Project Genesis: The Reveal

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A screenshot of the e-mail notification the author received, alerting her that her AncestryDNA results were ready.

On May 4th, I got an e-mail that informed me that my DNA results had been processed and were available to review. I was nervous, almost as you might be in anticipating the results of an exam, and anxious, like when you’re sitting in reception, waiting to be called in for an interview. Would I ‘pass’? Was I ‘good enough? Would I find out information I in fact wanted to know? I logged into Ancestry DNA, and the image below depicts what I found.

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A percentage breakdown and map of the author’s ethnicity estimates. Percentages of 5% and higher are included here. Benin/Togo: 30%; Nigeria: 23%; Cameroon/Congo: 14%; Senegal: 6%; Great Britain: 9%; Europe East: 5%

Eighty-one percent of my ancestry stems from West Africa, including people in regions that reside today in Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Also, nineteen percent of my ancestry is European, the largest region represented being Great Britain. The image is a recipe, in a sense, for who I am. I have generous helpings of the French and English-speaking African Gulf and a pinch of the United Kingdom. This data represents my ethnic background and I felt myself walking taller and prouder as I began to process what this new information meant. Wanting more from my latest revelation, I began to seek out people I trusted who were also of African descent to help me to make sense of my findings. Did this data merely confirm what I suspected all along? Or was there more to it? My investigation led me not only to amplify how ideas of identity and ancestry are interpreted, but also to uncover some of my own biases. I interviewed a series of people who helped me to understand the diversity of perspectives related to heritage and some of their nuances within.

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Bust of an African Woman by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier, 1851. Photo Credit: Mary Harrsch

The first of these was Dr. Assata Zerai. She’s an associate dean in the Graduate College, a sociology professor and the new, incoming director of the Center for African Studies. Like me, she is African American, having been born and raised here in the United States, and shares not only the legacy of slavery, but also common phenotypic markers of Sub-Saharan African ancestry: brown skin, highly textured hair and full lips. When I asked her if she had ever considered requesting a DNA test like mine, her response was, “Not really.” As a self-identified Pan-Africanist, acknowledging a connection to the continent and its diaspora was more of a priority to her than knowing what specific regions represented her ancestry. Dr. Zerai’s research, professorship and mentoring, after all, regularly engage discourses regarding black populations. Some of her forthcoming publications, for example, address questions of healthcare in Nigeria, clean water in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and masculinity in Zimbabwe. For her, blackness is not necessarily something one verifies via chromosome counts and markers; it can manifest itself as a lifestyle through the people she cares for, the investigation she pursues and the scholarship she intentionally engages. For her, the likelihood of laboratory results meaningfully impacting the path she has already chosen is low.

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A mosquito net draped over a bed. Photo Credit: Beatrice Murch

In the same effort of accessing my community to help me to interpret my results, I sought out Victor Jones, the Visiting Recruiting Specialist in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Victor is from the Southside of Chicago, and, aside from being a professional wrestler and a major R&B aficionado, he is also a Christian minister. The preservation of the black family is a continual concern for him and encouraging young people towards higher education is an integral part of his work. Interestingly, Victor says, “I don’t call myself African American. I prefer ‘black.’ I can’t readily trace my roots back to Africa.” Moreover, if any visit to Africa involves exposure to extremely high temperatures or sleeping under mosquito nets, he is simply not interested. “I don’t want to be outside of my comfort zone,” he said, claiming he would never live abroad. It was perhaps here that I began to realize that there were some myths in my mind that I had not yet confronted. Having spent the last 13 years on college campuses, I blindly believed that everyone wanted to go abroad and that the major obstacles were the price of plane tickets and short-lived vacation time. Learning that someone I knew opted to pass on opportunities to see the world stopped me and caused me to check my assumptions. While the African continent represents part of our shared historical past, the need to intimately know it is not necessarily pressing to all black peoples. For Victor, ministering to local populations and creating strong, reliable bonds with them takes precedence over international travel.

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Sgt. Franklin Williams, home on leave from army duty, with Ellen Hardin. Baltimore, MD. 1942 Photo Credit: Black History Album

These two interactions reinforced the ideas that not only do African Americans—or blacks, depending upon one’s self-identification—eschew a monolithic set of preferences regarding what we call ourselves, but also the lack of information regarding our heritage does not necessarily make members of these groups feel less than whole. Some African American people are satisfied with their identities within a U.S. context. And, beyond that, a narrative that begins with slavery in North America is not necessarily a problematic one for those who ascribe to it. While understanding that there is an inextricable link to the “Motherland,” there is also a rich history and arguably separate identity here within the United States. Who am I to suggest otherwise? My reaching back into the annals (or lack thereof) of history in a search for self is just as valid as those who reach out and around them for the same purpose.

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A depiction of “Sankofa,” a term from the Akan language that is used within many African American circles to symbolize the value of knowing one’s history. Photo Credit: Shannon Rose

My interviews, however, did not stop there. I wanted to get some feedback from some people who came from African countries. Surely their experiences were different and therefore their opinions, too. I next spoke with Dr. Maimouna Barro who is the Associate Director of the Center for African Studies. She teaches a course called Introduction to Modern Africa and, after making wudu (an Islamic cleansing ritual) and completing her afternoon prayers, she relayed to me her thoughts on seeking ancestry. While Senegal is the place she calls home, she clarified that “If you dig deeper, I’m not just from Senegal.” She then gave me a brief, multi-generational genealogy that included places of origin like Guinea-Conkary and Mauritania. These revelations highlighted another gap in my thinking. For example, if an ethnic group moves from home to a new site, much like with the displacement of Native American tribes along the Oregon Trail, are place markers a reliable source of ethnic identity? For example, I was born in Los Angeles, but that tells nothing of my father’s immigration from Costa Rica and my mother’s family’s migration from Louisiana or anything about our ethnic identities. So what does it mean, then, to submit one’s DNA to a laboratory and to pay for a map that matches one to places? Do we not really want a match to people? Not the imaginary boundaries we have assigned to land?

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A map depicting the distribution and quantities of African people sold into slavery throughout the world. Photo Credit: Maddeler Halinde

Thomas Mukonde, a Zambian graduate assistant in the Undergraduate Library who works in both reference and instruction, was my last interviewee. He said that while tracing DNA seemed interesting, he would have to justify the cost. He knows, for example, that his parents represent the Mambwe/Lungu and Bemba ethnic groups and stated that he does not have a full need to explore his background as someone who is African American might. Moreover, based on his experiences as an undergraduate in Washington, D.C., he found that attempts to connect the African and African American student communities did not fully develop. “The only thing that unifies us is a history of oppression,” he said. “Africans in Africa were colonized. They were deliberately educated to become subjects or citizens. These education systems were very efficient. I don’t know how much Africa remains in the Africans who stayed on the continent.” Thomas suspected that within African American communities, despite and amidst centuries of deep repression, there was a preservation of African customs. Yet, history may have been overly effective in erasing some of these cultural manifestations on the African continent.

 

Work Author or Editor Available in our Library?
The Fire Next Time Baldwin, James Yes, as both an e-book and a print source.
Black Feminist Thought Collins, Patricia Hill A print copy is en route.
The Souls of Black Folk DuBois, W.E.B. Yes, as both an e-book and a print source.
Out of One, Many Africas: Reconstructing the Study and Meaning of Africa Martin, William G. and Michael O. West Yes, as both an e-book and a print source.
How to Be Black Thurston, Baratunde Yes, as a print source.
The Mis-Education of the Negro Woodson, Carter Godwin Yes, as both an e-book and a print source.
Slavery and Social Death Patterson, Orlando Yes, as both an e-book and a print source.

As with all of my intellectual inquiries, Project Genesis has brought me more questions and conversations than answers. What I found, however, was that at the same time that I was trying to dispel myths, I was working from a space of assertions I assumed to be true, and my investigation continually challenged them. How do I feel about my results? I was surprised that Benin and Togo factored in at all because in my mind, I had mistakenly ‘othered’ the regions as they are Francophone and not Anglophone; I was expecting a large swath of my ancestry to be West African, and I was right; I had an inkling that part of me was Nigerian, and that was correct; I was also a little disappointed to not have any Native American group show up in my results as my family lore suggested, as it does in many African American families, that we shared a lineage with some group(s) indigenous to the Americas. Some lingering queries address many issues: If they were to submit DNA samples, would their results be identical to mine? If I am 19% European, does that mean I’m white? Were I to ‘return’ to West Africa, what would await me there? This process taught me anew that the words ‘history’ and ‘identity’ more often than not should take on plural forms, and also that speaking to trusted people is key to finding one’s truth. For more sources for research on black ancestry, as recommended by the interviewees in this article and the author, see the table above. Below you will find an advertisement for a University of Illinois course led by David Wright that explores some of the same issues raised in this piece. Click here on Project Genesis: The Quest to see the first half of this series and be sure to like the International and Area Studies Library’s Facebook page for more articles like these.

englandafro

An advertisement for the cross-listed ENGL 274/AFRO 298 course with study abroad component that explores slavery and identity led by David Wright at the University of Illinois.

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“Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897 – 1921”

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“The black flag of anarchism . . . expresses one’s solidarity with those most abused by the state, by capital, and by religion. . . . ‘Boricua’ . . . [is] more about a collective identity of resistance – in short, a distinct form of antiauthoritarianism rooted in the island people’s collective nationality against colonialism” (Shaffer, 15 &17). “Black Flag Boricuas”

When people think of anarchism, the most common generalizations consist of youth destroying private property, disregard for authority, and a world burning in chaos. Yet, in spite of these misunderstandings, the general public forgets that anarchism stemmed from the struggles of marginalized communities throughout the world.  In “Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897 – 1921,” by Kirwin R. Shaffer, the author explores the role of anarchism in the Caribbean and its interrelationship with other Puerto Ricans and other activist groups in Cuba, Florida, and New York. This book also serves to unite readers under a black flag that evokes the humanity of people affected by authoritarian forms of government.

Spanish colonialism, U.S. invasion, poor living conditions and low wages are some of the ingredients that led to the dissemination of radical consciousness and change in Puerto Rico. Anarchist thought was facilitated by the arrival of Spanish migrant workers to the island in the late 19th century. Their message resonated with the tobacco industries of Caguas, Bayamon, and San Juan, Puerto Rico which had “most of the leading anarchist writers and activists” (Shaffer, 3). Places like Havana, Tampa, and New York were also known tobacco cities; destinations that provided Puerto Rican migrants with more opportunities for income and for networking and mobilizing with fellow comrades. In order to build solidarity with and learn from transnational anarchists, anarchists in the island began to publish newspapers and write articles for American and Cuban periodicals “which helped to internationalize the movement wherever they went and to discuss international topics” (Shaffer, 5). These are just a few of the examples of dissidence that represent Puerto Ricans’ struggle for autonomy from foreign and domestic exploitation and social injustice.

“Black Flag Boricuas” provides a breadth of information and is a good introduction to the history of anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th century Puerto Rico.

If you are interested in learning more about anarchism around the world, you can check out “Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Dharma of Uchiyama Gudo” from the International and Area Studies Library. It is a collection of translated essays by a Zen Buddhist priest and anarcho-socialist activist that provide an interesting insight into Buddhist history in Japan.

Also, the main library has a book titled “Anarchism & The Mexican Working Class, 1860 – 1931” which looks at the impact of anarchism on the Mexican working class. Moreover, the main library has a collection of English periodicals, “Anarchy,” that focus on issues of unemployment, racism, gender discrimination, poverty, militarization, and other related issues within Europe and beyond. For something less broad, you might also be interested in learning about anarcho-feminism from “Anarcho-Feminism: From Siren and Black Rose, Two Statements.”

Finally, another recommended book which you can check out through I-Share is “Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria,” about Algerian and French anarchists during the Algerian revolution. Furthermore, check out one of our oldest bibliographies on this subject “Bibliographie de l’anarchie” by Max Nettalu.

Happy Reading & Power to the Reader.

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“The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture”

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The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture,” edited by Christopher Malone and George Martinez, Jr., is a compilation of essays that explore the ways in which hip hop culture serves as an “organic globalizer.” In the opening chapter, Malone and Martinez define organic globalizer as a movement which “builds a network of grassroots institutions geared toward social justice and political participation both locally and globally” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 5). Hip hop developed during the early 1970s “among African Americans and immigrant populations in the urban United States” (Flaherty, 131) and has ever since traveled throughout the world, giving other marginalized communities a voice to raise social awareness and promote change.

The authors explore hip hop as a “means of expression for groups that are historically marginalized and outside of traditional political, institutional access to power” (Flaherty, 131-32) from America’s inner-cities and industrial prison complex to the colonized lands of Palestine, Australia, Africa, and Latin America. From the socio-economic disparities and injustices endured by these transnational communities, the authors propose that “hip hop, rooted in a movement culture, has been an artistic medium used to foster awareness, build and transform social institutions, and/or encourage political activism in local communities that have largely found themselves marginalized” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 15). Therefore, hip hop unites the struggles of international peoples and serves as a force for political engagement, cultural awareness, and social justice on a global scale.

In May 16, 2001, the United Nations sponsored and recognized hip hop as an international culture through the Hip Hop Declaration of Peace. This declaration lists 18 principles which “seek to maintain the dignity and respect of individuals, cultures, tribes, and peoples of the globe . . . [and to promote hip hop] as a veritable source of conflict resolution” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 11). To honor the message of “The Organic Globalizer” and the forthcoming Hip Hop Awareness Week, I encourage you to visit the International and Area Studies Library to check out “The Organic Globalizer” and the rest of our collection and resources. And, make sure you watch the following videos by artists I consider organic globalizers: Aisha Fukushima, DAM, and Nomadic Massive.

Aisha Fukushima

Vocalist, speaker, RAPtivist, instructor and international artist Aisha Fukushima hails from Seattle, Washington/ Yokohama, Japan. She navigates and explores the intersections between hip hop and social justice through her project RAPtivism, public performances, and speeches. The following video further elaborates on her accomplishments and the work that she has done.

“Hip Hop Lives–Raptivism Around the World: Aisha Fukushima at TEDxSitka”

DAM

Da Arabian MC’s (Suhell Nafar, Tamer Nafar, Mahmoud Jreri) are known as the first Palestinian hip hop group from a neighborhood called Lyd/Lod. Their work speaks to the struggles of the Palestinian people living under occupation, challenging ethnic and cultural stereotypes, and raising social awareness. Recently, DAM added a new member to the group, Maysa Daw, and they have worked on a new project through a joint effort with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which addresses the oppression of patriarchal structures. Here is the group’s new video for their single “Who R You?”:

“#Who_You_R (Official Video)”

Nomadic Massive

Nomadic Massive a Montreal-based hip hop group composed of 8 members: Vox Sambou, Nantali Indongo, Lou Piensa, Waahli, Ali Sepu, Meryem Saci, Rawgged MC, and Butta Beats. This super, multicultural and multilingual group of artists conveys their messages in French, English, Creole, Arabic, and Spanish. They have given workshops and worked with international communities, like Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, etc. The following video speaks about the origins of the group and their work to empower and build sustainable communities through hip hop culture.

“TEDxConcordia – Nomadic Massive”

If you are interested in learning more, the following links will direct you to University of Illinois professors, and their curriculum vitas (CVs), for a list of interdisciplinary presentations and publications on hip hop culture.

Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown

Dr. Karen Flynn

Dr. Adam J. Kruse

Dr. Samir Meghelli

Love. Peace. & Hip Hop.

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Ready for Rio?

In about a year and a half from now, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

This past summer, Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup. Leading up to the event there was no small degree of controversy, fueled in large part by popular protests against the status quo‘s apparent focus on its international image rather than on the Brazilian people’s more urgent needs (Moh 2014). The outcry particularly focused on the lack of development/infrastructure in such sectors as education, public transportation, and medical care.

In a May 2013 interview with the Bloomberg News Service, JPMorgan’s Latin American Chief Investment Analyst Philip Guarco spoke with journalist Trish Regan about Brazil’s capabilities and preparations for both events in question, as neither had yet occurred (nor had the popular protests yet begun). He noted,

“[Brazil has] actually doubled the amount on infrastructure that they’ve made over the last 10 years, from about two percent of GDP to four percent. But I think there has to be more partnership with the private sector. And unfortunately there’s been a number of moves recently by the government which I think discouraged the private sector from investing more in infrastructure.”

These doubts were widely echoed throughout international media in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup. Although the Brazilian national team suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semi-finals and then a 0-3 loss to the Netherlands in the run-off for third place (Pearson/FIFA 2014), the logistical/infrastructural issues predicted by many critics seemed to have been not only averted, but quite smoothly maneuvered. Score one for the Brazilians there.

However, as life gradually returned to normal after the event, the Brazilian economy began to register the reverberations from the weeks of lost productivity in any sector unrelated to the Cup itself, as essentially the whole nation was either directly or indirectly engaged in the mega event:

“While the month-long tournament drew a million foreign tourists to Brazil–far exceeding official expectations–economists say its impact on other sectors of the economy was decidedly negative. Some World Cup host cities declared municipal holidays on days when matches were played in local stadiums, while untold legions of workers played hooky to watch the Brazilian national team’s seven games.” (The Wall Street Journal, 18 July 2014)

Many speculators (Guarco 2013) currently agree that the high hopes that were held for Brazil as a world-class economy are now tempered with a strong dose of scepticism based on internal limitations and the often fraught relationship between the public and private sectors in large-scale projects. The recent scandal involving the widespread corruption of state-run oil giant Petrobras is one glaring example (Horch 2015).

Will the months leading up to the 2016 Olympics (August 5-21, 2016) unfold as another politically turbulent – followed by another economically stagnant – period? Or will the Games only help to solidify Brazil’s still – ostensibly – burgeoning status as the darling of the BRICS nations (“Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa”), despite the risks and challenges? Whatever the result, Brazil’s current position on the world stage is as prominent as it has ever been.

For more information about what’s in store for the fascinating nation and culture of Brazil, scroll down after the references for some recommended reading, all available at the UIUC Library.

Fore more information on Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies, please contact our Subject Specialist, Dr. Antonio Sotomayor: asotomayor@illinois.edu.


References

FIFA. (2014). “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil: Matches.” Online: http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/archive/brazil2014/matches/index.html. Accessed 18 February 2015.

Guarco, Philip and Regan, Trish (Eds.). (2013). “Will We See a Whole New Brazil in 2016?” New York: Bloomberg. Video: http://search.alexanderstreet.com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/view/work/2390602. Accessed 17 February 2015.

Horch, Dan. (2015). “Corruption Scandal at Petrobras Threatens Brazil’s Economy.” The New York Times. 11 February 2015. Online: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/a-corruption-scandal-at-petrobras-threatens-brazils-bond-market-and-economy/?ref=topics&_r=0. Accessed 19 February 2015.

Moh, Catharina (Ed.). (2014). “Clashes Mar Brazil World Cup Protest.” BBC News. 26 January 2014. Video: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-25901361. Accessed 18 February 2015.

Pearson, Samantha (Ed.). (2014). “Brazil’s World Cup Hangover.” The Financial Times. 14 July 2014. Video: http://www.ft.com/indepth/fifa-world-cup-brazil-2014. Accessed 17 February 2015.


Fore more information, check out these books at the UIUC Library

Jennings, Andrew (Ed.). (2014). Brasil em jogo: o que fica da Copa e das Olimpíadas? São Paulo, SP: Carta Maior: Boitempo Editorial.

Wood, Naomi Pueo (Ed.). (2014). Brazil in Twenty-first Century Popular Media: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism on the World StageLanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Zibechi, Raúl and Ryan, Ramon. (2014). The New Brazil: Regional Imperialism and the New DemocracyOakland, CA: AK Press.

Planning your Research Trip to India

Are you planning your research trip to India? If it is your first research trip to India, you will definitely have a lot of questions. Is there a list of libraries that would suit your research? Which cities to tour for the best possible research material? How will you communicate with the locals? How do you carry yourself in a foreign country? How safe is the city you are touring? There are a couple of steps to follow in order to make the best of your trip. Let’s begin!

National Library of India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

National Library of India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It is extremely crucial to do some basic research about the country and specifically the cities you have planned to visit in your itinerary. The city and the library/institution you will want to visit will depend on the topic of your research. If your research is about North India, then the best cities to tour would be Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Kanpur, Patna and Gwalior. If your research is about the financial conditions in India, then the best cities to visit would be Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai.

For researchers touring Delhi, there is an interesting archive review blog on “Twenty Libraries in Delhi You’ve never visited.” Being the capital region and also one of the largest metropolis cities in India, most researchers would like to cover New Delhi in their first trip to India.

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi would interest some of you. Please note that you will need a letter from your home institution and a letter from the U.S Embassy.

Fatehpuri Library. Courtesy of SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal

Fatehpuri Library. Courtesy of SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal

If who would like to focus your research on the Southern parts of India, then the Tamil Nadu State Archives would be an excellent source for your research material. For more details on location and directions or working hours and admission procedure, you may visit this post. At the bottom of the webpage, there is a list of all the TNSA official websites that could lead you to the right source for your study.

If you are planning to visit Kolkata (metropolis in East India), the West Bengal State Archives and the National Library are great sources with in depth study material.

For first timers, India may not be an easy country to travel around in. The country is known for diversity in its culture and that might prove to be difficult for some and interesting for others. It is important to remember that every country has its own charm and any foreign visitor will have to make some basic adjustments to make their travel easy and enjoyable.

In India, every state speaks a different language so communicating with the locals might be a tedious task. I would advise you to learn some basic Hindi (national language) words like “Haan” (Yes), “Na/Nahi” (No), “Namaste” (Hello), “Shukriya” (Thank You) and try to carry a pocket dictionary with you. Although, down South, people are fluent in English more than Hindi.

Photo Courtesy of Mariellen Ward via BreatheDreamGo

Taj Mahal. Photo Courtesy of Mariellen Ward via BreatheDreamGo

Not all parts of India might be safe, especially for women. Always be agile and cautious especially if you are traveling alone during late evenings. It is advisable to wear appropriate clothing (preferably salwar kameez or jeans and a simple top/kurta) to avoid teasing. India is far more traditional in comparison to the West and hence, it is better to play safe. Try not to be over friendly with strangers, especially men. Use public transport during business hours and avoid exploring secluded streets during late nights and/or alone. Also, if you are on a short trip for a specific research purpose,avoid traveling during festivals like Diwali, Navratri, Holi as most public libraries and institutions will be closed during holiday season.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Insitute of Asian Studies

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies. Photo Courtesy of Mara Thacker

India is most definitely a vibrant country with warm and welcoming people. Don’t let that overwhelm you. Instead, enjoy the differences in the cultures and try to be a part of the Indian culture as much as possible. The historic landmarks, scenic beauty, and the amazingly diverse culture of India are all worth experiencing without having to worry about any of the negative possibilities. Keeping my tips in mind as you travel should guarantee you a safe and pleasurable research trip. Happy research!

 

 

 

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