Audra Diptee

Professor Audra Diptee

Associate Professor in the Department of History Audra Diptee has won a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Centre Residency Fellowship for 2018. She will take up a one-month writing residency at the Bellagio Center in Italy.

“I was delighted when I heard the news — primarily because the objectives of the fellowship program align almost perfectly with my own research agenda,” said Professor Diptee.

“The Rockefeller Foundation has a strong interest in projects that have a direct impact on the lives of vulnerable people in different parts of the world.”

Central to her project New Strategies for the Battle Against Modern Day Slavery is an exploration of the ways in which historians can better contribute to the challenges facing the humanitarian sector in general and anti-slavery initiatives in particular.

When I teach my courses, it is important to me that those students understand that if you want to write good policy for example, you need to know how history ‘works.’  I don’t mean, they need to know the history of this place or that place.

“I feel quite fortunate that I will be able to write in a multidisciplinary environment with academics, activists, and artists who are trying to develop non-conventional approaches to “real world” problems,” said Diptee.

New Strategies for the Battle Against Modern Day Slavery develops the ideas that have been laid out in her article “The Problem of Modern Day Slavery: Is Critical Applied History the Answer?” which is to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Slavery & Abolition.  In short, through its analysis of anti-slavery discourses and initiatives, this project will contemplate the ways in which power dynamics legitimate certain ways of knowing, interrogate the ahistorical tendencies of institutionally produced discourses, and problematize how various notions of the past come into conflict.

This is a continuation of her ongoing interdisciplinary research and explores the ways in which historians can better contribute to the challenges facing the humanitarian sector in general and anti-slavery initiatives in particular.

“My work on modern slavery is actually part of a larger project called “History as Weapon: Writing Radical Caribbean Histories” in which I argue that the methodology of Critical Applied History is a necessary tool for reorienting Western discourses about the region — and the Global South more generally — that is pervasive in politics, policy, as well as development and humanitarian discourses,” explained Professor Diptee.

The Rockefeller Foundation awards these residencies to individuals who are on “a strong upward trajectory” and whose research aligns with the Foundation’s efforts to “impact the lives of poor and vulnerable populations around the world.”

When asked to reflect on achieving this prestigious recognition, Diptee was quick to thank her students.

“I’ve always been inclined to pursue these kinds of research questions, but interacting with undergraduate students has played an important role in shaping my thinking.”

Diptee teaches a fourth-year course in African Studies, a second-year course in Caribbean history, and a first-year course in World History.  In any given year in my World History course, approximately 50% of her students are pursuing degrees in Public Affairs and Policy Management.

“They are full of youthful optimism and all want to ‘change the world.’ When I teach my courses, it is important to me that those students understand that if you want to write good policy, for example, you need to know how history ‘works.’  I don’t mean, they need to know the history of this place or that place.”

Diptee aspires to help students understand how history gets embedded into policy in a way that is not readily apparent.

“They need to comprehend how poor policy often comes from a poor application of history. I want students who take my courses on the Caribbean and Africa to stop asking questions like ‘How can we (in the West) fix Africa and the Caribbean?’”

Instead, Diptee wants them to learn that the West helped create the challenges these regions now face through imperialist institutions that continue to thrive today — even if they are not perceived as pursuing an imperialist agenda.

“My students have reminded me about the ways in which power is well hidden in historical production and in the application of history,” said Diptee.

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