DegreePh.D. in English '17
My interests are wide-ranging—from literary studies and political theory to ecology, the environment and documentary film—so one of the major reasons I chose to do my graduate work at Duke was because of the university’s support for interdisciplinary work.
As a literary scholar, one of my most basic interests is in narrative. How and why do we tell stories? What forms do these stories take? And how does storytelling help us understand ourselves and interpret the world around us? I joined the Exploring the Intersection of Energy and Peace-Building through Film team to explore these questions in the context of pressing concerns regarding the environment, human health, and local and international conflict and peace-building.
Partnering with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), our team collected and digitized a decade’s worth of footage shot during environmental assessments of post-conflict zones from the Niger Delta to the Middle East. Using this footage as well as detailed assessment reports, our team began to track the complex web of relationships that links natural resources to conflict in order to think through the ways in which the environment and natural resources might also become part of the process of building peace within and between communities and nations.
Our team also wanted to creatively communicate the stories we were finding through short films that could be used by the UN as well as policy makers, scholars and teachers. Breaking into small groups, our team completed a handful of short films that have been workshopped with professional filmmakers and presented to UNEP.
I helped research, produce and edit Crude Oil, exploring decades of oil pollution in Ogoniland, Nigeria, as well the partnership between UNEP and the Ogoni people to assess and clean up the once-fertile mangrove swamps and farmland of the Niger Delta. We were incredibly pleased to win the Duke Human Rights Center’s 2015 Oliver W. Koonz Prize for Best Alternative Project.
Though the work itself has been both fascinating and challenging (making a film is hard work!), the most rewarding aspect has been the relationships I’ve made with my teammates. Nowhere else can you find professors, undergraduates, graduate students and librarians from fields as diverse as English, environmental science, engineering and the fine arts working so closely together and listening to and appreciating each other’s knowledge and skills. I’ve come out of this project with a stronger commitment to interdisciplinary work and an increasing desire to think (and eventually teach) in a way that encourages the bridging of academic fields.
I would encourage students to take advantage of Bass Connections as an opportunity to meet smart, interesting and engaged people who think and solve problems in different ways than they do. Learning how others encounter the world and produce knowledge has been an invaluable part of my Bass Connections experience that I wouldn’t want others to miss.