Matthew Hughes ’16 studies pilgrimage and tourism as John C. Young Scholar
Some people might not find the prospect of reading itineraria, ancient Roman travelogues written in Latin, to be very appealing. But Centre College senior Matthew Hughes finds it to be fascinating, which is why he has been studying these timeworn texts as part of his project as a John C. Young (JCY) Scholar.
Centre’s JCY program, now in its 26th year, is designed to serve highly motivated senior students with yearlong independent study and research in the area of their choosing. For Hughes’ project, he took an anthropological look into the relationship between pilgrimage and tourism—specifically, the underlying, innate reasons for why humans travel.
“I became interested when I took an independent study with Dr. [Tom] McCollough on Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land last fall,” he says.
This past summer, Hughes joined the Shikhin Excavation Project in Israel. He also began having conversations with Phyllis Passariello, Matton Professor of Anthropology, about her field of interest, the anthropology of tourism.
“Looking critically at how we conceptualize pilgrimage and tourism and why we make stark differentiations was intriguing,” he explains. “So, I submitted a JCY proposal looking specifically at the material culture of Holy Land pilgrims.”
Following three weeks on the Shikhin Excavation Project dig, Hughes spent two weeks with Pasariello, traveling to Christian pilgrimage sites in Israel, Palestine and Jordan to document and observe the basic forms of anthropological field research.
“We would talk to whomever we could—tourists, shop owners, tour guides, pilgrims, workers at the sites, hotel owners,” he says. “My observations and experiences led my project to change from looking specifically at the material culture to looking at our understanding of pilgrimage and tourism as a whole.”
Hughes is also a Brown Fellow, and as a history and classical studies major with a minor in anthropology, his John C. Young project fits well with his other studies at Centre. It has also tied into another project he completed in the fall titled “The Power of Perception: Authentic Inauthenticity of Christian Pilgrimage Sites in the Galilee.” Hughes presented this project at the Semiotics Society Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa., and the accompanying paper has been accepted for publication.
Hughes clearly has a passion for this subject. Indeed, being able to delve deeper into his project has been his favorite aspect of the John C. Young program.
“Many classes have term papers or even seminar papers,” says Hughes. “But JCY allows for a year of commitment and takes the place of two classes. This opens up a lot of time to read primary sources, secondary literature and formulate a project.”
He also appreciated having the opportunity to do real field research and fieldwork.
“It was exciting being on site at many of these places and using methods I have learned about in class,” he adds.
Following graduation, Hughes will attend University College London to pursue a master of arts in cultural heritage studies.
by Mary Trollinger
May 5, 2016