Summer Research in Berlin

Summer Research in Berlin

Ian Gavigan ’14 spent six weeks of his summer research fellowship working in archives and libraries in Berlin, Germany. He didn’t spend all his time there buried in old newspapers. Here, Ian enjoys a late afternoon in Berlin’s neighbor to the southwest, Potsdam. Notice his pockets full of basil. Last Wednesday, I got back from six weeks in Berlin. Before that, I spent days sitting in an archive I happily stumbled upon, juggling dozens of WorldCat entries, boxes of micro-film, piles of history books, and folders of newspaper clippings. Out of this mess I’m supposed to write a thesis. We’ll see about that. For now I’m enjoying picking through the haphazard collection that’s building around my ever-evolving topic: turn-of-the-century (19-20th) mass media (newspapers), the “academy’s” scientific production of knowledge about humans and culture, and popularly-circulating ways of understanding and “thinking” racial difference. Although this project started before I arrived at Haverford, it began taking recognizable shape last fall in Professor Travis Zadeh’s  Religion major area seminar called “Religion and Translation.” Early in the course we read the book “Languages of Paradise” by Maurice Olender. It is a history of the connections between 18th and 19th century philologists–people who studied and compared the history of languages and grammar, especially “Oriental” languages like Sanskrit and Persian–and Indo-European or Aryan racism. Through “Indo-European” linguistics, these academics elaborated detailed and complex “histories” of the Aryan race. Comparing languages like German, Latin, Sanskrit, Persian, and Greek and identifying shared structures and vocabularies among them, philologists theorized a shared “Ursprache” or original language and imagined a pre-modern Golden Age of racial purity. Modern German, and...