Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Learning Journal 30: Last (of the Semester) Reflections on Cultural Learning

When I first enrolled in IAS 360R, I thought it would be a class about how to survive in the wilds of Ghana and Mexico and Tonga, and thus would apply to my field study very little. I figured that since there was so much similarity between American and English culture, I would have little problem assimilating into the culture, other than understanding British accents and learning words like "nappy" and "bobby." I also thought that because I was studying history and literature rather than living people, I could just hole myself up in libraries and museums all day long and spent my field study in an ivory tower.

In short, I was very wrong.

Although the field study class has taught me countless of important concepts and practices, like gaining entry, appropriate reciprocity, and safety in a foreign country, the most important idea that I have learning this semester is respect for other cultures. I think that as members of a technologized, industrialized, "forward-thinking" culture, it is so easy for Americans to look down on other cultures. Sometimes this can come out in vulgar phrases like, "Why do they do that? Its inefficient and stupid," or "That's really weird/gross." But many times, we don't even notice that we're looking down on other cultures. This happens all the time, when people comment on how simple and happy other cultures are, or how they are so quaint and picturesque, or how we are so amazed that they can survive without modern technology. We don't mean to insult other cultures, but because we've been raised in our culture, we naturally find it superior.

As I discussed in the previous post about my book review, I've been able to apply this concept to different geographic cultures (modern London) and also different historical cultures (Tudor London). Just like we believe we are superior to other cultures, we also tend to believe we are superior to other eras. I've heard all of the vulgar phrases in the paragraph above asked of historical peoples as well. Earlier this semester, while discussing Medieval love poetry, the students in one of my classes kept mocking the author of the poem for his silly, girlish tendencies. I made the point that gender was viewed differently back then, and it was common for men to be just as sappy, if not more so, than women. While I thought this was an important piece of information to share, I guess my class thought I was joking, because they laughed at me. Even though I protested that it was true, they said things like, "that's ridiculous!" or even worse, "how gay!" While people tend to be more aware of negative cultural criticism (even if they are guilt of it), I'd guess that most people don't even think that negative historical cultural criticism is possible. After all, they're all dead, so they can't take offense, and everybody knows that humankind is constantly improving because of technology.

This view of history is exactly what makes people close-minded and simple. Like misunderstanding geographical cultures, people assume that people cannot possibly be as diverse as historians or anthropologists report. They think that everyone, if they had the choice, would like in a nice house close to the mall and their office job. Maybe it's hard for the human mind to comprehend diversity, or maybe we're a little uncomfortable with so many differences. Either way, I'm infinitely grateful that I took IAS 360R because it helped me exercise my capacity for tolerance and understanding, and learn how to represent a culture fairly. I hope that through my project I will be able to educate others about treating cultures fairly, whether across time or across space.

Book Review

Selling the Tudor Monarchy:

Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England

By Kevin Sharpe

Sharpe’s Selling the Tudor Monarchy is the first of two volumes exploring the ways in which English monarchs during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represented themselves to their people. Most people unfamiliar with early modern English monarchy assume that since the monarch had complete power of the army and the navy, they could rule as they wish, and didn’t care much for the opinions of their people. But according to Sharpe, the Tudor monarchs were among the first monarchs to create “advertising campaigns” for their own reigns. By hiring artists, printers, writings, and other craftsmen to make flattering portrayals of them, these monarchs were able to inundate their realms with positive images of themselves. This practice was usually very successful in influencing the minds and opinions of their people.

Selling the Tudor Monarchy is vital for my field study project and research experience because it explains the basics behind monarchical self-representation. My field study project focuses on the theatrical representations of the Tudor queens in comparison to the actual historical queens, and Sharpe’s book helps to show the questions which must be considered when trying to distinguish history from myth. Furthermore, Sharpe is very careful at explaining the culture of Tudor England in relationship to the monarchs and their ad campaigns. Although historical accuracy is generally viewed as a must in historical literature, in my research, I’ve noticed that some authors, especially literary critics, tend to read history backwards. While they have their historical facts straight, they tend to interpret history using modern theories, for example, interpreting the decisions of fourteenth –century merchants using the modern theory of capitalism rather than the historically contemporary theory of mercantilism. Thus, the history is correct, but the mistaken interpretation of the history renders everything useless.

In my subject area, many scholars tend to interpret the actions of monarchs using theories and ideas which obscure and skew the monarch’s intentions rather than revealing them. Modern political theories of constitutional monarchy, democracy, dictatorship, and republics have all but replaced ancient political theories of autocracy, divine right of kings, and Renaissance monarchy. Instead of interpreting Tudor monarchs’ actions through the policies of Renaissance English political theories, many scholars impose modern political theories on Tudor history without recognizing their erroneous reasoning.

Sharpe is extremely meticulous in using Tudor theories to interpret Tudor history. Reading Selling the Tudor Monarchy helped me better understand Tudor culture, which will definitely reflect in my research. Understanding Tudor culture is just as important to my field study as understanding London and British culture. And like we have studied in class, Sharpe points out that there is more to Tudor culture than simply pointing out the differences between its culture and our culture. On the other end of the spectrum, Sharpe shows that assuming their culture is essentially the same as ours is also false (for instance, Elizabeth I was not the feminist that she is portrayed as in modern television and movies). Reading Selling the Tudor Monarchy provided an excellent overview and foundation for the research which I will perform in the field, and it will definitely be a starting point for a deeper exploration into the lives and self-representations of Jane, Mary, and Elizabeth.

Sharpe, Kevin. Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009. Print.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Learning Journal 29: Project Presentations II

Today we finished the field study project presentations in our section. Something which one of the students said got me thinking about my particular field study. The student said that the reason why he picked a field study rather than a study abroad or another option was because he felt field studies were more student-motivated. He liked the idea that he was originating his own research and completing his own project, rather than working on the exact same assignments in a study abroad, which seemed to have a one-size-fits-all mentality in comparison. Although I had always had the same feeling about field study, I had never quite been able to fit in into words like he did. I knew I wanted to do a field study because I didn't want to pay so much for a study abroad, and because I didn't want to be required to take the classes on a study abroad. I also knew that none of the study abroad options really fit my project. But it wasn't until he talked about the ability to form and control your own project, and to do self-motivated research as an undergrad--rather than waiting until grad school or later--that I realized how vital it was to my project and to my general growth as a scholar that I did a field study instead of any other foreign study program.
Something else that was mentioned by another student was that on a field study, she felt less like a tourist and more like an observer. Instead of staying in a packed group and listening to tour guides or your professors tell you about some historical place, you were able to go out yourself and discover. When you are in such a large, homogeneous group like a study abroad group, you are naturally treated as tourists, because you appear just like tourists. But when you're able to separate yourself, you can sometimes "fly under the radar" and see what might have been impossible to see as a tourist.
I like both of these ideas very much, and I want to apply them to my field study. First of all, I want to make sure that I take full advantage of directing my own research. I feel like I've already done a good job of this by picking classes in which I can build my own curriculum and use my research to work for me in finishing a project and getting credit for it. Second, I want to be an observer than a tourist (or maybe just be a tourist for the first week, and get it all over with at once). In my opinion, the difference between an observer and a tourist is that a tourist treats a country as a destination with a checklist of places to go. A tourist will not stop for a while to contemplate architecture or watch the indigenous people move about, for they have places to go and things to see. Their goal is to get as much done in as little time as possible so that they can have time to see even more things. They carry their cameras around so they can look back at pictures in case they did not have enough time to look around when they were there. It seems as if few tourists are relaxed enough to see anything that the tour guide doesn't point out to them.
On the other hand, I want to be an observer. If I planned to go to a library, but I stopped in a museum for a little bit and a particular portrait fascinates me, I want to feel free enough to go late (or not at all) to the library, in order to view and study the portrait for as long as I wish. I want to stay in a historical site for hours, just to fully enjoy the history and to talk to the guides as long as I wish. In short, I want to have all of the experiences that so many people pass by when they come as tourists and only give themselves two or three weeks in seeing England. For that matter, I don't want to see England, I want to experience it and have a life memory than just a lot of pictures on Facebook.
I want to be able to keep these goals on the top of my list. I think that if I remember that my field study project is student-oriented and student-created, and if I also remember to be an observer and a participant, not a tourist, I will be able to have a much better and more successful experience.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learning Journal 28: Class Presentations I

After listening to another student's presentation and comparing our project and field study programs, I've come up with a few more challenges I will face in the field, as well as some things I'd like to change about my project.
One of the challenges I noticed was how complicated my project seemed in comparison with other projects. From what I've gathered in talking to their other students, most of the projects follow basically the same equation: go to the field, target a certain demographic, ask their opinion on something, and then code and write up the data. But being a literary essay, my project will follow a much different format, and involves a lot of competing factors and specifications to narrow down my subject to the point that it can fit in a 70-100 page honors thesis. And although my research question may seem complicated, as I've looked back on how I formed it, it's actually not very complicated at all. My main question is what factors determined whether or not a Tudor queen regnant was successful in gaining and maintaining the love and loyalty of her people. Of course, this leads to a question exploring how Tudor queens presented themselves in public. This, again, leads to a question of how Tudor queens presented themselves in public during their accessions, for this time period was key in creating an image; in some ways it was the country's "first impression" of the monarch. The second part of my question, how the myths of these queens affected the English imagination, is best answered by studying the literature and art which occurred during/after these queens' reigns, and which used the queens as subjects. And since plays show not only the physical queen (like a portrait or engraving), but also the queen's personality and words (like in a book or chronicle), theatre is one of the best mediums to study when exploring representations of the queens. And by comparing the theatrical version of the accession to the historical version of the accession, we can see exactly what was myth and was actually happened. But even though I can explain the logic behind my project to myself, I can foresee that one of my challenges in the field might be explaining my project to the people I interview. I think a good idea might be to come up with a simple but accurate way to explain my project in a way that anybody could understand, because I'd had to waste time in interviews on explaining the complications of my project.
One of the challenges I also realized that I would face in the field would be the numerous different accents I will experience while in London. While I won't have to worry about finding an interpreter, I will have to deal with a lot of different versions of English, not just while interviewing but in everyday life. And I won't just have to worry about Cockney or Scottish or Irish accents, but considering the diversity of London, I will probably hear a lot of African, Indian, Pakistani, and other accents as well. While this will be exciting and fun, I also know it might be very stressful because I consider myself very bad at understanding accents. Not only will it be difficult to communicate, but I also am worried that I might offend people. Will people be understanding of my difficulty in understanding other accents? And if so, is there some kind of exercises I can do to learn how to understand different accents more accurately?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning Journal 27: Culture Shock

In the readings and class discussion about culture shock, I noticed so many ideas and opinions that I had had about travel and biculturalism that I wasn't quite able to put into words. The discussion and readings helped me not only put some of these ideas into words, but also helped me think about them on a deeper level. One of my ideas about why culture shock can be so intense and powerful is because sometimes we passively let our cultures define ourselves. Granted, there are a lot of aspects about our culture that have a huge effect on us, whether we want them to or not. But there are also a lot of ways in which we can differ from our culture. For instance, do I go to church, abstain from alcohol and drugs, and dress modestly because it is part of who I am, or because everyone else in my culture does the same thing? Do I value hard work and self-reliance because I myself am hard working and self-reliant, or just because these are (WASP) American values? I think a big reason why culture shock is so powerful is because when we are removed from our native culture, it is no longer there to define us or to help us make decisions. We must decide if certain values and personality traits are part of what defines us as a human being, or if they were just something we took on as part of living in our culture. Realizing that your self-knowledge and humanity depends on a culture that you left thousands of miles away can be rather frightening.
Another concept about culture shock that I've been thinking about for a while is the difference between cultural immersion and just simply sightseeing and vacationing. I have a lot of friends who have become world travelers while in college, and while they've spent many months of their college careers in different countries, they seem totally unaffected by culture shock. As I first learned about culture shock from the IAS prep course, I kept asking myself why my friends hadn't gotten culture shock, why they seemingly waltzed into a country, saw everything of importance, ate good food, enjoyed the nature, took enough photos for a facebook picture album, and were done. If I was preparing for symptoms like over/undereating, random bouts of crying, and irritability, how was it that their only negative experience during travel was a light sunburn?
As I've been thinking about this lately, especially after class discussion, I realized that there were two probable answers. First, they actually did experience culture shock, but not knowing what it was, they just assumed they were being weak or grouchy and obviously don't want to share their faults with me. And second, they may not have experience culture shock because they stayed within the Americanized areas of the countries they visited. Most of these friends stayed in nice hotels with very western ideas of service and living. And those who weren't able to stay in nice hotels still did not put much emphasis on cultural immersion--they were either there to study geology, wildlife, native plants, etc., or to look at art and see sights. They were as concerned with crossing cultures as they were with collecting data, and therefore they felt little need to mesh with the existing culture.
Another common practice that I noticed about these friends who had gone to foreign countries was how they described their travel experiences. They reminded me of the students described in the article we read at the beginning of the semester, "What Students Don't Learn Abroad." They viewed different countries and places as items to be checked off on a to-do list, and even had a "conquering" attitude when it came to visiting other places. Instead of enjoying the country and learning about the native traditions and culture, these students acted like the main characters of some rogue travel show, or as young missionaries spreading the gospel of American pop values to the savage people. They saw interesting cultural experiences as challenges to their intellect, rather than just interesting cultural experiences. They seemed to believe that one size could really fit all, as if the people living in these foreign places were hired to act as crazy/poor/happy/friendly/whatever as they did, and American culture was the only "real culture." As a whole, their experiences seemed crafted to end up on facebook or a resume, and the humility of approaching and learning from a different culture was far from their minds.
From this perspective, I think culture shock is the price we must pay if we want to avoid being the obnoxious American tourist and instead be the understanding, teachable American. Even though I am going to London, which has so much in common with America, I expect to feel culture shock because I want to experience the culture of London, not just the postcard version of London. I want to feel uncomfortable, because that may be the only way that I know I'm having a London experience in London, not just an American experience that happens to be in London.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Learning Journal 26: Proposal Review

Today in class we did an activity in which we basically wrote an outline of our project proposals on post-it notes. Although it seemed somewhat redundant to write summaries of our projects, this actually really helped.
After thinking more about the process of writing a field study proposal, I realized that the length and breadth of the proposal is probably the most difficult part of the proposal. When you are asked to write a document describing in detail every single aspect of your field study, and especially when you have to write about so many different subjects, it's very difficult to keep your proposal focused, organized, and answer all the questions. Because of this, my proposal tended to wander around, and since I worked on it in sections at different times, the earlier sections are somewhat less developed than the later sections.
By mapping out my proposal, I was able to see the spots that didn't fit in, that were underdeveloped, and/or were no longer relevant to my main proposal argument. For instance, in my "Background and Significance" section, my introductory paragraph is all about ethos and how Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth, and Mary used ethos in shaping their self-representations. But when I looked back and summarized it today in class, I realized that my long explanation of ethos is rather tangential and superfluous. Sure, it fits into my thesis introduction, but it doesn't add anything necessary for the reader to know about my project and field study. The same problems tend to continue throughout the rest of my paper. I can tell now that I definitely need to rework my Background and Significance section. And by summarizing my proposal, I can take a step back and look at my proposal from enough of a distance to have better judgment, rather than getting bogged down in the length and variety of information.