Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Effect of My Dissertation Studies on My View of the World

One somewhat unexpected element of my research over the last several years has been how my view of the world, and particularly the legacy of history, has changed as a result. Of course, current events on a global to a personal scale have worked their ways on my mind. But it seems impossible to study the physical evidence of colonialism, and to figure out what it all means, without that informing a few things.

As discussed in a previous post, Ciudad Vieja dates to the very beginning of European colonialism in the Americas. In order to study Ciudad Vieja, I have had to really understand more of that legacy. And while I never set out with this in mind, that process has changed my views on more recent history, and why life in the Americas is what it is today. For example, a story on reparations for enslaving African-Americans looks a lot different to me today, after having examined the evidence for what happens to people that are enslaved and uprooted, than it did only a few years ago. Of course, other events, like the destruction of New Orleans and the laying bare of the structural inequities that can sometimes be less than obvious, have played their part. But I know that my work has also infected my brain.

Likewise, living and travelling in Central America has impacted my beliefs and ideas on topics including transnationalism, globalization, social safety nets, and all sorts of issues that I might not have paid as much mind to a few years ago. In a way, I see this as a benefit of doing research in a field science. Even though I worked in a lab/garage for most of my research, the simple matter of travelling and living elsewhere in order to do so, of breaking up my life into bits time and again, has been valuable. Add in that my work touches on subjects for understanding the world as it has become, and that's a powerful combination.

On the other hand, I don't intend my work to be political in nature. With the exception of a few asides and perhaps how I shade some issues, there is no explicit political element in my dissertation. Because it's a dissertation about ceramic artifacts, about the early sixteenth-century of Central America. That doesn't mean it is apolitical. But rather, it is a piece of what we know about the world, and in this case, mostly about the past nearly five hundred years ago. And reality is political, despite opposition to the contrary. Or rather, politics is how we deal with reality in relationship to other people.

Of course, it is when I say these sorts of things that respectable people look at me funny, even funnier than when I try to explain the pottery to them. So perhaps I shouldn't say them too often.

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