Honoring a legacy by supporting field research around the world

Sarah Fister Gale

Before dedicating four decades to teaching social science at UChicago, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph spent a glorious summer in 1956 conducting field surveys about political life in India. The 5,000-mile journey from London to Jaipur changed the course of their careers. That research, made possible by support from the Ford Foundation, produced iconic critiques of imperial categories like modernity and tradition and reflections on fieldwork that are still widely read today.

“The Rudolphs were outstanding field workers,” says Jenny Trinitapoli, director of the Center for International Social Science Research (CISSR) and associate professor in Sociology. To honor that research trip and the work that emerged from it, CISSR created The Lloyd and Suzanne Rudolph Field Research Awards for Graduate Students.

The program funds field and archival research projects for students who, like the Rudolphs, aspire to advance their knowledge of a subject through their own research journeys. “We saw it as a perfect opportunity to celebrate the Rudolphs’ legacy,” Trinitapoli says.

The grant program offers awards up to $5000 to graduate students across the Division of the Social Sciences to support field and archival research projects for current dissertation work or to test ideas for future Ph.D. studies. “Part of the intention is to help students get into the field before the dissertation; if they discover that an idea isn’t feasible, they can make adjustments and get to a better project, faster,” says Trinitapoli.

CISSR put out the first call for applications last fall. They received three times more applications than expected – illustrating how important such funding programs are for graduate students, she says. Eleven students were selected for the first round of awards and are now are in the midst of their projects.

Here is how a few of them are using CISSR support to advance their scholarship.

From the Arctic to Bombay

Emma Gilheany is a PhD candidate in the department of anthropology, studying how the material record can be used to re-theorize sub-arctic and arctic settler colonialism in North America. She used the grant to return to Hopedale, Nunatsiavut in circumpolar Canada, where she had spent a previous summer as part of an archaeological crew associated with a Canadian university. “It is prohibitively expensive to travel to my field site, and I was excited that this field research grant could help me return to Nunatsiavut,” she says.

Thanks to the grant she was able to direct her own exploratory archival and archaeological survey last summer, which included mapping the island of Uviluktok, and uncovering tent rings, hunting blinds, ruins from a church built in 1903, and evidence of the island’s importance in the cod fishing industry. “This research was extraordinarily helpful and will help me frame my dissertation,” Gilheany notes. She is currently working on a master’s paper that explores how Moravian Missionaries discussed weather and climate using the archival work as a basis.

Cameron Hu is a doctoral candidate in anthropology, exploring the political-economic and techno-scientific logistics that shape the global frontier of "unconventional" oil extraction. Hu plans to use his grant money to travel to Sumatra this winter to study the legal and political framework of shale oil extraction.

His interest in going to Indonesia stems from initial site research he conducted on a non-conventional oil field in rural West Texas, where he found a deeply diverse multinational cohort of workers. “The purpose of the grant is to see how this method of extraction is being exported to other places,” he says. Taking the research to Indonesia will help him further explore the on how modes of extraction, access to talent, site ownership, and regulatory issues impact the perception and outcomes of these often controversial projects. He plans to interview miners, bureaucrats, expats and research scientists to follow the logical trajectory of the lessons he learned in Texas. “It’s an opportunity for me to develop the research in the direction that it is asking to go, and to push into areas of research that no-one is paying attention to,” he says.

Raffaella Taylor-Seymour is a UK-US Fulbright Scholar and PhD candidate in the departments of anthropology and comparative human development. Her research examines the politics of fertility, sexuality, and ancestry in Pentecostal communities in contemporary Zimbabwe. Taylor-Seymour had been hoping to make a pre-dissertation field trip to Zimbabwe during the summer 2018, but she lacked funding. “I was very happy to see the call for applications and excited when I got the grant,” she says.

She used the grant to return to her long-term field site in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to focus on a core group of research participants - queer individuals who attend Pentecostal churches in spite of the fact that these churches are widely considered to be very homophobic. “I was able to undertake six weeks of preliminary fieldwork with this community and was in a much better position to return for long term dissertation fieldwork in 2019.”

Through in-person interviews and observations, she discovered that many of her informants spend time visiting traditional ancestral practitioners. “As a result, I spent time with several spirit mediums who have become important to how I’m framing my dissertation project,” she says. The visit also helped her solidify her relationships with these informants. “It was an incredibly fruitful and productive field visit.”

Emily Webster is a third-year PhD candidate in the department of history, studying the environmental history of the British Empire. Her current project, "Diseased Landscapes: Land Use Change and Emerging Epidemics in the British Empire, 1840-1915," focuses on the relationship between urban land use change and the emergence of epidemic diseases. “The goal of my research is to show how land use changes in urban environments driven by British Imperialism gave rise to ecologies uniquely suited to the emergence of various diseases,” she explains. The dissertation project looks at three imperial cities in the nineteenth century - Belfast, Bombay, and Melbourne - and considers the confluence of local and global pressures in these spaces and their role in providing the ideal environment for a particular epidemic.

Webster used the grant money to spend four months in Delhi, Mumbai, and at the British Library. “This travel allowed me to complete my research for the Bombay plague epidemic, which is a central chapter in the dissertation project,” she says. “Just having spent time in Mumbai will allow for a far more nuanced and grounded argument in a project that may have otherwise risked being too abstract.”

Could your research be next?

CISSR will soon be accepting applications for the 2019 grant award recipients, and last year’s awardees encourage any interested students to apply. “This is a wonderful opportunity for students whose research spans global contexts and takes them to various corners of the world,” Webster says.

She advises applicants to emphasize their interest in working in different communities and their enthusiasm for generating new questions in new spaces. “It is also important to share the significance of your research, not only for academia and the world, but to you,” she says. “A common thread among the grant writers is that they are all deeply committed to their projects.”

Application rules and deadlines, and more about other grant winners, are available on the CISSR website.