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Alumni Outreach and India’s Social Movements: A Summer, Virtually, at the Kluge Center

This is a guest post by Kluge Center intern Julia Bliss.

Interning for the Kluge Center this summer has been one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences of my life. As a junior studying studio art and anthropology at the University of Vermont, I find great joy and satisfaction in research.

Growing up on the outskirts of Washington, DC, I was aware of the great resources of the Library of Congress, but I was not aware of the Kluge Center until I was scrolling through the internships advertised by the Library. When I saw that the work was research-oriented and involved assisting a scholar, I knew I had to apply.

During my time at the University of Vermont, I have investigated maternal mortality, mummification, and Northern Hindu temple motifs. Although these areas may seem different from one another, they all connect to my desire to understand the human condition more fully. This summer I was lucky enough to explore my interests in a new way through the opportunity for a full-time virtual internship during the pandemic.

I worked on two projects, one with Dr. Michael Collins, Kluge Fellow in Anthropology from the University of Gottingen, and the other with Dr. Janna Deitz, Political Scientist and Kluge Center program specialist in outreach and partnerships, working on alumni engagement. While these projects focused on separate aspects of the Kluge Center, together they provided me with a rich experience.

The project I worked on with Dr. Collins, “From Boycotts to Ballots: Democracy and Social Minorities in Modern India,” fit well with my background in anthropology. (Read an interview with Collins on his work here.) Most of my work on this assignment concerned investigating the trends and causes of violence towards the Dalit population in the state of Tamil Nadu. Specifically, I focused on a group called the Dalit Panthers, an organization modeled on the Black Panthers. This association between the US and Indian activists led me to a significant observation: issues of police brutality, socioeconomic disparities, and overwhelming injustice in India are quite similar to those experienced by oppressed populations in the United States.

While it is important to acknowledge the differences (as with caste versus racism), finding similarities between these struggles helped me to recognize some of the basic driving forces behind inequality. Prior to this project, I had researched India primarily through the lens of Hinduism and historical artwork. Learning about contemporary Indian society from this socioeconomic and political perspective and being able to witness the lasting influence of Hinduism changed the way I view the relationships among religion, discrimination, and culture.

The project I collaborated with Dr. Deitz on involved alumni outreach and promotion. I retrieved email and social media information from Kluge scholars, entered information into spreadsheets, scanned the news for mentions of alumni, crafted tweets to promote these news pieces, and created profiles. I updated scholarly email information using a random number generator, a little math, and a lot of time.

While data entry was not exciting, making sure we had the correct contact information for Kluge scholars ensures we can stay in touch with them. I also reached out to several fellows from around the world who had been at Kluge during the past 20 years to complete profiles that the center can use in its promotion work. I found this whole process fulfilling and valuable, particularly because I was able to see the immense influence Kluge scholars have globally.

Previously, I considered academia to be removed from everyday experience and maybe not so relevant, but my work on this project helped me realize the vast cultural, political, and economic impact that scholars have on the world. Another great takeaway from this assignment was an introduction to the professional working environment. Understanding how to formulate spreadsheets to get the information you need, maintain accurate contact information, and communicate with others in a virtual environment are invaluable skills.

The ability to be thorough, efficient, and maintain positive working relationships, like those between the Kluge Center and alumni, is not only helpful from a career standpoint, but also a personal one. As a woman it can sometimes be difficult to discuss your achievements, for fear of being seen as boastful. However, I have learned that it is important to be confident in presenting your work and in reaching out to others.

Overall, I enjoyed these projects not only because of the content, but also because of the exceptional scholars I was lucky enough to work with. Both Dr. Collins and Dr. Deitz are good examples of the people at the Kluge Center who convey information effectively. Whenever I felt lost or overwhelmed, I knew I could reach out and ask questions. This rang true for all of the other Kluge staff I encountered as well. I believe it takes an extraordinary institution to ensure that their employees and interns feel valued, included, and cared for. I will carry the knowledge and skills I gained from this experience with me as I begin my senior year this fall.

How Distance Learning Could Put Chinese Students at US Universities at Risk

This is a guest post by Aynne Kokas and Michael Xiao. Kokas is a Kluge Fellow, as well as Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Kokas is the author of the book “Hollywood Made in China,” which examines the cultural, political and economic implications of US media investment in China as […]

Kluge Prize Recipient Danielle Allen Takes on the Hard Questions on Democracy and Public Life in Virtual Event Open to the Public

Join the John W. Kluge Center for a conversation with the new Kluge Prize recipient Danielle Allen, covering some of the difficult questions in public life today. The Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity is given biennially to a person whose career reflects the notion that ideas matter, that thought must inform public […]

New Resource Guide Highlights Kislak Chair Simon Martin

In September, the John W. Kluge Center welcomed Simon Martin, anthropologist and specialist in Maya hieroglyphic writing, as the second Jay I. Kislak Chair for the Study of the History and Cultures of the Early Americas. He is working on a project called “Articulations of Power Among the Classic Maya.” We’ve created a resource guide, […]

Watch: A Celebration of Earthrise

The Earth, blue and luminous, seems to rise above the moon’s surface against the vast blackness of space in the now-iconic photo “Earthrise.” Taken on December 24, 1968, aboard Apollo 8 — the first crewed spacecraft to orbit the moon — the image almost immediately captured the world’s imagination. Since then, it has been credited […]

Watch: Drew Gilpin Faust’s Speech Accepting the Kluge Prize

On September 12, 2018, Drew Gilpin Faust – historian, former Harvard University president and author of the Bancroft Prize-winning book “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” – accepted the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity. In her acceptance speech, she made an impassioned case for the […]

Tahir Hemphill Looks Back on his Year at the Kluge Center

As Harissios Papamarkou Chair in Education Tahir Hemphill’s year at the John W. Kluge Center ends, he took the time to share his reflections on his experience with us at The Library of Congress. Hemphill’s capstone event, playtest, was a daylong social sculpture exploring the application of virtual and augmented reality to the humanities, education […]

Images of the Earth in American Children’s Books

German Fellow Sibylle Machat has spent the past seven months at the Kluge Center researching images of planet Earth in American children’s books. How Earth looks from space is well-known today; satellite imagery of the planet is now a part of our collective consciousness. But before public access to photographic representations of Earth, how the […]