, smilingwith reporting by Jasmine Clairsaint

Migrants are facing increasingly difficult challenges such as being publicly beaten, accused of being criminals, or forced to pay unreasonable amounts of money for visas, trying to find a better life, according to panelists at Monday’s Challenging Borders conference.

Achille Mbembe, a philosopher, political theorist and public intellectual, delivered a keynote address, “Bodies as Borders.”

“To be alive or to remain alive, or to survive is increasingly tantamount to being able to move and to move speedily,” Mbembe said. “If you do not move, you are likely to lose your life.”

Charlie Piot at a podium

The conference on migration and borders, held Monday, November 18, at the Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, was sponsored by the Africa Initiative, the Franklin Humanities Initiative and the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke.

Charles Piot, co-director of the Africa Initiative and professor of cultural anthropology and African & African American Studies, provided opening remarks and co-moderated the conference with Stephen Smith, associate chair of the Department of African & African American Studies.

Mbembe encouraged the audience to “think about a bigger thing that is going on,” in regards to migration.

“Our earth is being partitioned again,” he said citing technological, biological – and ecological reasons for a new global redistribution of the population. “The earth is burning. The ground on which we stand is burning, the air we breathe is burning, the oceans are burning.”

Mbembe suggested getting rid of one’s body as the first step towards a radical freedom.

Piot described his experience and research regarding consular processing through embassies in the U.S. and foreign countries. There are only 50,000 diversity visas given away in the U.S. annually, while there are more than 20 million applicants, he said.

Piot, author of, The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles, said the cost prevents many people from applying for visas, because even if families are accepted, they are required to pay “over $800 per person just for an embassy interview,” which becomes wasted money for these families if they do not end up receiving the visa. Piot stressed that there is a problem with embassy interviews where consulates are subjective in deciding who qualifies.

“The conversation between console and visa applicant in discourse, in words between the two of them, are often a short encounter… In that encounter the border is constructed in a very contingent way. The criteria is always changing. It is an unstable border,” Piot said.

Other panelists for the day-long conference included Catherine Besteman, an anthropologist from Colby College; Hans Lucht, a senior researcher on global transformations at the Danish Institute for International Studies; Aïssatou Mbodj, a researcher at the National Center on Scientific Research/Institute of the African Worlds; Amade M’charek, an anthropology professor at the University of Amsterdam; Miriam Ticktin, associate chair of anthropology at The New School for Social Research; and Henrik Vigh, a political anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen.

view of panel from rear of room

Actress Kim Coles To Visit Duke Comedy Class, Oct. 24

Kim Coles bannerDURHAM, N.C. — Actress and comedian Kim Coles, perhaps best known for her five-season turn as “Synclaire” on the FOX series, “Living Single,” will be special guest for the Duke University course “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy,” Thursday, Oct. 24 at 6:15 p.m.

The course is taught by Professor Mark Anthony Neal, the James B. Duke Professor of African & African American Studies, with the support of Dr. Christian C. Gregory, executor of the Estate of Dick Gregory and the Estate of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian.

The class is free and open to the public on Thursdays where it is held at the NorthStar Church of the Arts, a converted church founded by Nnenna and Phil Freelon that serves as “a sacred space for healing, creative expression and spiritual connectivity.”

RSVPS are requested: tinyurl.com/kimcoles

​Coles has starred on numerous television programs including Frasier, In Living Color, and One on One. She is also a playwright and the author of “Open Your G.I.F.T.S.: 22 Lessons on Finding and Embracing Your Personal Power,” volume 2 of the series, “42 Lessons of Finding and Embracing Your Blessings in Disguise.” These days, she presents inspirational programs encouraging others to walk in purpose and share their stories based on her perspective and experience in the entertainment industry.

Earlier guests were actress and comedian Marsha Warfield, cartoonist Keith Knight, and author Bassey Ikpi. On Nov. 14, actor and comedian David Alan Grier will join the class and on Nov. 21, New York Times culture critic Mel Watkins will be a special guest.

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They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? A Cartoonist’s Take

Artist Keith Knight keeps it real during visit to Duke Comedy Class

Cartoons can take a simple concept and impact lives.

That was the message cartoonist Keith Knight shared with an audience on a Thursday evening at the NorthStar Church of the Arts. Knight shared slides of his most impactful comic strips, including one that may have potentially influenced national policy.

Knight was the special guest on Oct. 3, for Prof. Mark Anthony Neal’s course, “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy.” The course features guest appearances by professional comedians, critics and screenings of rare and/or classic films. And is free and open to the public on Thursdays where it is held off-campus in a renovated church.

The course is taught with the support of Dr. Christian C. Gregory, executor of the Estate of Dick Gregory and the Estate of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian.

An award-winning artist, Knight showed many of his strips which tackle difficult issues such as police brutality, discrimination and politics – but with a humorous spin.

A particularly resonant comic strip that tackled the issue of gay rights in the military may have influenced President Obama to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Knight, zooming in on a photo of the president with Knight’s comic strip visible in a folded newspaper on his desk just months after his strip ran.Mark Anthony Neal introduces Knight

“Drawing helps me work out issues,” said Knight, a Boston-native who now splits his time between Carrboro and Los Angeles where he is the subject an upcoming Hulu series, “Woke,” a live-action, animated comedy.

“I really enjoy the creative process, I really enjoy being in the writer’s room with other funny people and we’re all just trying to make each other laugh,” Knight said.

The series is based on Knight’s autobiographical comic strip, “The K Chronicles,” which was syndicated, running in publications like Salon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle.  Now he shares his work online with subscribers.

“The Internet has been amazingly helpful because people are not reading newspapers anymore,” Knight said. “Syndicates used to sign 15-year deals. And you used to be able to get into 500 to 1000 papers around the world. Now getting in 50 papers in huge.”

 

Where Did the Hammond Sound Come From – and Where Did It Go?

Ashon Crawley lecture begins AAAS 50th speaker series
Long view of the Moyle Room

Department Chair Mark Anthony Neal provided introductory remarks for the speaker series.

Ashon Crawley, Ph.D.‘13, grew up in the Black Pentecostal church playing the Hammond organ by ear. He thought it was a sound that belonged to the black church. In fact, the sound of the organ can be traced from pre-slave trade Islam to southern delta gospel and blues.

His late afternoon talk, “Migration Stories and the Hammond Sound,” explored how the sound of the Hammond organ has crossed continents and time as a sonic device regarded for its mystical and spiritual significance.

“There is sonic evidence in the way we pray. If we listen to the sound of Islam, we might hear the relationship to the blues,” Crawley said before playing surprisingly similar-sounding clips of music from the Islamic, blues, Black Baptist and Black Pentecostal traditions.

Crawley lecturing from podium

Ashon Crawley, University of Virginia

Nearly 30 students and faculty from Duke and neighboring universities filled the Moyle Room at the Karsh Alumni and Visitor Center on Sept. 18, for the launch of the Department of African and African American Studies’ 50th anniversary speaker series. The 2019/20 series features a lecture by Duke alum who was trained or mentored in black studies at Duke and went on to a career in the field.

Crawley is an associate professor of religious studies and African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. He is also the author or “Black Pentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility,” and the forthcoming, “The Lonely Letters.”

“Migration is an attempt to allow for creative practice in the unfamiliar. We can understand the journey by the cities traveled through. Migration is a cause of remembrance. What do we carry when we migrate?” Crawley said.

“Let’s take it to church,” Crawley said, a common refrain, means “there is something worth carrying.”

He notes the moment when a musician changes the sound from major to minor, heightening the audience expectation.

“These are occasions to think about the interrelatedness of sacred practice,” Crawley said.

He listened to musicians play the same song on the Hammond and how the chords changed in cities such as Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston and Chicago, the location of churches known for their musicianship.

“They are actually playing what it feels like to be a question,” Crawley said. “The chord changes mark difference, what is it like to live and breathe in difference?”

Of the musicians, often queer people “who serve as a sonic foundation” for the church, Crawley said “the church does not want them to come out nor do they want to risk losing their labor so they don’t talk about queerness, unless it is in a disparaging way.”

With more stringent church rules that did not allow for experimentation and the decline of music education in public school, Crawley’s work traces the sacred sound of the organ as it “creates new worlds.”

Comedian Marsha Warfield: ‘Celebrating All of the Things I Am”

Prof. Neal and Marsha Warfield seated on stageBy Camille Jackson

If Marsha Warfield could organize a dream comedy tour with anyone – dead or alive – who would she bring?

“Not the dead ones. Five days on a tour bus – can you imagine?” said the Chicago-born comedian, who was in town for one night as a special guest for Prof. Mark Anthony Neal’s comedy class.

After the laughs died down, she answered seriously.

“I would do a woman’s tour. A diverse woman’s tour, with all different kinds of women – lesbians, urban women, women of a certain age, black women…” Warfield said. “It would be dedicated to celebrating all of the things I am.”

Neal and Warfield’s public conversation paid homage to Warfield’s long and prestigious career in comedy. She knew Dave Chappelle, Eddie Griffin and Chris Rock when they were teens, still “wet behind the ears.” She was there when “Robert [Townsend] and Keenan [Ivory Wayans] said they were going to make a movie” about the struggle of black actors, a film that would become Hollywood Shuffle.

She, like many of her generation, was inspired by Dick Gregory, the rare example of a black comedian on television in his time. Gregory is the subject of Duke’s AAAS 331 course, “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy,” taught by Neal. The course features guest appearances by professional comedians, critics and screenings of rare and/or classic films.

On Thursdays, the 6:15 p.m. class meets at the NorthStar Church of the Arts (220 W. Geer St.) and is free and open to the public. Registration is not necessary but RSVPs are requested. On Thursday, Oct. 10, Neal will host Bassey Ikpi, author of “I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying. Learn more

 

Nearly two dozen members of the Duke and Durham community joined Neal’s class last Thursday evening at NorthStar to hear the semi-retired comedian who has worked alongside comedy legends such as Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney.

 

On Mooney, who was the head writer for “The Marsha Warfield Show”:

“Paul has a body of work and contribution that can’t be unacknowledged. He wrote for everybody and I worked with him on all different kinds of things.

“He did his comedy on purpose. He could have done “The Tonight Show,” for comedians who need a laugh, a giggle, a ‘teehee’ and a ‘ha-ha’ every 30 secs, but he didn’t.

On learning from Richard Pryor:

“I did not write, I did not write “The Richard Pryor Show”! I don’t know where that rumor came from. It’s an honor for me, but it kinda takes away from the fact that there was a writer’s table… But I would have loved to get that check.

“Being in his presence was worth the price of admission but to get to work with him was to learn how to do ensemble comedy. … I was very, very fortunate.”

On working on NBC’s “Night Court”:

“I had been doing standup for about 12 years and I had done pretty well. … I was happy to get the job. It was not one of those things where I had people writing stereotypically for me. They always wrote regular stuff and I said it how I said it.

“A couple of times I would have some input. I would have Roz in African garb when she was not in uniform. I had Maxine Douglas [her character on the sitcom, “Empty Nest]” in a kente cloth lab coat.”

On the challenges of being a lesbian in Hollywood:

“[Being closeted] was just the way it was. It was an imposition. But remember I did not come into my own understanding of myself until my 20s, after I had my first relationship with a woman. It didn’t feel like a burden. I had to travel my own road. …I was uncomfortable with ‘out’ women. I had no real understanding of why I was different. … I was mad at my mother for a long time because she knew before I did.

“It breaks my heart that someone can’t live as themselves. We are living in the world among straight and gay our whole lives, why are we pretending?”

On “whiny-ass comedians” and the art of stand-up comedy:

“PC culture comes from people who grew up in a very safe environment. The Comedy Club allowed safe comedy where you were guaranteed laughs. …I’m not naming names… they have a rhythm and a formula. But that’s not what stand-up is. [The audience doesn’t] know you and they don’t care and you make them listen and make them laugh. If you can do that then you don’t worry about PC and this, that and the other. I worked in pig kicker bars on gravel roads and the truck headlights were the spotlight. Stand in your truth and take your lumps. [Comedians] are being coddled into believing that they are owed laughs and owed acceptance.

“People think stand-up is easy because everyone has gotten a laugh in their life. There is an art to making people accept what may be unacceptable. They may not be predisposed to hear what you’re saying. … If they aren’t laughing the fault is with you. The audience owes you nothing. They agreed to pay and showed up. They lived up to their obligation. You told them you were funny and could hold their attention and if you don’t that’s not their fault. Audiences haven’t gotten soft, comedians have. Someone needs to slap them and say do your job.”

AAAS Speaker Series Highlights Duke Black Studies Alum

Ashon Crawley close up

Ashon Crawley, Ph.D. ’13

On Wednesday afternoon the Department of African & African American Studies will launch its 50th anniversary speaker series with Duke alum Ashon Crawley.

Crawley, Ph.D., ‘13, will deliver a talk, “Migration Stories and the Hammond Sound,” at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 18 in the Moyle Room of the newly opened Karsh Alumni and Visitor’s Center (2080 Duke University Rd., Durham).

The talk is free and open to the public. Free parking is available across the street in the gravel lot. A reception will follow the talk.

Each month, the department will host a lecture by scholars who have been immersed in black studies at Duke. All of the talks will be held at 4:30 p.m. in the Karsh Center.

“The series is an opportunity to acknowledge the impact of Black Studies on the Duke University campus, and there’s no better way to do that than to highlight the fine scholars whose research was directed by current and former members of AAAS faculty, said Mark Anthony Neal, the James B. Duke Professor of African & African American Studies and chair of the department. “The scholars presenting in the series have emerged as some of the leading voices in the field of Black Diaspora Studies.”

Crawley, who earned a Ph.D. in English and a certificate in African & African American Studies at Duke, is an associate professor of Religious Studies and African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility.”

He is also author of the forthcoming, “The Lonely Letters,” described as an exploration of the interrelation of blackness, mysticism, quantum mechanics and love.

Next month, on Oct. 14, Courtney R. Baker, Ph.D. ‘08, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Riverside will give a talk, “Black Humanity, Visible Violence, and Liberation Aesthetics.”

For more information on the Department of African & African American Studies, visit aaas.duke.edu.

AAAS 50th Anniversary Speaker Series

Oct. 14 Courtney R. Baker, Ph.D. ‘08, University of California, Riverside
Nov. 11 Patrick Alexander, Ph.D. ‘12, University of Mississippi
Dec. 4 Kinohi Nishikawa, Ph.D. ‘10, Princeton University
Jan. 30 Candis Watts Smith, Ph.D. ‘11, Penn State
Feb. 27 Candice Jenkins, WSTC ‘01, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
TBA Danny Hoffman, Ph.D. ‘04, University of Washington

AAAS speaker series group poster

Duke’s Black Comedy Class Brings ‘Upper Ghetto Godmother,’ Sept. 19

Image of Marsha Warfield and info about her visitBy Camille Jackson

Next Thursday, Sept. 19, comedienne, actress and self-dubbed “upper ghetto godmother,” Marsha Warfield, perhaps best known for her wise-cracking bailiff ‘80s-sitcom character, Roz, on NBC’s “Night Court,” will visit Duke University.

Warfield is a special guest for the Duke University course “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy” course, taught by Professor Mark Anthony Neal, the James B. Duke Professor of African & African American Studies. The course features guest appearances by professional comedians, critics and screenings of rare and/or classic films.

The 6:15 p.m.-7:30 p.m. class is free and open to the public on Thursdays where it is held at the NorthStar Church of the Arts, a converted church founded by Nnenna and Phil Freelon that serves as “a sacred space for healing, creative expression and spiritual connectivity.”

Registration is not necessary but RSVPs are requested: tinyurl.com/DukeMarshaWarfield.

Warfield lives and works in Las Vegas where she performs her show, The Marsha Warfield Experience, at L.A. Comedy Club at the Stratosphere Casino & Hotel. She describes herself as “a loving godmother, an opinionated feminist, an out and proud Black lesbian and a talented actress,” she brings these attributes to her one-woman show. After an overlong period of retirement, Warfield now tackles issues including politics, blackness, coming out as a gay woman and her affair with pizza.

Warfield is best known for “Night Court,” but she also starred in “Empty Nest” as Dr. Maxine Douglas, and as a performer on “The Richard Pryor Show.” She has appeared on shows such as “Soul Train,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “The Tonight Show,” and her own talk show, “The Marsha Warfield Show.”

Other guests are:

Oct. 10

Bassey Ikpi is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying.” An active voice in pop culture commentary and the mental health community, Ikpi’s essays have been published by The Root, Ebony, Huffington Post and Essence. She was also the resident pop culture critic for Philly’s WURD FM radio station and is currently a contributing editor for Catapult. A poet, she has been featured on HBO’s ‘Def Poetry Jam.’ Ikpi is the founder of The Siwe Project, a mental health organization, and the creator of #NoShameDay, an initiative that attempts to reduce stigma and create space for neurodivergent people to be heard and seen through their own personal stories.

Oct. 24

These days comedienne and actress Kim Coles, best known as “Synclaire” on the FOX comedy series “Living Single, is using comedy to inspire and empower others through a series of designed programs. “Pulling from her experiences, research and years in the entertainment business,” Coles hosts workshops and group sessions related to topics such as using your gifts, “walking in purpose,” and “sharing the power of your story.” She has made appearances on Oprah, The Dr. Oz Show, and at the annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

Nov. 21

Mel Watkins is an author and former editor, writer, and critic for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Since 2007, he has been the NEH Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University where he has taught courses on literature and African American studies. His books include On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy, Dancing With Strangers, and Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry. His articles and reviews have appeared in numerous national magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, and he has frequently appeared as a commentator on televised documentaries about American culture and humor.

ABOUT THE COURSE

AAAS 331: Black Popular Culture
Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy

At the peak of his fame in the 1960s, Dick Gregory may have been the most influential comedian in America, offering truths about race, the Black community and politics in an era highlighted by the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy” will examine the roots of the Black comedic tradition that informed Gregory’s art and activism, with a particular focus, in the spirit of Mr. Gregory, on the ways in which Black comedy has been used in the quest for civil and human rights.

The course will also highlight the role of Black literary satire, including the work of George Schuyler and Ollie Harrington, as well as contemporary examples such as novelists Danzy Senna, Kiese Laymon, Paul Beatty, and Fran Ross, cartoonist Aaron McGruder, comedians Issa Rae, Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, Chris Rock and, even critical race theorist and legal scholar Derrick Bell.

The course is taught with the support of Dr. Christian C. Gregory, executor of the Estate
of Dick Gregory and the Estate of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian.

 

Classic Black Comedy Films

August 29  Ethnic Notions (dir. Marlon Riggs, 1987)

September 5 Putney Swope (dir. Robert Downey, Sr., 1969)

September 12 Bamboozled (dir. Spike Lee, 2001)

September 26 Watermelon Man (dir. Melvin Van Peebles, 1970)

October 3 Sweet Love, Bitter (dir. Herbert Danska, 1967)

November 7 Blue Collar (dir. Paul Schrader, 1978)

November 14 Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (dir. Goldberg, 2013)

December 5 Hollywood Shuffle (dir. Robert Townsend, 1987)

What Inspired A Death in Harlem?

Karla Holloway, the James B. Duke Emerita of English and professor of African & African American Studies and Law, describes what inspired her to write A Death in Harlem.

In A Death in Harlem, Holloway weaves a mystery in the bon vivant world of the Harlem Renaissance. Taking as her point of departure the tantalizingly ambiguous “death by misadventure” at the climax of Nella Larsen’s Passing, Holloway accompanies readers to the sunlit boulevards and shaded side streets of Jazz Age New York. A murder there will test the mettle, resourcefulness, and intuition of Harlem’s first “colored” policeman, Weldon Haynie Thomas.

Twelve-year-old Fellowship Program Welcomes German Scholars to Duke

Amerikahaus 2008

Since 2007, German Ph.D. candidates have been coming to Duke through a partnership with the Bavarian American Academy in Munich

By Camille Jackson

German scholar Clara-Sophie Höhn’s nearly eight weeks on Duke’s campus last year helped advance her Ph.D. project to the next level, offering her the opportunity to engage with experts, use the university’s vast library, and benefit from its particular location in the American South.

“The most important aspect for me was that I was able to meet the people I was studying personally and get an impression of who they are and what motivated them to take part in one of the major social movements in the U.S.,” said Höhn whose thesis topic was on antiracism and the role of Southern white women in the civil rights movement.

“I am focusing on intersectionality as established by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw,” Höhn writes in her project summary. “It examines how social categories, in my case race, whiteness, gender, class, culture, and religion, overlap as well as intersect and therefore influence systems of oppression, discrimination, domination and/or privilege.”

Höhn is one of the most recent fellows to be selected for the Bavarian American Academy/Duke University Post-Graduate Research Fellowship, a 12-year partnership between the Duke Center for Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences (REGSS) and the America House Munich – Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations.

The fellowship provides students pursuing a Ph.D. in fields such as law, history, and political science, a generous stipend, housing, travel assistance and the opportunity to spend up to 8 weeks on Duke’s campus.

This fall, Duke will welcome its 12th fellow, Axelle Germanaz, a Ph.D. candidate at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg in American studies.

“For me, the program is very important and impressive. All of the fellows report back on the incredible, helpful and enriching research environment, the ample resources, and the huge benefit of personal communication and intercultural exchange,” said Margaretha Schweiger-Wilhelm, the managing director of the Bavarian American Academy.

The program, which began in the 2007-08 academic year, was founded by the former directors of the Bavarian American Academy (BAA). Professor Kerry Haynie, REGSS director, oversees the program on Duke’s end.

The relationship between Duke and BAA began during a 4-day summer institute, “Ethnicity and Society in America,” held in 2008 at the America House Munich – Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations in Munich, Haynie was one of the U.S. faculty members who led discussions on the historical and intellectual dimensions of race in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

At the time, the Executive Director of the Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations, Meike Zwingenberger, was BAA’s managing director.

“Professor Haynie has been an outstanding source of information and help for the fellows, together with the local staff. All participants have reported that they received an enormous support at the center,” Zwingenberger said. “The Center (REGSS) has been an excellent partner for younger researchers in Germany working on urban studies, race relations, ethnic entrepreneurship, public policies, presidential election’s voting behavior and other themes connected to social science research.”

“The Fellowship program has been a successful intellectual partnership between the Bavarian American Academy, the Duke Alumni German-American Club, and REGSS,” said Haynie, who hosts the fellows in the physical office space of the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity.

“The university is an ideal location for scholars working on topics related to race, ethnicity, intersectionality, race relations, and politics because of its excellent faculty, library, and archival resources. We have been able to provide the fellows with a base from which to do in-depth research and fieldwork, and connect with faculty and graduate students who have expertise in their research areas,” Haynie said.

“The relationship has been mutually beneficial. For example, the fellows introduce us to new perspectives and scholarship on topics related to the work of the Center. I’m especially pleased that this partnership provides Duke alumni in Germany with the means to remain connected to the university.”

Zwingenberger said that besides being a prestigious U.S. partner, Duke’s location in the Research Triangle, in North Carolina, and in the southern U.S. made the partnership especially attractive. She added that Duke’s Law School, Fuqua School of Business, Sanford School of Public Policy, as well as REGSS, provided “an excellent academic environment.”

Founded as a network of Bavarian scholars working in the social sciences and other fields to foster academic relationships with the U.S., the BAA sponsors individuals to pursue academic scholarship in the U.S. via fellowships for doctoral candidates. In addition to its partnership with Duke, BAA also sponsors fellowships at Harvard and Yale.

A German Duke alum based in Munich, Markus Nauheim, LLM ‘96, helped secure initial funding for the program to further support the academic exchange between Germany and the U.S.

“Duke is like the ‘Disney World’ of education,” Nauheim said. “I would love for more students to see and experience it. Studying in this type of stimulating environment makes you more curious, makes you really enjoy education, and you can learn about yourself too.

“We are really happy to be able to sponsor students and to encourage them to come to Duke,” Nauheim said. As the chair of Duke Germany, Nauheim helped make it possible for alumni to donate to the program under tax-exempt status. It has been the perfect vehicle for German alumni to show their school spirit.

“German Duke alumni feel very attached to the school. And the more talented and gifted students we can attract, the better. It’s important to be in this sort of company. The Duke brand is not yet as well-known as Yale or Harvard, so the program does a lot for the university’s reputation abroad. It is even more important in the current political environment to further the Transatlantic academic and cultural exchange.”

German universities do not have the same resources top, private American universities have, Nauheim explained, and students are in large classes with few opportunities to form relationships with professors.

At Duke, fellows are able to make use of the university’s cutting-edge resources and special collections of rare books and manuscripts, as well as the vibrant guest speakers and conferences on civil rights-themed issues.

“The academic profile of the Center has been especially attractive for Bavarian scholars working in the social sciences on comparative projects in political science, public policy, urban studies or on race relations in Germany and the U.S. It has provided a starting point for contact with renowned scholars from other U.S. universities.” Zwingenberger added.

Those connections helped Höhn greatly.

“The resource that was helpful the most during my stay at Duke were the personal contacts and conversations I had with various experts on topics that closely relate to my own research focus, such as Kerry Haynie or Wesley Hogan, director of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies,” Höhn said. “Not only were these interactions highly valuable for discussion and the exchange of ideas, they also helped further develop my research approach. In a practical way, they assisted me with how I should organize my research plan during the time I spent at Duke.”

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