Brown Bag Series speaker covers the importance of connecting research to self

Afua Ansong, a Ph.D. student in the University of Rhode Island’s English department, spoke about her research on theories of home represented by African woman writers at last Wednesday’s Brown Bag Series event.

The Brown Bag Series is put on by URI’s Center For the Humanities and features a faculty member or graduate student once a month to share their research.

Ansong’s research, titled “Making it Personal: Cultivating a Research Project that Loves You Back,” aimed to show the ways in which research can be less tedious when approached creatively and with an emphasis on the connection the researcher has with the material.

“I believe that research is not just about being critical about academic work, but it’s an act of self-preservation and self-exploration,” Ansong said.

Ansong was inspired to conduct her research after learning about the similarities between symbols found in different African cultures.

Born and raised in Ghana, Ansong has used her research into these symbols as a bridge between her Ghanian roots and her new life as an American immigrant.

“This is where I connect back to my idea of home,” Ansong said. “How do I find myself? How do I return home through these symbols?”

Ansong’s research also explored the marginalization of the African female voice. Her interest in this topic began when Ansong was struggling to assimilate into American culture. She sought out literature about other Africans who experienced similar issues after traveling overseas but found that most of it was either inaccessible or written from a predominantly male perspective.

After some digging, Ansong found literature written by African women about their experiences. Her connection to these women guided her research.

“I feel like literature helped me to travel to all these other African countries while also learning about their cultures, learning their languages and helped me to appreciate ways in which one region is different from the others,” Ansong said.

Ansong hopes that through her research that people gain a greater understanding of what Africa has to offer. She said that people tend to misunderstand the level of civilization in Africa, and she hopes that these symbols can prove that Africa has been making sense of civilization long before many people realize.

She also hopes that she can make the idea of research seem fun and creative to those who may view it as daunting.

“Research doesn’t have to fit into a particular box,” Ansong said. “This research does not fit just into my English discipline, it fits into textile material culture, anthropology and art history. At times it can be confusing, but that’s the fun part of it.”

According to Travis Williams, chair of URI’s English department, Ansong’s research has pushed the boundaries of what graduate research entails.

“What [Ansong] is showing us is that the scope of what it means to do a doctoral dissertation right now is much greater than we have ever known it to be before,” Williams said. “It’s a very encouraging thing for the future of the discipline, the kind of work people do, how they do it, how it gets presented to the world, its accessibility beyond the academic core.”

Williams is also optimistic that her research will inspire future graduate students to use creative elements in their research.

“She’s not just finding out about these symbols in a cultural or anthropological sense, but she’s also incorporating them into her own creative practice,” he said. “That is a combination that is constantly producing fascinating work, and I hope that it will continue to grow and be a sort of hallmark of our graduate program.”