Why Does a Dutchman Living in Denmark Care About Cuba? An Interview With Visiting Scholar Sjamme Van de Voort

“Why does a Dutchman living in Denmark care about Cuba? And why would you come to New York to study Cuba?

Sjamme van de Voort

“Theses questions were posed to me by the Outreach Administrator of CLACS, when she was preparing for my talk at the center. And she was not the first one to ask that question. Let me explain.

My name is Sjamme van de Voort, PhD student at the Department of Culture and Society at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. In Denmark, the position as a PhD student is somewhat different then here in the US. First of all, you are considered a part of the faculty rather then a part of the student body. This means that you have a say in faculty politics, curricular design, and coffee room gossip. Secondly, instead of following graduate courses, taking exams, and drawing up the research prospect during the process, your acceptance into the program will depend on the prospectus that you would have prepared beforehand. This means that you are invested in your research on a daily basis from the very beginning.

Aarhus University has a very internationalist strategy, which means that almost every PhD student, regardless of his or her project, will have to spend two/three months at a research institution abroad. A common assumption about this strategy is that the student goes there as a student – which is not the case. Rather, one could say that the student goes abroad in three functions; as an observer, taking the methods and practices of the institutions in question into account when developing the thesis, as a collector, taking material that does not exist in Denmark with him or her back to Aarhus, and last but not least, the student acts as a diplomat, creating ties between the world and Aarhus.

As a member of the Nottingham based Cuba Research Forum, it would have been obvious to spend my time abroad either in Nottingham, where the Forum has a formidable collection of Cuba related material, or in London, where a lot of the members of the forum are based. This solution would definitely have been easier and cheaper then going to New York. But the fact that those contacts already exist would defeat the purpose of the exchange. New York, on the other hand, presents the possibility of not only creating a new network, but also to the opportunity of integrating this with my existing networks in Denmark, England, and the rest of Northern Europe. A good and simple example could be the database of articles related to memory studies that will be used by PhD students at Columbia (New York), FLACSO (Mexico), and by existing groups in Aarhus.”

Last Monday Sjamme presented his doctoral project Building Cuban Culture: How Official Narrative Becomes Public Memory at CLACS. His talk was welcomed with interest by students and faculty members, who provided useful insights and suggestions about the interviews and field research that Sjamme will do in Cuba this summer for his project.

Posted by Kyle Elizabeth Barron – Outreach Administrator at CLACS

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