Bram Hilkens is a former student
“Should you ever be mad enough to consider entering an Ivy League university through hiphop, be prepared to repeatedly answer a few questions:
‘Is there such a thing as a hiphop archive?’
‘Harvard has it?!’
‘Hiphop is that thing with the quick talking fellas, right?’
These questions invite easy responses – ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘yes’ – but are moreover merely a slightly inconvenient side effect to a beautiful experience. I know this, because I interned as a Research Assistent at the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute (HARI) at Harvard University. This is also where I wrote my thesis on representations of Kendrick Lamar and its implications for the transnational perception of hiphop culture.
HARI was founded by professor Marcyliena Morgan in 2002, she decided it was time to understand hiphop as more than a temporary subculture expressed by angry, aggressive, hedonistic, criminal, lewd men. Hiphop as a movement grew out of a minority position, often subjected to severe criticism based on stereotypes and racism, penetrating popular culture at large. The line between hiphop and pop/youth culture has been effectively blurred. So, how do we research hiphop? We measure its potential and we challenge its public perceptions. We try to gauge what hiphop culture expresses in lyrics, samples, dance, graffiti, fashion, etc. I hardly thought of the nuances, idiosyncrasies, or scope of hiphop culture before my internship – and I considered myself a connoisseur.
HARI provided me with an opportunity to academically engage with something I am passionate about. In the process, I got to meet a ton of interesting people with interesting views on hiphop culture, music, art, politics, you name it. It gave me a chance to temporarily participate in one of the world’s top universities, which is simultaneously an elitist, absurd, isolated, educative, and absolutely wonderful experience. So to anyone who asks you: ‘What will cultural history get you?’ It will get you to Harvard. It will make you find yourself conceptualizing and understanding the things you love the most. It allows you to make your own plan and develop your own skills. Cultural history is everywhere you decide to uncover it. So why not apply it to your passion?”
Silvia van Bergeijk is a former student
“What interested me the most about the internship at the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, was the cultural and the geographic distance. I thought it would bring me another perspective on (cultural) history. On a Dutch University the way they teach you history is often from a Eurocentric point of view, and I also had a Eurocentric view on the world. The internship at the museum really changed my point of view on historical artefacts and also on (cultural) history in general.
In the museum my main job was being a curatorial intern. I was assisting the chief curator of the museum with preparing exhibitions and lectures. For the preparing of an exhibition I had to connect objects to tell a historical story. In this sense my work as a future cultural historian was very practical with selecting and handling historical objects. Also the stories behind the objects gave me a broader view on the history of the Soviet Union states during the Cold War. In this sense I learned more about the citizens of the Soviet Union, because also everyday objects were available and presented in the archive. This made the past and the people in the past more tangible, because the material was used by the people.
During my internship I worked four days a week in the museum, so I also had time to experience the city of Los Angeles a little bit more. Except from the nice weather and the beautiful beaches, Los Angeles has a lot of nice other museums to offer. Especially nice modern art museums. It is interesting to see that in the Netherlands, and I think in whole Europe the focus is more on historical museums, but in Los Angeles the focus is more on modern art museums. This says a lot about the cultural differences in the world and gave me an interesting view on the diversity and focus on museums around the world.
I am really grateful for this experience and it did change my view on history and also on culture in general. The internship really gave me the opportunity to experience some practical skills as a historian, but it also changed my view on history, in a more multi-prospective way.”
Alice Ridgway is a former student
“As it combined theoretical study with practical application, I decided to enroll in the Cultural History of Modern Europe programme. I aspired to develop my academic knowledge whilst broadening my career prospects as a historian. Through an internship I also wished to make use of the wide variety of connections in different cultural sectors that the tutors had in this department.
The programme challenges the historical thinking that many students are used to at undergraduate level. From a cultural-historical angle, the course questions prominent notions that constitute our social reality. Furthermore, I concentrate on an interdisciplinary approach to the study of cultural history, which included the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, art criticism and philosophy. This interdisciplinary and modern approach to academia is reflected by the student assessments: assignments include, for instance, planning an exhibition and organizing a field trip which complements traditional essay writing and presentations
Through an internship, my theoretical research skills could be applied to a practical work environment. I worked as an intern at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam to research and obtain visual media for the exhibition The Sixties: A Worldwide Happening. I selected over 55 photographs that conveyed the ambience of the sixties under the themes protest; liberation; counterculture; fashion and utopia. I applied my academic knowledge from the Modernity module on post-colonial history to choose images that gave agency to non-western culture. Moreover, the internship allowed me to gain inside information of how an exhibition is realised in a museum from start to finish. It gave me the opportunity to visit many archives across The Netherlands and understand how cultural institutions interact with one another. In the future I will be applying the skills I gained here in a placement at the Victorian & Albert Museum Archive in London.”
Celine Frohn is a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield
"What makes the Master’s programme Cultural History of Modern Europe special is that it brings together teachers and students with very diverse research interests. Cultural history as a field of research is still very broad, and I felt like there was plenty of room to carve out your own path within the programme based on your personal interests. Because everyone has a different background (ranging from history to philosophy to American studies) class discussions are more engaging; and as groups are relatively small, I feel like the space created to exchange ideas is one of the strengths of the Master’s programme.
The knowledge and skills I’ve acquired are definitely useful in my professional life. Thinking critically and approaching a problem from different viewpoints is invaluable and useful in any career. What helps me especially in my academic career is the solid theoretical background that the Cultural History Master’s programme provided. Research never fully ‘clicked’ for me until the first few courses of the Master’s, which concentrated on theory. It was as if I had never truly understood what I was doing before then.
Since I graduated I have been mainly focused on finding a PhD position. Entry into PhD programmes at the moment is highly competitive, so it took me about half a year to find one. Luckily, I have been accepted into a PhD programme in English Literature at the University of Sheffield, which is scheduled to start in October 2017. Currently, I am mainly concentrating on expanding my academic resume. I went on a week-long ‘scientific mission’ to Oxford University to contribute to a research project on early modern letter exchanges, presented a paper on body history at a conference, and did an internship as research assistant at a Dutch heritage institution. In the future I hope to complete a doctorate and become a literary historian, working either at a research institute or a university."