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For an honors thesis that brought her to Prague, Trustee Scholar Lori Weaver ’06 (White Haven, Pa.) is researching the 1993 dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the separate nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The formation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia is known as the “velvet divorce” because, unlike similar political situations, the separation occurred without bloodshed.

“I ask whether the ‘velvet divorce’ was inevitable and why it happened in such a peaceful manner,” explains Weaver, a double major in history and government & law. “I’m extremely excited about completing the project because it’s such a fascinating case. Two areas with a lot of common history, language, etc. split basically overnight with the signing of a paper.

“I decided to do the project because of a personal interest in Central and Eastern Europe,” she continues. “I think that the Czech-Slovak case is an extremely interesting one and a topic that has been given little analysis within American academia. Personally, I think that Central and Eastern European history tends to get pushed behind the history of Western Europe. It’s something so relevant, yet something we don’t talk about.”

Weaver traveled to Prague, the largest city in the Czech Republic and its capital, in June to interview several individuals affected by the split, including one of former President Vaclav Havel’s cabinet members, a former adviser and well-respected scholar, and the former Czech ambassador to the United States. President of Czechoslovakia when the country dissolved, Havel was the first president of the Czech Republic.

“Being in Prague and speaking to people that not only lived through the split but were well-advised as to what was going on was a wonderful experience,” Weaver says. “What I found most intriguing, however, was that most Czech persons that I spoke to had no idea why the split happened and were bitter about it. Through my contacts in Prague, I’ve been in touch with high-level Slovak political officials and scholars for the other angle on my work.”

Weaver’s faculty adviser, Ilan Peleg,Charles A. Dana Professor of Social Science, says that she is gaining exceptional knowledge from the research.

“I think her thesis work is tremendous,” he says. “It’s really opening horizons that were not available to her before. It’s giving her a new look into a situation she otherwise would not have been able to look into.”

By examining the Czech-Slovak case, scholars and political scientists can draw relevant comparisons to what is happening in other nations today.

“The biggest parts of the split were ethnic identity, religious identity, and religious differences,” Weaver explains. “These are things that are happening all around the world, keeping countries from coming together or forcing them to split apart, so there are lots of lessons to be learned from this case.”

Pelegagrees, adding that her research, analysis, and conclusions are among the most advanced he has seen in his 32 years at Lafayette.

“We will be able to use the Czech case to illustrate how conflict could be resolved peacefully and how often conflict really does result in violence,” he says. “I’ve advised more than 70 theses for sure, and I think this is one of the most interesting ones because it has so much potential.”

Peleg has shared his expertise in newspaper articles and on CNN, Voice of America, National Public Radio, and other broadcasts. He is editor of Israel Studies Forum, author of countless articles on international topics, and author or editor of six books, including Human Rights in the West Bank and Gaza: Legacy and Politics, which was named an Outstanding Scholarly Book by CHOICE, the publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

In addition to the research’s importance for the political science community, the project is helping Weaver develop critical skills that will serve her as she pursues a law degree and graduate degree in history.

“I’m learning to read and understand large columns of complicated material, to make contacts all over the world, and to think independently,” she says. “Those are skills that will bode very well for my career. It’s letting me take all of the skills I’ve learned in class and through extracurricular activities and put them into one project that’s mine, something to show for everything I’ve learned and done here.”

Weaver conducted prior academic research as an EXCEL Scholar when she helped Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history, gather information for a book on the gender revolution in modern Europe. She also completed independent study research. She is president of College Democrats, captain of the Mock Trial team, and co-founder and co-chair of the College’s chapter of the Save Darfur campaign. She is a prison tutor, reporter for TheLafayette, member of History Club, and tour guide for the admissions office.

Selected from among Lafayette’s top applicants, Trustee Scholars like Weaver have distinguished themselves through exceptional academic achievement in high school. They receive from Lafayette an annual minimum scholarship of $7,500 ($8,000 effective with the Class of 2009) or a grant in the full amount of their demonstrated need if the need is more than $7,500.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News