What I Do: Norwich History Professor Rowland Brucken

The ultra-runner and human rights scholar discusses his work in Zimbabwe, the country’s repressive political climate, and baseball.

Norwich University Office of Communications

 
May 5, 2017

Norwich history professor and ultra-marathoner Rowland Brucken rarely takes the easy or conventional path. Take the Ohio native’s lifelong devotion to the Cleveland Indians. Or the fact that he didn’t start a band during high school–he founded a chapter of Amnesty International. Today, Brucken serves as the human rights organization’s Zimbabwe country expert and testifies on behalf of Zimbabweans seeking U.S. asylum. At Norwich, he teaches courses on human rights and international law, civil rights, and the prosecution of human rights abuses, as well as surveys of U.S. foreign policy, U.S. history, and the history of baseball. In the classroom, Brucken strives to inspire his students to inform themselves, engage with peers, and reach their own conclusions. “If students have the ability and will to do that, then I’m the happiest professor ever.”

What questions do you explore in your scholarship?

The main question around a lot of my research now is, how can societies heal from mass trauma? Whether it’s torture, genocide, systemic human rights abuses—what are the alternatives? What are the options that victims and survivors have? A second larger question with the human rights work that I do is, how has international human rights law evolved, especially since World War II? In what areas, regions, and times has it been effective in deterring human rights abuses or holding people accountable? In what areas has it been ineffective?

You returned to Zimbabwe earlier this year. What were you doing there?

I gave a paper on truth commissions to a government-sponsored research conference, which was a bit awkward. I also met with civil society groups, human rights organizations, to talk about how Amnesty can best help them given that the next year is probably going to be particularly difficult in Zimbabwe. Lastly—and something unexpected—as part of a transitional justice working group, I gave some feedback to the parliament of Zimbabwe on a truth commission bill that they are now debating. What kind of truth commission to set up in response to past human rights abuses.

You said next year will be difficult there. Why?

There are national elections scheduled for 2018. Whenever there have been elections, the government has increased surveillance and repression of perceived political challengers, as well as human right activists who document human rights abuses. Also, the ruling party might implode; the opposition party is relatively fragmented; and the economy has bottomed out. All of those make for a very uncertain campaign. The government with a monopoly on violence can act unpredictably and arbitrarily in employing torture and detention, among other weapons.

How did your interest in Zimbabwe come about?

It started when I studied abroad when I was in college, during my junior year back in 1990. I wanted to go a country that no one in my college had ever been to. I was at a place called Ranche House College in Harare, the capital. But I also ended up hitchhiking all over the country on my own.

What distinguished that experience for you?

Zimbabweans are culturally an incredibly generous and kind people. For example, when you ask somebody here in the United States, “How are you?” They say, “I’m fine.” In Zimbabwe, it translates into, “I am fine—if you are fine.” There’s a communitarian emphasis. I met many Zimbabweans all over the country. People would be cooking by the side of the road. I would just stop off and have dinner with them. They took me in as a college student, a 20-year-old guy who didn’t really know what he was doing with his life. They took me in, and they gave me their food, their wisdom, their hospitality. I’ve never forgotten that. It’s a debt that I can never repay as a human being.

Did you run on your most recent trip?

I did. I did. I forgot that Harare was a mile above sea level. I ran the same distance, but was often out of breath and had to run slow. I’m not one to back down. I just adjust my pace.

Are you still training for ultra-marathons?

I am. I’ve got one more 100-miler left in me. I’m doing two marathons this [year]. I’m looking at doing another 50-miler in the fall. It’s foolishness is what it is.

You study the history of baseball. Did you play as a youngster? Were you a fan?

I played horribly in little league for two years. I grew up in Cleveland, and so I’m a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan. When I was in elementary and junior high school, the Indians would finish last or next to last every year. Rooting for a losing baseball team, it taught me a lot about life. About being grateful for small victories and about loyalty and that every opening day is a new year. So hope emerges every year right in springtime with flowers and trees. Baseball has such rich history. I couldn’t imagine teaching a course on football history that brings in so many cultural, economic, foreign policy, political, race, class, and gender aspects as baseball does.

Interview edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Armed With Cardboard and Duct Tape, Norwich Students Battle Like Ancient Greeks

Photo of Norwich students holding cardboard shields and wearing makeshift helmets in the style of ancient Greek Hoplite foot soldiers

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Norwich University Office of Communications

November 1, 2016

This fall, Norwich undergraduates tested their mettle as ancient Greek warriors. Using cardboard shields and makeshift foam spears, they assembled on the Upper Parade ground to recreate phalanxes of the fearsome ancient foot soldiers known as Hoplites. The exercise brought together students and faculty from a variety of courses and majors: history, military studies, and studies in war in peace to test theories of how the ancient warriors may have marched and fought so effectively. Norwich students Carly Rotter and Shane O’Neil talk about their cardboard armaments, while Norwich history professors Steven Sodergren, Emily Fischer Gray, and Christine McCann discuss the battle reenactment and its value as a learning exercise.

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Shaili Patel ’16

Photo: Candid photo of four civilian and cadet Norwich students, Shaili Patel second from right

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Shaili Patel ’16

Hometown: Nashua, NH
Double Major: Architecture + History
Student Path: Civilian
Activities:

  • NU Honors Program
  • Student Government Association
  • Residence Advisor
  • CityLAB: Berlin Semester Abroad
  • NUVisions Abroad: Philippines
  • Undergraduate Research

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What Norwich Taught Me

“Norwich taught me to be a confident, independent woman,” Patel says. “It showed me that I have the capabilities to be a leader, as well as the capacity to grow and learn as a person.” She credits Norwich faculty for opening countless opportunities and Norwich friends who “helped me develop my backbone and break me out of my shy shell.”
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Shaili Patel was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and immigrated to the United States when she was 10. In the U.S., she moved often as her parents—both professionals—sought better economic opportunities. She quips that the experience at least taught her how to pack.

Patel found an academic home at Norwich, where she double majored in architecture and history and seized numerous opportunities. She won a coveted NU Summer Research Fellowship and stipend that sent her to London to study the seminal work of architects Christopher Wren and John Gwynn. While at Norwich, Patel entered the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Collegiate Program. The day before Commencement, Norwich President Richard W. Schneider presented Patel with the one of two inaugural student leadership awards. In addition to her parents, her high school drafting teacher attended her graduation.

Patel plans to intern with Norwich chief administrative officer David Magida and his staff this summer as they continue work on bicentennial capital campaign building projects around campus. This fall, Patel continues her studies at NU’s School of Architecture + Art in the one-year master’s program. Upon completion, she will commission as a Civil Engineer Corps Officer in the U.S. Navy. “I want to pay it forward to the country that helped me become who I am.”

Norwich in the News (Video): Montpelier Weekly Chats With 2016 Colby Book Award Winner Nisid Hajari

Photo: Formal head and shoulders portrait of author Nisid Hajari
Norwich University Office of Communications

April 14, 2016

Nat Frothingham, the publisher of the Montpelier weekly The Bridge, interviews journalist and author Nisid Hajari, winner of the 2016 Colby Book Award. A former editor at Newsweek, Hajari is the author of Midnight’s Furies, a riveting account of the partition of India following the end of British colonial rule in 1947 and its continued relevance today.

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Ideas @ Work: #8 CityLAB: Berlin

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33 ideas big and small from Norwich students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are transforming campus and the world.
The Norwich Record

Spring 2016

NU’s CityLAB: Berlin microcampus provides students from Norwich and other universities a life-changing opportunity to explore and experience the German capital—one of the Europe’s most dynamic cities with a population of 3.5 million. World-class faculty offer courses in Architecture + Art, History, Political Science, and Studies in War and Peace that challenge and inspire.

More Ideas@Work:

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New York Times Best-Selling Author Alex Kershaw to Write Norwich University History Book

Portrait of author Alex Kershaw
NORWICH UNIVERSITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS

October 26, 2015

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – New York Times bestselling author Alex Kershaw will document the legacy of Norwich University and its alumni in an authoritative history to commemorate the university’s bicentennial in 2019.

A graduate of Oxford University, Kershaw is the author of nine books, including the New York Times best-sellers “The Bedford Boys,” “The Longest Winter” and “Avenue of Spies,” and biographies of Jack London, Raoul Wallenberg and Robert Capa.

Kershaw’s history will feature the lives and times of the Norwich people who have defined American and world history. The book will be published by Norwich and is slated for release in time for Homecoming 2018. Spanning the university’s founding in 1819 to the present day, the deeply-researched and documented history will feature Kershaw’s trademark compelling narrative style interwoven with photos, illustrations, and timelines.

An honorary colonel in the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division of the Virginia Army National Guard, Kershaw said he was drawn to the unique story of Norwich University shaped by its people and many ‘firsts’.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to work with very creative people in telling a wonderfully dramatic and important story,” Kershaw said.

The book will be published in various formats: in addition to hardcover and softcover editions, several hundred commemorative copies will be offered for sale.

Drawing upon Norwich University’s extensive archives and museum collection, Kershaw will engage students in the research process in the spirit of university founder Captain Alden Partridge’s passion for experiential learning.

“The book will be seen as a significant source of Norwich’s history, and a ‘must read’ by current and future generations of Norwich students, alumni and friends,” Norwich University President Richard W. Schneider said.

Kershaw lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son.

About Norwich University 

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). www.norwich.edu

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Transformation” here: bicentennial.norwich.edu.    

Media Contact:
Daphne Larkin
Assistant Director of Communications
Office Tel: (802) 485-2886
Mobile: (802) 595-3613
dlarkin@norwich.edu

Focus on Research: Norwich University Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 18, 2015

Each year, Norwich University undergraduates vie for prestigious Summer Research Fellowships to explore diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Developed by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation. Working in labs, libraries and fields sites on campus and around the globe this summer, 28 fellows discovered the challenges and rewards of independent research. Read the stories of six recent fellows and some of the faculty mentors who support them.

Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows

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Maggie Cross ‘16
Electrical Engineering

A Glove That Helps Teach Sign Language
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Christopher Eddy ‘17
Geology

Deciphering a Tectonic Creation Story
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Abigail Seaberg ‘16
History

19th Century Painter William Brenton Boggs
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Jesse Abruzzi ‘16
English

Religious Tolerance in Stratford-upon-Avon
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Macial Porto ‘16
Biology

Leptin Receptors in the Avian Hypothalamus
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Keith Stipe ‘16
Architecture

Rammed Earth Buildings of the Desert Southwest
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Faculty Highlights

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Amy Woodbury Tease, PhD
Assistant Professor of English & Program Director, Undergraduate Research Program

5 Questions: Surveillance, Media Culture & Student Scholarship
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Megan Doczi, PhD
Neuroscientist & Assistant Professor of Biology

5 Questions: Neuroscience, Research & Lifelong Learning
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Undergraduate Research: A History Sleuth’s Eureka Moment

Senior Abigail Seaberg was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded Summer Research Fellowships to explore diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Developed by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

September 10, 2015

For years, they sat in a box under a bed in New Jersey. But in 2014, the collection of 100-plus watercolors, sketches, and oil paintings by 19th century Norwich alum William Brenton Boggs was donated to the university’s Sullivan Museum and History Center.

Abigail Seaberg, a rising senior history major and undergraduate Summer Research Fellow, set out to learn more about the paintings and the artist behind them.

Boggs was an early Norwich cadet who joined the Rodgers-Ringgold Expedition of 1853-1856. The four-year U.S. naval expedition sailed from Hampton Roads, Va., around the Horn of Africa on a Star Trek-like mission to boldly explore new civilizations and natural wonders of the Pacific.

Visiting Polynesia, Australia, Japan, China, and beyond, Boggs painted much of what he saw to capture a visual record of the expedition. Little is known about the expedition today or Boggs, it’s official painter.

Urged on by her faculty advisor, Dana Professor of History Gary Lord, Seaberg endeavored to see what she could uncover during a 10-week summer research fellowship.

The Air Force veteran and budding historian combed related archives and collections at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; a “Raiders of the Ark” like Smithsonian warehouse in Virginia; and the Swem Library at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va. But material on Boggs was scant.

Visiting her grandmother, who lived in Williamsburg, Seaberg pondered her next steps. It was there that her grandmother invited Seaberg to the Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg, suggesting she investigate its large collection of documents belonging to the Carter family.

A member of the prominent Virginia clan, Robert Randolph Carter, had sailed on the Rodgers-Ringgold Expedition. Seaberg doubted anything would come of it, but went anyway to humor her grandmother, who volunteers at the library.

Seaberg started with a collection of 20 letters Carter penned to his wife in minute script on tissue-thin paper. Scanning microfiche copies for a reference to Boggs, Seaberg froze on the very first page of the very first letter.

Near the bottom, Seaberg saw the name Boggs. “It’s not really so bad,” the letter read. “For we all manage to laugh, joke, quiz and argue and Boggs to pun very much as men do when at their ease.”

Seaberg says she then erupted in a series of exclamations and fist pumps worthy of a touchdown celebration. She hadn’t found Boggs. But she had found the next best thing: His best friend on the expedition, a prodigious letter writer to boot.

“Boggs pops up in every single letter from that point forward,” all 20 of them, Seaberg says. Through Carter’s correspondence, Seaberg pieces together a portrait of Boggs.

“All of a sudden the man has a personality,” she says. “He tells horrible jokes, and we have horrible jokes written down for the rest of the world to see for all time. He’s a great artist.”

“It’s a huge discovery because nobody has looked at these [letters] in God knows how long. They were photographed and put on microfilm and then forgotten.”

Seaberg has written a lengthy research paper on her findings and notes wryly that her scholarship owes a huge debt of thanks to her grandmother. “It’s just a huge thing and it was shear dumb luck. Because my grandmother made me go to this [archive]. And now I have to thank her in whatever … I do.”

Of Seaberg’s scholarship, history professor and faculty advisor Gary Lord says, “It could be a lifelong endeavor.”

Related Articles on Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows:

Prof. Emily Fisher Gray’s 2015 Norwich University Convocation Address

Associate Professor of History Emily Fisher Gray earned her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and won the 2015 Homer L. Dodge Award for Teaching Excellence at Norwich University. The award recognizes distinguished contributions to university life through outstanding teaching. Yesterday, Gray addressed the Norwich community at Convocation. A copy of her prepared remarks follows.

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 2, 2015

Good afternoon! It is such a privilege to speak with you today. It is humbling to receive the Dodge Award in the presence of the world-class scholars and first-rate teachers that are my colleagues on the Norwich faculty. It was also a pleasure to join many of you last Sunday for the Dog River Run. I would like to thank the Corps of Cadets for inviting the faculty to be part of that great Norwich tradition, and thank my fellow members of the Faculty Platoon. Can’t think of anyone I’d rather get sweaty, muddy, and soaked with.

The first time I witnessed the Dog River Run was soon after moving into my house, which has property that borders the river. It was a normal late-summer Sunday morning and my family was preparing to go to church when we heard some commotion in the river and cannons going off so we went down to see what was going on. (By the way, I moved here from West Philadelphia. It has taken me a while to get used to the idea that when you hear gunfire, it’s a good thing!)

As we watched the platoons of Rooks slog through the river, I could see that it had been a very difficult week for many of them. But I noticed one young man in particular who had clearly been pushed to his limits. He looked completely exhausted and it was all he could do to keep his Dog River Rock clutched tightly to himself with both arms. Then I noticed that he had a platoon member on either side of him.

These two young men’s faces also showed the strain of a difficult week, but they appeared to have been better prepared for this particular physical challenge. Each of them held their rock under one arm. Each had their free arm wrapped around the waist their Rook brother: one on one side, one on the other. These two young men were carrying their friend down the river. They would not let him give up. They would not let him fail to finish.

The image of these three Rooks has stuck with me. The two guys that wouldn’t leave their buddy behind has become for me a symbol of what makes the students I teach at Norwich so remarkable and so different from students I have encountered elsewhere. You talk about service to others before self, and you really mean it!

I can clearly recall the face of the Rook in the middle, the one who was having the most difficult day of his life. College in general, and Norwich in particular, is designed to give you experiences that push you to your limits. When we say “expect challenge”, we mean it! Those of you for whom Rook Week was a breeze are likely to find yourself challenged by Chemistry or Calculus or Chinese, or by long late nights in your Architecture studio. Some of you will encounter uncomfortable new ideas in your classes, which cause you to reassess what you thought you knew. Many of you will find yourself confronting impossibly difficult moral or ethical dilemmas: resisting an opportunity to cheat on a test or take the apparently-easy path of plagiarism on a paper. Or you might face the necessity of reporting wrongdoing in a fellow student, which may be the hardest thing you ever have to do.

When the time comes that you feel like that Rook in the river, stretched to your absolute limit, I want you to look to your right, and look to your left. You have friends here. We will help you, even if we need to carry you for a while. Hold on to your rock and keep going forward. Your friends, and your professors, and the university staff all want to see you walk across this stage in triumph and receive a diploma that signifies that you are a graduate of Norwich University.

None of us succeeds entirely on our own. Think of Harry Potter, he wouldn’t have made it out of Book 1 if it wasn’t for Ron and Hermione! Or how about the Justice League? Aquaman has some cool talents, but he’s not going to catch the bad guys without Green Lantern and Batman and Wonder Woman on his team. A few weeks ago there were three friends traveling on a train to Paris, who took down a terrorist by working together. Talk about superheroes!

We are all stronger when we have each other’s backs. This means that sometimes, you are the one who gets to step up and help somebody else. And let me tell you, these opportunities to be of service to another person rarely come when you are strong and well-rested and have lots of time on your hands. The timing is almost always awkward and inconvenient. You might feel like you are nearly at the end of your rope yourself. Don’t let that stop you.

I felt inspired this last week listening to an interview with the Army Ranger School graduating class that included the two first-ever female Rangers: Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver. A couple of the male graduates on their teams shared experiences from the final day of the grueling Mountain phase of Ranger training. 2nd Lt. Zachary Hagner had been carrying an automatic weapon for the squad for three days, and just couldn’t go any further. He asked each member of the squad if they would take it from him. He explained (quote) “Everyone said ‘no’. But [Griest] took it from me. She, just as broken and tired, took it from me. I guess she was really motivated.”

Similarly, Haver was also the only member of her squad who felt able to take on extra weight during the Mountain phase, helping a struggling 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski, who said (quote) “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now if not for Shaye.” How cool are these two women! In the midst of the toughest challenge of their lives, with the world watching and more than a few people waiting for them to fail, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver both took on extra weight at a critical time to help their buddies so they could all earn a Ranger tab together. Seriously, who needs superheroes when we have the real thing right among us!

In closing, let me briefly thank my own “battle buddies” who have been right by my side on the great days and the tough days. My awesome husband Austin and kids Lucy and Gavin; my mother Suzanne Fisher and my in-laws Sharon and Howard Gray. Thanks guys, you’re the best. I love you.

As for the rest of you: study hard, get as much sleep as you can, don’t skip breakfast, and I’ll see you in class!

Related Articles

Emily Fisher Gray Wins Top Teaching Award
Undergraduate Research: Visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Study Religious Tolerance

Student Research: Visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Study Religious Tolerance

Senior Jesse Abruzzi was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded a Summer Research Fellowship to investigate diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Nurtured by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are entirely funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 20, 2015

Jesse Abruzzi, a senior history major, has long been fascinated by the intersection of religion and politics. So as a 10-week Norwich University Summer Research Fellow, he chose to study the lives of English Catholics during the Protestant Reformation in the second half the 16th century.

Abruzzi focused on the small English market town of Stratford-upon-Avon in the Catholic hotbed of Warwickshire. While practicing Catholicism could be a capital offense, a number of Catholics held seats of power in town government.

To conduct original research, Abruzzi used funds from his $4,000 fellowship stipend to visit two storied archives in England: the British Library in London, the world’s largest, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In Stratford, Abruzzi spent days pouring over ancient manuscripts full of details about village life in the 1500 and 1600s. A main source was the Minutes and Accounts of the Stratford Corporation, or town government.

Notes recorded in the 16th century tome describe an array of ordinances that illuminate the concerns of the growing market town. Decrees ranged from efforts to control dogs, trade, and firearms to rules that sought to advert religious tensions or keep tavern owners from watering down their beer.

“Everything I was looking over slowly began to change the questions I was having,” Abruzzi says. “My question changed from a religious one to a more political one.”

He refocused his scholarship on the central issue of how Stratford-upon-Avon formed an autonomous government in such a religiously charged era.

Abruzzi found that despite anti-Catholic rhetoric and actions by the monarchy in London, religion took a back seat to political and economic interests in Stratford-upon-Avon. “[This] fostered an environment that allowed a stable town to form,” he says.

“What I just found really interesting was how a religious reformation that began in Europe resulted in a political reformation in this small English town. [One] that ultimately created, oddly, this religious diversity” imperfect though it was, he says.

Norwich University Assistant Professor of History Emily Fisher Gray advised Abruzzi on his project.

“This is a story that has been investigated by other historians relating to the larger rural county of Warwickshire, but Jesse [is] the first to ask these questions of the town of Stratford,” Gray says.

To help him with his project, Gray visited the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office ahead of time to secure research access and canvas source material on his behalf.

“Jesse was interested in researching the experiences of ordinary people,” Gray says. “I was excited because the stories of regular folks rarely get told, and they are often the most interesting.”

Of his research, Abruzzi says, “I was doing work that I’ll probably be doing at the PhD level one day. So it was great practice actually being in the ‘field’ on my own and getting firsthand experience having to solve certain problems without help.”

He says his greatest takeaway from his fellowship experience this summer was a greater sense of personal and academic independence. “I had some help in the archives the first few days,” he says. “But after that, I was on my own.”

Related Stories on Norwich Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowships:
Photograph courtesy Emily Fisher Gray, PhD