Academic Enrichment Through the Fox Center Community

by Colin Hutton, 21C History

My experience as an Undergraduate Fellow at the Fox Center this year has been an intellectually fulfilling capstone to my undergraduate experience at Emory University.

Pursuing, researching, and writing an honors thesis in History was a challenging and rewarding task over the course of this academic year. My honors thesis tells the stories, struggles, victories, and defeats of those made to live in West Virginia Coal Company towns in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. At its core, it argues that the economic transformation of the region in the same period– from an economy primarily organized around subsistence agriculture to one organized around extractive industry– brought lingering poverty and a profound change in the daily lives, survival strategies, labor practices, and cultures of West Virginian households. Receiving feedback, questions, and critique from my peer Fellows and the Fox Center directors about my project has challenged me to situate my research in conversation with other academic fields to present a thorough, well-argued piece of work.

It has been my great pleasure to also think critically about the amazing and ambitious work of my peer Fellows and ask questions of their projects. I have greatly appreciated this opportunity to engage with the work of scholars outside of my academic field. Hearing other Fellows present in the fields of anthropology, literature, sociology, and gender studies has been intriguing and rewarding for me. It has expanded my field of academic interest and motivated me to think about different perspectives and methodologies of research, as well as the great value of approaching a research question from an interdisciplinary angle. These experiences of inquiring, critiquing, and sharing a love of learning with my peers as a Fox Center Fellow has produced a sense of intellectual community this year that I will look back upon with fondness.

Colin Hutton is a senior majoring in History. He is working on an honors thesis that investigates the roles of vegetable gardens in West Virginian coal company towns beginning in the late-nineteenth century as Northeastern industrialists brought capitalist transformation to the Appalachian landscape. His project will explore how coal miners and their families came to undertake strategic subsistence labor alongside coal work and use garden produce as a strategy of maintaining independence from wages and town authority. It will use gardens as a lens into the social and cultural effects of company town living.

Tourism and a Telenovela: Magic and Money in Representations of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

Nayive Sarahi Gaytán, 21C Spanish and History

My honors thesis explores how ideas of the “magical” are used to magnify the existing cultural appeal of tourist destinations in Mexico. I use the Pueblo Mágico, or “magical town” of Tequila in the state of Jalisco as the primary site of my case study. My research questions center on the commodification of the culture and landscape of Tequila the town and its primary cultural product, the beverage tequila. I am particularly interested in how the discourses conveyed through state-sponsored tourism initiatives and privately funded broadcast media promote symbols associated with Mexican national identity. Concepts from film theory and tourism theory inform my analysis. I argue that messaging about Tequila and messaging about Mexican national identity both work to privilege affect and emotion while camouflaging the role of neoliberal financial transactions. Despite highlighting the local and the traditional, I find that these discourses ultimately affirm global capitalism.

In the first chapter, I focus on the history of the Mexican Ministry of Tourism’s Pueblos Mágicos program. In the second chapter, I explain the town of Tequila’s transformation into a tourist destination following its acceptance to the nationwide Pueblos Mágicos program. In the third chapter, I analyze the popular telenovela “Destilando Amor,” which is set in Tequila and is centered around a family-owned tequila corporation, within the context of melodrama. Throughout this project, my goal has been to show how a national strategy for fomenting tourism, by focusing on the local and the regional, on cultural traditions and landscapes, and on the magical and the emotional, is continually revealed to be following the money across the globe.

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has offered me a productive virtual space to interact with brilliant scholars at different stages in their academic careers. It has been wonderful to learn more about my colleagues’ research this semester as we refined our research goals and worked on presenting our research in a cogent and engaging manner to an interdisciplinary audience. The constructive feedback I received throughout this process was tremendously helpful as I worked on (and recently completed!) my thesis. I am grateful for the support because writing this thesis was by far the most challenging academic endeavor I encountered as an undergraduate. I am a first-generation, low-income student and feel confident in my ability to navigate academic spaces without feeling like I have to pretend to be someone I am not. I look forward to continuing with researching and writing in graduate school and hope to join more engaging and supportive communities along the way.

Nayive Gaytán is a senior double-majoring in Spanish and History. She is currently writing an honors thesis on the representations of landscapes and iconic market products associated with Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico in tourism promotional materials and digital broadcast media. Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism named Tequila a pueblo mágico, or magical town in 2003 as part of a nationwide initiative to attract domestic and international tourists to small towns with rich history and culture. She hopes to learn more about how ideas of the “magical” that are used to market these tourist destinations are connected to the creation and promotion of a mythical version of culture in a process we might think of as auto-folklorization. 

Shared Scholarship During the Pandemic

by Cameron Katz, 21C History and English Creative Writing
Fox Center Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

Being an undergraduate humanities fellow at the Fox Center has enhanced my experience in the Emory’s honors program. In the fall semester, I felt isolated from other honors students due to the pandemic. While in normal times, I might have run into other students on campus where we could discuss our projects, such encounters were not possible in the era of coronavirus. The spring semester at the Fox Center, however, allowed me to connect with other honors students, not just in the history department, but in other disciplines as well. I loved hearing about my peers’ research, especially in fields that I knew little about. Although we only met once a month, connecting with other undergraduate fellows as well as other members of the Fox Center helped me to feel like I was part of a larger scholarly community even though my entire thesis was written inside my apartment.

The opportunity to present my research to a group of scholars was also very beneficial. My history honors thesis examines the racial implications of Florida’s felony disenfranchisement law – the rule which revokes a person’s right to vote on account of a felony conviction – which was on the books from 1838 to 2018. Because my temporal framework is so large, working to condense it to a short presentation for an audience less familiar with the history really helped me to streamline my main argument, which I think is one of the most challenging aspects of large projects. Hearing feedback about my presentation allowed me to narrow my presentation even further so that I could convey my work in an accessible and informative manner. Later this month, I will be presenting my research at the Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Symposium so the additional practice at the Fox Center has helped me to prepare. 

I am grateful to the Fox Center for the opportunities it provided to engage with scholarship beyond my discipline, hone my work, and sharpen my presentation skills. As I begin to consider graduate school, I feel lucky to have had a glimpse into the world of the humanistic scholarly inquiry and its community. Thank you very much to Dr. Walter Melion, Keith Anthony, Colette Barlow, and all of the fellows at the Fox Center for their invaluable insight, enthusiasm, and support throughout my fellowship experience.

Cameron Katz is a senior double majoring in History and English Creative Writing. She is currently working on an honors thesis about the history of felony disenfranchisement in Florida, a provision that has prevented incarcerated individuals from exercising their right to vote since 1868. While the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement eventually dismantled other Reconstruction-era voter suppression tactics targeting Black political power, felony disenfranchisement remained. Today, it continues to influence Florida’s electoral process. Cameron’s thesis argues that the reason for this provision’s persistence is its link to criminality, which allowed legislators to adjust their justifications of felony disenfranchisement to fit the racial climate and national crime discourse of the time.

A Scholarly Community

by Xavier Sayeed, 20C Music Research and Jewish Studies


Participating in the scholarly community offered by the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has been a thoroughly enriching experience. Over the past year, attending Wednesday lunches whenever possible has brought me so much joy. I delighted in learning about the research of the Fox Center’s doctoral and faculty fellows and particularly enjoyed being able to ask questions and discuss so many phenomenal presentations with my peers and the center’s more senior fellows. This engagement was crucial in my approach to my own work. The funding from the Fox Center supplemented my trip to present my work at the Yallah: Judeo-Arabic Conference at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The presentation skills I learned as a Halle Institute – FCHI Global Research Fellow in the fall semester were supplemented by my observation of weekly presentations, which allowed me to better understand the format of academic research presentations.

Beyond these practical skills, I have benefited greatly from the intellectual stimulation gained from engaging with other scholars’ research projects. The Fox Center community fostered an environment conducive to constant questioning and curiosity, which I found absolutely enlivening. I was able to translate that energy into the completion of my honors thesis, which was quite a mental undertaking. As I completed my project, I spent a significant amount of time lovingly agonizing over ideas and questions, producing around 300 hand-written journal pages of notes, thoughts, and observations. The support of the Fox Center aided my perception of myself as a budding scholar building a project instead of a student completing an assignment. This allowed me to approach my project with passion and excitement more than dread and anxiety, which was instrumental in allowing my project to flourish.

My work is the product of quite a bit of thinking and mental reshuffling. My fellowship experience has pushed me to articulate my ideas even when I felt like they were underdeveloped. This was such an important part of my project’s development as it allowed me to hone my ideas and jump-start my writing process. It also helped me overcome some of the fear that I had about how my positionality would impact the reception of my research. As an American Muslim writing about Israeli music, this fear dominated much of my early research and writing process, but the support of my peers and mentors allowed me to own my ideas and experiences and produce a project to which I am deeply and passionately dedicated. I am incredibly grateful to the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry for shaping my early experience as a scholar in such an enlivening and enjoyable way. Through this experience, I have met so many phenomenal scholars and worked with peers and mentors that have made me excited to continue to pursue academic inquiry well beyond this project.

Xavier Sayeed is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Music Research and Jewish Studies. His project will culminate in the completion of an honor’s thesis focusing on how the evolution of Israeli society and culture impacts the positionality of those from Sephardic and Mizrahi backgrounds and in what ways that shifts the approach to Andalusian music.

Palliative Care Education in an Undergraduate Curriculum


by David Kulp, 20C Interdisciplinary Studies

When I began my research just over a year ago, I hadn’t imagined my honors thesis project to be as relevant and as applicable as it is today. For many years now, I’ve developed a budding interest in pediatric critical care and palliative care, in large part due to my early exposure to mental health interventions at the end of life through my parents’ professions in healthcare. Shortly after arriving to Emory and learning further about the complexities of ethics and medical care, I developed an interest at the nexus of medicine and the humanities, focused on the delicacy of end of life decision-making in pediatrics.

Though it seems like a depressing and challenging topic to be interested in as a young adult and budding college graduate, given my parents’ vocations in pediatrics and psychiatry-oncology it was a clearly a natural and innate passion—of helping the underserved and the vulnerable through my academic and professional pursuits. As I grew through my coursework to better understand the challenges and nuances of medical care of adolescents and young adults with chronic illness, I developed an interest in integrating palliative care in an undergraduate setting. How do we foster supportive spaces to have challenging conversation about death? How do we proactively engage young adults to discuss decision-making—decision-making that will eventually no longer be theoretical, but inherently practical for themselves and their loved ones? And so, the foundation for my honors thesis project came to fruition.

Western culture proliferates the myth that conversations about palliative care and death can only occur at the end of life. Typically, such communication does not occur until it is too late—after life-limiting conditions present. However, dialogue about these difficult topics proves to be a crucial component of development in emerging adulthood (18-23-years old). Emerging adults are not immune to terminal illness, and many eventually become substituted decision-makers for their loved ones, forcing them to confront end-of-life decision-making. To decrease anxiety and fear about the end of life, the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend having conversations with terminally ill children and emerging adults about decision-making as soon as they are developmentally and emotionally ready. However, despite these statistics and recommendations, end- of-life conversation is largely avoided with healthy emerging adults.

My honors project assesses the efficacy of a palliative care curriculum recently piloted for undergraduates at Emory University. Early interventions in educational settings—relying on resources typically used in advance care planning—may prove important in empowering healthy emerging adults to make well-informed decisions about their end-of-life care. While there is currently a wealth of literature showing the importance of end-of-life conversations with young adults suffering from terminal illnesses, the research—quantitative and qualitative—about communication with healthy emerging adults is lacking. This honors thesis bridges that gap by gauging both the pragmatic awareness of planning tools, and the effectiveness of an undergraduate curriculum focused on humanistic discussions about death.

With the COVID-19 crisis occurring in the United States and around the world, this thesis is remarkably, and tragically, applicable. As a child and adolescent, there was regular conversation about morbidity and mortality around the dinner table. However, these conversations were yet again once removed, in that I never had personal contact with individuals in their narratives. The dialogue, rather, involved rational and deliberative thought and analysis around the tragic deaths of their patients, of other people, in distant places. Now, that is no longer the case. These conversations are innately personal, challenging, relevant, and necessary.

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry Humanities Honors Fellowship was immensely helpful in facilitating this research over the course of the spring semester. Thanks to the interdisciplinary work and mentorship of Dr. Walter Melion, Keith Anthony, Colette Barlow, and Amy Erbil, I had ample fellowship, funds, and space to further my research. The opportunity to engage with experts across the university and with fellow scholars was an unparalleled experience. I have benefitted deeply from the generosity of the FCHI. And as I near graduation, look towards graduate and professional school, and begin the next phase of my life and my research, I look forward to staying connected with the Center and the scholars who I’ve had the opportunity to connect with through it.

David Kulp is a senior majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies on the pre-medicine track, originally from Potomac, MD. His research focuses on the intersection of palliative care medicine, thanatology, and education. David aims to develop an undergraduate curriculum that focuses on the foundations of palliative care and its unique emphasis on a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach in clinical practice. Destigmatizing death through improved education in emerging adult populations may assist in their ability to act as proxy decision-makers for their loved ones and eventually themselves. An undergraduate course is ideally positioned in the life of an emerging adult to discuss future wishes and begin to catalyze a shift in the perspective of society towards the end-of-life. David was inspired to pursue this topic after studying ethics related to vulnerable pediatric populations, and particularly after interning in the Harvard Program in Neonatology at Boston Children’s Hospital on a project concerning neonatal care at the margin of viability.

Guoshang Cemetery and Chinese Collective Memory, 1945 and Beyond


by Junyi Han, 20C History and Media Studies

My honors thesis examines how China remembers World War II and what role this collective memory plays in post-war Chinese society. I address my research inquiry through a micro-historical study of Tengchong Guoshang Cemetery, the earliest and largest burial ground in mainland China for Guomindang soldiers killed in World War II. Dividing the history of Guoshang Cemetery into three stages in a chronological order, I argue that while the meaning of this cemetery has changed overtime, it has contributed to the emergence of a nationalistic historical narrative of World War II in Chinese society and the continuance of a collective identity. Combining archival research with ethnographic work, I draw upon a variety of primary sources, including gazetteers, legal documents, newspapers, photos, unpublished memoirs, and firsthand interviews. I also engage with substantial academic literature in Chinese, English, and Japanese. This thesis illuminates the nexus between China’s past and its present, and provides insights into the formation process of contemporary Chinese identity.

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has allowed me to further develop my honors project within a vibrant, supportive research community. I am thankful for this opportunity and I really appreciate the feedback from other researchers at Fox Center. Even under current circumstances, we are still able to share our research updates with each other remotely. Their advice has helped me better understand my research topic. It has been a pleasure to get to know the fascanting work of other fellows, and I have learned a lot from this valuable experience.

Junyi Han is a senior double majoring History and Media Studies. She is currently working on an honors thesis that examines war memories through the case of the Chinese Expeditionary Forces, a military unit dispatched to Burma and India by the Nationalist government in 1942 in support of the Allied efforts against Japanese invasion in Asia. The thesis will answer how and why the war efforts of the Chinese Expeditionary Force started to be recognized in mainland China in the late twentieth century. It will explore how war memories and post-war politics have mutually shaped each other, and thus provide new  insights into contemporary Chinese history.  

Transferring Knowledge through Dialogue at the Fox Center


by Mary Bohn, 20C East Asian Studies

My honors thesis has been greatly enriched by the support and guidance I have received from my peers and seniors at the Fox Center over the past year. Before starting my thesis, I falsely believed that a thesis would simply be a longer version of the many other papers I had written over my four years at Emory. As I began to delve further into the thesis-writing process last August, I quickly realized that this project required an entirely new set of skills and supports. Developing my honors thesis was often confusing as I tried to make sense of the massive amount of information I wanted to relay to my readers; compared to any other project I have completed, there were far more nights I sat staring blankly at my screen for hours trying to figure out what I wanted to say and how best to say it.

Meaningful dialogue with and feedback from my advisors, peers, and the Fox Center Fellows was integral to working through such moments. As I heard about the research of my peers and the Fox Center Fellows, I was able to identify new, creative ways to reevaluate my own research. Though our research covers different topics and disciplines, almost every conversation I had with fellow Fox Center scholars gave me new insight into my own project. In particular, presenting my research to my peers, Dr. Melion, Dr. Anthony, and the Fox Center Fellows was pivotal to my project’s development. The questions I received helped me to better understand and interpret my research findings as well as draw new connections between my research and that of my peers. The Fox Center’s focus on dialogue between different scholars and disciplines helped me to articulate the broader significance of my research as well as bolstered my passion for academic inquiry.

Above all, my experience at the Fox Center has taught me how to better communicate in and outside of the academic world. Over the course of many presentations and conversations, I learned how to translate my research into terms that others understand and articulate why it is important. At the same time, I learned how to listen to others’ research and gain invaluable insights from it. When I began my thesis in August, I remember a friend asking me over dinner, “So, what’s your thesis about?”, and I struggled to give her an answer. When my plumber asked me a few weeks ago what my thesis is about, I was able to confidently and clearly tell him not only what I research, but why.

To all of my peers, seniors, advisors, and friends I met through the Fox Center, thank you. Thanks to you, I wrote a thesis of which I am proud.

Mary Bohn is a senior majoring in East Asian Studies with a secondary focus on Global Development. Her senior thesis explores how North Korean migrants narrate their stories of escape and discuss their background in South Korean public spaces. Mary specifically analyzes how migrants tell their stories in three public “spaces”: South Korean protestant churches, a South Korean variety TV show “Now I am Coming to Meet You,” and migrant-run YouTube channels. By analyzing how North Korean migrants tell their stories differently based on each space’s respective setting and audience, Mary’s research reveals that migrants’ personal narrative storytelling functions as a tool to gain social and monetary capital in South Korea. Ultimately, Mary’s thesis explores a marginalized group’s strategies to “belong” in South Korean society in contestation with hegemonic discourses of citizenship and national belonging. 

An Original Spanish Translation of Catherine Cusset’s Une éducation catholique

by Natalia Garzón, 20C English/Creative Writing and French Studies

Being a Fox Center Undergraduate Fellow has been an inspiring experience for me this semester. Working on an Honors thesis can at times become a very solitary act for students and a lot of hours are spent doing research at the library or writing chapters and revising drafts. One of the greatest gifts the Fox Center gave me this semester was providing me with a shared office space at the center, where I felt supported and part of a greater community of scholars at Emory. There was nothing more satisfying than knowing your research and your curiosity was valued, encouraged, and echoed by others. Thanks to this fellowship I was able to spend my hours of solitude working amongst incredibly experienced and inspiring scholars who were always willing to talk about their projects and ask the right questions about mine.

In addition to spending time around inspiring scholars, I was encouraged to participate in events held by the center. One of the most enlightening experiences was attending the Faculty Response Forum one evening at the Carlos Museum. I had the opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions on some of the works-in-progress at the Center and also got to hear some of the innovative and generative questions faculty members are considering in their current research. The Faculty Response Forum not only empowered me as an Undergraduate student in making me feel welcomed and validated as

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El club de Lectura/LAA

a member of a larger community of learners but also inspired me in allowing me to witness what it would be like to do research full-time. It was also at this same event that I heard about the center’s partnership with El club de Lectura in the Latin American Association and soon after, began to work closely with Keith Anthony and Aixa Pascual at the Latin American Association to establish a successful partnership for the future.

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l-r: Natalia Garzón, Catherine Cussett

In terms of my own research, the Fox Center economically supported my travels to New York City earlier this year, where I spent a weekend meeting with Catherine Cusset, the author of the coming of age novel I translated for my thesis. Meeting the author was without a doubt the most fascinating part of my research; asking her specific questions about the novel and her literary ambitions motivated me to continue writing and translating. The opportunity of getting to know her and walk around the city with her confirmed how incredible conducting research can be and corroborated the impact institutional support can have in facilitating important networks within academia.

Overall, this fellowship has empowered me and given me multiple platforms of support in order for me to feel validated, encouraged, and inspired to continue my work as a scholar. I couldn’t be more grateful and honored to belong to the Fox Center and can’t wait to reconnect in the future with the people that have been so special to me this semester.

Natalia Garzón is a senior majoring in English/Creative Writing and French Studies. Her thesis is a Spanish literay translation of Une éducation catholique, a coming-of-age novel written by the french author Catherine Cusset. In addition to her translation of three key excerpts of the novel, as well as their critical analysis, she formulates her own translation theory, drawing from the works of Lawrence Venuti, Carol Maier, and Alison Phipps. Natalia’s thesis explores the ways in which Cusset’s novel in translation will challenge and nuance contemporary conversations of sexuality, female desire, and religion for hispanophone audiences. Her project considers the exigency of this literary translation and most importantly, highlights the need for nuanced female voices in coming-of-age novels. 


International Activism and the Women’s Human Rights Movement: 1990-2000

Drew Bryant Headshot

by Drew Bryant, 20C History
2019-2020 Fox Center Humanities Honors Fellow

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has provided me with both an incredibly supportive and inspiring community of humanities researchers to learn from. Being an Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow this semester, I have been able to hear about the work of the other fellows, who are all endeavoring on unique and creative research projects. In this community, I have been both encouraged by those within the Center and inspired by the amazing work that others are accomplishing.

My honors thesis explores the history of activism related to the global women’s human rights movement throughout the 1990s. I focus on international conferences and activist publications as important stages in which activists were able to emphasize violations of women’s human rights that were occurring across the globe. These efforts ultimately produced a paradigm shift in the perception of women’s rights as human rights. My project explores how activists emphasized the overarching problem of violence against women, which served as an issue which could unite women around a global women’s human rights agenda despite the varying interests of women transnationally. Moreover, activist awareness-building regarding the issue of violence against women served as a platform upon which other issues facing women could be introduced into the human rights framework, such as those related to reproductive freedom.

I am ultimately very grateful for the opportunity to have participated within the Fox Center community this semester as it has provided me with very helpful resources and an inspiring intellectual environment.

Drew Bryant is a senior majoring in History with a minor in Sociology. Her honors thesis examines the international activist movement in the 1990s that coalesced around the creation of an International Criminal Court (ICC) as a vehicle towards protecting women’s human rights. She analyzes the work of activist organizations who were committed to this cause in order to understand why the ICC was targeted as a solution to addressing longstanding issues of sexual violence committed against women in war zones. By analyzing the arguments used by activists and the controversies which sprang from their advocacy, she seeks to evaluate how activists used the platform of wartime sexual violence to construct a broader movement about women’s human rights that applied to women beyond conflict zones.

Neighbors against Neighbors: A historical study of separatist groups and rhetoric in Eastern Ukraine


by Daniel Thomas, 20C History and International Studies
2019-2020 Fox Center Humanities Honors Fellow

My experience at the Fox Center is a final culmination of long-time passion of mine. When I was in high school, I became briefly obsessed with Russia’s then ongoing invasion of Crimea and the Donbas. The fact that a nation could absorb another sovereign nation’s territory in a cynical and completely unethical land grab struck me as something out of some 1930s dictator’s infernal world domination plot. What arose out of the invasion was a grisly bloodbath that eventually culminated in deaths of over 13,000 people and displacement of 5.4 million Donbasians. Although the conflict held significant implications for both America’s relationship with Russia and Eastern Europe’s future, the war quickly fell out of the media cycle. I thought that would be the last of my endeavors in Eastern European affairs, as my attention drifted towards other issues. Thankfully, I was mistaken. During my first semester at Emory, I took a class with Matthew Payne, a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, that focused on the USSR’s involvement in World War II. Professor Payne’s ability to communicate the sheer immensity and importance of Eastern European history, combined with his seemingly limitless knowledge of world affairs and enormous generosity, rekindled my interest in the region that I had become so obsessed with in high school.

Desiring to expand my scant knowledge of this fascinating region, I quickly threw myself into studying as much as I could about Eastern European history. After concluding my first year at Emory, I enrolled in a Russian-language immersion program at Middlebury College in order to build a strong linguistic foundation. The tutelage I received under Professor Payne, both my mentor in school and in life, compelled me to dive deep into my studying of the scantily research Donbas War. After taking both a Directed Reading course on the historiography of Ukraine and a Research Tutorial in translating Russian-language historical documents, I committed myself to writing a thesis on early separatist movements in late Soviet and post-Soviet Eastern Ukraine, a topic that has been left mostly untouched by academics and political analysts in the West.

As I read and reread volumes upon volumes of Ukrainian history, I was driven to pinpoint how and why the separatist movement first came about in the Donbas. In my readings about the post-Soviet era, I found that most Donbasians supported Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, which went in complete contradiction to the narrative established by both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian talking heads. Moreover, during the Donbas’ coal strikes of 1989, Ukrainian nationalists were more than willing to work with predominately Russian-speaking coal miners in creating a “Ukraine united by brotherhood and mission-oriented nationalism.” However, Donbasians’ support for the Ukrainian nation-building project waned significantly during the early post-Soviet period, as Ukraine fell further and further into economic recession and hyperinflation. Political elites in the Donbas were quick to criticize Kyiv for Ukraine’s privations, blaming their steadfast dedication to “flighty concepts of national identity and language” for Ukraine’s privations. In the wake of Ukraine’s disastrous hyperinflation of 1993, prominent political and social figures in the Donbas started adopting pro-separatist talking points, insisting that the region would be far better “alone than with Kyiv.” Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I wanted to see if the social reality of post-Soviet Ukraine squared with these politicans’ inflammatory rhetoric. Moreover, I wanted to analyze the discourse of these separatist organizations in order to understand both the methods they used to draw Donbasians into their ranks and the mediums they exploited in order to construct their ideology.

At first, my research focused on self-described “intellectual” separatist organizations, which played a critical role in developing Donbasian separatist movement’s ideological foundation. The two most prominent groups that I studied were the International Movement of the Donbas (IMD), established by the staunchly Russophilic journalist Dmitrii Kornilov, and the Citizens’ Congress (CC), a Pan-Slavic political organization that demanded greater economic cooperation and cultural solidarity between the Republic of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Although both of these movements existed on the fringes of Ukrainian politics, their rhetoric, which insisted that the Donbas was an “ancestral part of the Great Russian Nation,” provided the groundwork for the Donbasian separatist organizations that arose from Russia’s invasion of the Donbas in 2014. Despite the small size of these groups, the IMD and CC were able to attain a disproportionate level of media attention, garnering far more space and airtime on the Donbas’ airwaves and newspaper pages than any other early post-Soviet political group in Eastern Ukraine.

Although the IMD and CC played a vital role in creating an intellectual framework for their cause, it was the Donbas’ pro-separatist oligarchy that made the Donbasian separatist movement a material reality. After the collapse of the USSR, Ukrainian officials, wanting to expand their homeland’s nascent free-market economy, sold former state-owned enterprises at a premium to already-wealthy individuals, many of whom were members of the Soviet Union’s elite managerial class. These “capitalist elites” would eventually turn on the Ukrainian government, using populist and pro-separatist rhetoric to justify both the Donbas’ need to gain autonomy within Ukraine and their potential fit as key political power players in the impoverished region. Many of these oligarchs preached a “prosperity gospel” of the sorts, insisting that their immense wealth would eventually “trickle down” into the pockets of poor Donbasians. However, instead of improving Donbasians’ economic situation, the new capitalist elite used their newfound wealth to create cartels that protected their personal assets from the “meddling” of pro-democratic activists and politicians. They were intent on robbing as much as possible from Ukraine’s decaying industrial and coal-mining assets as possible, all whilst terrorizing any individuals or groups who decried their undemocratic and totalitarian policies. Thus, these “industrial separatists” contributed far more to the Donbas’ economic despair than any of the politicians in Kyiv or Lviv.

The Fox Center’s generous grant has afforded me both the privilege of working in a tightly-knit epistemic community and the ability to conduct further research into my topic. The lump sum that I received as a part of my fellowship helped fund my interview-collecting over the Winter Break in Kyiv. Hearing the lived experiences of the Donbas’ denizens contributed a great deal to this project. I spoke with refugees and former separatist affiliates who dealt first-hand with the destructive repercussions of Donbasian separatism. Their accounts and lives illustrated that identity is more of a practice in subjectivity than it is an objective truth. Although my interviewees admitted that the separatist cause was rooted in a real problem (the callousness many politicians, both in Eastern and Western Ukraine, had towards the poor), they also admit that the separatists’ cause did little to ameliorate the Donbas’ desperate situation. Instead, it amplified it, displacing millions upon millions of Donbasians from their homeland. Without their insight, this thesis would have been at best a clueless meditation on a “forgotten” conflict. Moving forward, I hope to expand upon my research in graduate school, if I indeed commit to that decision.

Daniel Thomas is a senior on a pre-law track, double majoring in History and International Studies.  He is currently writing an honors thesis on the history of Russian separatism in the Donbas, a region in Eastern Ukraine. Daniel conducted his research in Kyiv, Ukraine during the summer and winter of 2019, using archival documents, periodicals, and oral history techniques in order to elucidate the various social problems and economic privations that contributed to the early Donbasian separatist movement. Through the usage of previously unused archival documents and first-hand accounts of daily life in Eastern Ukraine, Daniel hopes to both contribute to the limited historiography on post-Soviet conflict zones and shed light on the tumultuous history of one of the world’s least-discussed conflicts.