Meet Our Fellows

American Communities Program Fellows, 2013-2014

Dr. Sara Pugach, Department of History
Dr. Sara Pugach
is associate professor of African history at Cal State L.A..  She is the author of Africa in Translation: A History of Colonial Linguistics in Germany and Beyond, 1814-1945 (University of Michigan Press, 2012).  She is currently working on two projects that approach issues of Transnationalism and Globalization in very different time periods.  One of the projects is an investigation of the lives of African students in the German Democratic Republic – the former East Germany.  The other project, which is being supported by the ACP, looks into ideas of universality and the malleability of the concept “American Community” in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Sierra Leone.  For the latter, she has been awarded the 2012-3 Joseph A. Bailey II, M.D. fellowship.    

 “Sierra Leone Transnational” examines how the English colony of Sierra Leone became a transnational junction for peoples from both sides of the Atlantic, including African Americans, Africans, and Europeans.  British abolitionists formed the colony as a safe haven for freed slaves, many of them from North America, in 1787.  Soon, however, the colony grew into a space where multiple cultures converged to negotiate the terms of a shared living arrangement.  They developed extensive economic, linguistic, and religious networks in a common arena.  These networks united settlers in the joint goal of forming a community that had roots from across the world, but was steeped in a particularly Protestant theology meant to reinforce universality over division. All community members were to be converted to a Christianity that emphasized the power of direct communication with God, and would ultimately make all members of the community – black and white – equal. The example of Sierra Leone also demonstrates that the concept of “American community” is malleable, and need not be geographically located in the United States or, indeed, the Americas.  Americans – in particular African Americans – fundamentally helped shape the history of Sierra Leone.  The Sierra Leone community was thus connected to others throughout the Atlantic world, as missionaries and former slaves traversed the ocean, bringing ideas and goods from the Americas to Africa – and beyond.

Dr. Bidhan Roy, Department of English
Dr. Bidhan Roy was born in Britain of an English mother and Bangladeshi father, and received his PhD in English Literature from the University of London. He has published articles and book chapters on Hanif Kureishi, V.S. Naipaul, Christopher Isherwood, Muslim identity and literature, Buddhism and literature, literary representations of South Asian ethnicity and cultural representations of 9/11. His forthcoming book is titled, A Passage to Globalism: Globalization and South Asian Diasporic Fiction.

“Spiritual Modern: Isherwood, Vedanta and the Mid-Century Novel” asks, in a world of increasing global interdependencies and transnational challenges, how might religion be re-thought as an ethical framework of being as being-with in contemporary US culture? In attempting to address this question, my proposed study is an archival research project that explores Christopher Isherwood’s non-fiction writing on Vedanta in the Huntington Library archives. I intend to use this archival material to theorize how Isherwood’s engagement with Vedanta re-conceptualizes the secular, liberal, individual Self, and, in so doing, offers an important framework for “being in common,” alternative to the collective identities of contemporary American identity politics, as well as the nation-state.  Re-imagining an “American Community” from this perspective, is an increasingly pressing concern, because, as Ulrich Beck points out, while national, ethnic and cultural identities are grounded in collective memories of the past, the “future risk” society of today’s globalized world demands new ways of imagining our collective responsibilities.

Dr. Aaron Sonnenschein, Department of English
Dr. Aaron Sonnenschein
completed his dissertation, “A Descriptive Grammar of San Bartolomé Zoogocho Zapotec,” at the University of Southern California in 2004. His primary passion is the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages (especially the languages of Oaxaca). Over the past two years, he has partnered with a language activist from Zoogocho, Odilia Romero, in the creation of pedagogical materials for the immigrant community in Los Angeles. Currently they are finishing a phrase book for second and third generation immigrants returning to Zoogocho for festivals.

“Creating a Common Online Space for Revitalizing San Bartolomé Zoogocho” will use new media to create common spaces for this transnational American community of Zoogochenses in Mexico and the United States to collectively work to create language materials to help in the perpetuation of the Zoogocho Zapotec language. A facebook page devoted to the use and practice of the Zoogocho Zapotec language and a wiki-based dictionary and grammar are the primary outcomes of this research. The current research would create the first transnational, community controlled and constructed wiki. Both of these projects would create common spaces for the community to further develop language and culture revitalization programs already underway and for community members to communicate and practice their language skills.