Mattie Harper, Doctoral Candidate in Ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is Dartmouth’s 2011 Eastman Dissertation Fellow. Mattie came across the Eastman award while searching online for dissertation fellowships supporting work in Native American Studies, “I knew of Dartmouth’s reputation as an Ivy League school, but what really stood out is that it has one of the top Native American studies programs—I knew that in coming here I’d have access to all the best resources and there would be other experts who could provide support throughout my research,” she says.
Her dissertation, titled “French Africans in Ojibwe Country”, is a historical project that focuses on a family descended from French African Slaves who intermarry with Ojibwe people in the Western Great Lakes Region. Asked for her dissertation in a nutshell, Mattie explains, “I examine how identities change across four generations, —‘examining the racial terms “black,” “white,” “Indian,” and “mixed blood”— and I’m looking at the ways in which racial and cultural identities fluctuate. It’s a research project, but there’s also a personal element, since it’s reflective of my own background.”
As a dissertation fellow, Mattie has the opportunity to connect with undergraduate students, sometimes reviewing admissions essays for them, or providing insights into what being a graduate student entails. “I’ll often talk to undergraduate students in the Native American House common area, I think as a student myself, I’m maybe more approachable than a post-doc or a professor and, since I’m located here on campus, I’m available to them if they have questions,” she explains.
She’s also made connections with the other dissertation recipients—not only do they talk research, and support each other through the job application process, they also really enjoy getting together socially. “I am really lucky that I have peers here that I get along really well with. Not only are the other fellows smart and interesting people, but they are also a lot of fun to hang out with!”
Mattie is currently interviewing for post-doctoral positions, and professorships, and plans to stay in academia. Overall, she feels that the fellowship has been a positive and productive experience, “I’m happy with the amount of work I’m able to complete here and the support that I receive—I’m confident that I’ll finish my dissertation because of this fellowship,” she says.
by Tennile Sunday