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Four students and three professors are working together to create the most comprehensive and searchable database about the characteristics of empires and colonies throughout the course of history.

Brian Geraghty ’05 (Hanover, N.H.), a double major in history and religion, Sandamali Wijeratne ’06 (Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka), a double major in international affairs and English, and international affairs majors Vijay Krishnan ’07 (Maharashtra, India) and Milos Jovanovic ’07 (Belgrade, Yugoslavia) studied imperialism and colonialism this summer in an attempt to begin creating the huge electronic database. The team is continuing to assemble the database throughout the school year.

The Imperialism Project is part of a Lafayette initiative called Community of Scholars, which is supported by college funding and a $200,000 grant from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation. The three-year initiatives allow faculty members from a variety of disciplines to work with students in small group settings. The Imperialism Project faculty mentors are Neil Englehart, assistant professor of government and law, Paul Barclay, assistant professor of history, and Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history.

Geraghty says the program not only has taught him about imperialism throughout history, including why America could be viewed as an empire, but he has learned how to apply those lessons to the present day.

For instance, he and his student colleagues gave a presentation this fall as part of a program in which the students talked about America as an empire. One of the issues that arose is America’s continued military presence in Iraq despite the official end of the war.

“When you learn a little bit of history, you can say ‘America should be doing this and here is why I believe this,’ rather than saying something and not having anything to back it up,” Geraghty says. “Now I have evidence and information to support my opinions.”

Wijeratne, who is minoring in French, says the topic of whether America is an empire generated so much discussion that the group will continue researching it for more analysis and possible publication.

The student team is reading numerous texts on colonies formed since 1492 and entering basic data, such as date of formation, ruling county, name of ruling governor, and geographic size. In addition to that information, the team will search for more specific data, such as imports, exports, population, and whether there were colonial revolts.

Countless books and papers outline various aspect of colonialism throughout history. But, according to Englehart, no one has ever assembled a comprehensive database of these colonies.

“Hopefully, this database will allow scholars and researchers to conduct statistical analyses on various components of colonialism and imperialism,” he explains.

For instance, geographers could trace the geographic spread of colonies; economists could determine if colonial roots are a factor in a county being poor or rich; and historians could study whether countries that were colonies are politically weaker or stronger than those lacking a colonial past.

He adds that finding connections and similarities among differences, whether they are in people, places or perspectives, is central to the project.

“One of the things you start to realize when you do this kind of historically comparative work is how much of the condition we see today and take for granted is really due to the history of these places and this history goes back quite a ways,” Englehart explains.

Wijeratne says researching historical empires and its repercussions has personal significance because she comes “from a country that was colonized and where the impact of that imperialism is still felt, more than 50 years after independence.”

Krishnan’s interest in the project is fueled by its intersection with development economics.

“An essential part of [development economics] is to see how imperialism and its repercussions have affected the modern socio-economic system we face today,” he explains.

“Some of the more interesting results that I have found are references to the ideological forces behind imperialism,” he adds. “These seem to manifest themselves today as the cultural stereotypes we associate with various nationalities and ethnicities.”

As a result of the hours dedicated to researching all of the colonies, Geraghty has honed his research skills by reading complicated texts on colonialism in various countries, gleaning information from those texts, writing abstracts on each article he reads, and using computer programs to create a systematic database. The project has widened his worldview more then he ever expected.

“I’ve become more aware in just talking with and becoming friends with [the students I’m conducting research with],” Geraghty says. “We have very different backgrounds, but we’re similar in other ways.”

“Working with a group has made it possible to attack large-scale projects, and to divide the workload in such a way that we can work on areas of specific interest, which then can be integrated into an extensive whole,” says Wijeratne, who believes the project’s demands have made her a more conscientious and thorough researcher. “I am particularly thankful for the opportunity to work with scholars of this caliber because I think undergraduates rarely get to participate in meaningful intellectual discourse at this level.”

Geraghty is managing editor of The Lafayette, a member of the History Club and Soccer Club, and a former member of the Philosophy Club. He volunteers through Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center and has donated his time for Habitat for Humanity and environmental work at local parks.

Wijeratne is a writing associate, committee member of the Asian Cultural Association, and is involved in College Theater.

Krishnan is a member of International Students Association, Asian Cultural Association, Students for Social Justice, International Affairs Club, Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection, and Soccer Club. He also is a McKelvy Scholar.

Englehart’s areas of special interest and expertise include comparative politics and international relations. He is the author of Culture and Power in Traditional Siamese Government, a book in which he argues that political reform in 19th-century Siam is an example of intentional cultural change in response to new ideas. Englehart received a Fulbright Fellowship for research in Thailand and a Fulbright scholarship for language study there. Fluent in Thai, he has given presentations at several conferences, including the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association and the Hinman Symposium on Human Rights.

Barclay has traveled extensively to Japan for research on topics such as Japanese colonialism in Taiwan. He is the author of An Historian among the Anthropologists: The Ino Kanori Revival and the Legacy of Japanese Colonial Ethnography in Taiwan. Since 1999, Barclay has presented at the Association of Asian Studies Annual Conference, the Mid-Atlantic Region Association of Asian Studies Annual Conference, the Modern Japan Seminar hosted by Columbia University, and the American Historical Association Conference. His special interests include the history of Japan and East Asia, early modern and modern global history, and comparative colonial studies.

Sanborn is working on a book-length project about the interrelationship between civilians and military men in front-line areas of the Eastern Front of World War I. He is author of Drafting the Russian Nation, a groundbreaking book on modern Russian and military-social history published in October 2002. He often involves Lafayette students in his research and has mentored students who went on to receive a Fulbright grant and James Madison Fellowship. Sanborn has received many fellowships, including ones from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the Council for Advanced Studies in Peace and International Cooperation Fellowship, and the Mellon Foundation.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

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