A hallmark of many Centre College students’ education is the opportunity to engage in unique collaborative research opportunities with their professors. Emily Rodes ’16 traveled to the University of Cambridge in England this summer to research the life and writings of Eridadi M.K. Mulira with Assistant Professor of History and Chair of the African and African American Studies program Jonathon Earle.
Mulira (1909-1995) was a publisher and politician in Uganda and the central mind behind the Ugandan postcolonial constitution. Earle and Rodes worked with his 4,400-file personal collection of papers on a wide range of topics, from theological musings to letters and stories, which Earle says provide an “intimate understanding into the character of anti-colonial nationalism in the region.” With these materials, they undertook the first digitization project in the history of the University’s Centre for African Studies.
“The purpose of doing this project is to make the collection accessible via the Centre for African Studies’ website,” Rodes says. “This is important because the collection will not only be accessible to other researchers, but also Mulira’s family.”
Their task was built upon Earle’s long-standing work with archival development in Uganda and at Cambridge.
“During my doctoral research, I worked with the Mulira family to deposit the collection in Cambridge,” Earle explains. “The digitization of the papers was the next step in this broader effort.”
Around the time that he began to plan the summer project, Rodes approached Earle about research opportunities surrounding African history that he thought she could apply for.
“As the resident historian of modern Africa, Dr. Earle has been a leading factor in my growing passion for African history,” Rodes says. “When I approached him with questions about opportunities this summer, the timing was all too perfect because he was in need of a research assistant.”
A “typical day” for the two began with riding bicycles—which, Rodes points out, “everyone in Cambridge” does—to the University. They would then sort through all of the Mulira collection and take notes on the works before photographing each page. Rodes worked with camera specifications as well as lighting and software analysis while Earle’s work was largely concerned with document placement and organization.
They often used their lunch breaks to dine with faculty and fellow Africanists in the University’s various historic colleges before returning to their work.
“This is a privilege that not many are able to experience while visiting Cambridge,” Rodes says. “I was able to dine at Trinity College, St. John’s College and Churchill College, among others, because of friends and colleagues of Dr. Earle’s that are still working at the University.”
When not working, Rodes enjoyed taking in local sights, in what Earle calls the “beautiful, collegial and incredibly energizing” environment of Cambridge.
“It would be difficult to not be inspired by the beautiful scenery and overall historic nature of the town,” she explains. “It seems as though every corner has a hidden history. One minute you are standing in the hallway where Isaac Newton discovered the speed of sound, and the next you’re looking Margaret Thatcher’s personal papers in the eye.”
Rodes says this research experience has given her an outlook into the possibility of furthering her education, and also doing so abroad.
“I really feel as though one is able to live out their passions through research in graduate school because the courses are much more focused upon what one wants to study,” Rodes concludes. “I have decided to follow my passions into African studies, hopefully attending a university in which I will be able to research this subject.”
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
October 27, 2015