Mihai-Dan Cirjan

Fulbright Student Researcher 2015-2016


I had spent most of my two years before the Fulbright experience doing archival research. Therefore, the sudden switch from the small reading rooms of Romanian local archives to New York did have a tinge of pleasant abruptness. Once in the US, apart from the kindness and welcoming attitude of my NYU hosts, I had access to the academic life of the entire city: from Morningside Heights to the Washington Square Campus. It was therefor easy to realise my research aims for the year. Through my advisor, Yanni Kotsonis, friends and colleagues I could somehow develop a small network of senior and junior like-minded scholars on whose advice, collaboration and support I can now rely. The Fulbright experience was also important for other reasons, however: it came into a period of transformation for both my field, social history, as well as for the study of humanities in general.

It became clear, for instance, that the US historiographical field is institutionally still recovering from a post-area studies hang-over and most of my American colleagues were quite aware of that. Despite the constant criticism that area studies have received in the last twenty-thirty years, the break has not been that painless at the infrastructural level. Maybe more than other disciplines, historians still depend on institutions and funding resources which define themselves in regional terms, as focusing on Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia, etc. This tends to make the dialogue between historians of Africa and those of Eastern Europe or the Pacific, for instance, not as smooth as one may expect or wish for. It is true, however, that a new stress on global and trans-national history has slowly managed to make some institutional breakthroughs into the field. The rhetoric of “global history” is gradually being translated into reality, enabling historians of Africa to communicate and talk more easily with South-Americanists, Chinese scholars or Europeanists. It is not always an easy or useful transition, as “global history” tends too easily to displace research agendas which might still be useful for historians today (the focus on class dynamics or economic inequalities, for instance, finds little room in current global histories).

Another important experience was the on-going transformation of the institutional culture of the American academia: the staggering development of a highly-specialized stratum of non-faculty university administrators; the complex investment strategies of those universities with a generous endowment; the gigantic impact they can have on urban communities through their development projects. And probably in New York these processes are most visible. While it was not necessary to come to the US to know about these changes, it was important to see how these transformations felt on the ground:  how scholars, graduate students and other university workers reacted to them.

At the level of graduate studies, it was obvious, for example, that these processes have tended to increase the already pressing inequalities between graduate schools. Richly-endowed universities have seen this shift as an opportunity for developing complex investment strategies. Through their profits, these lucrative tactics have also increased academic visibility and, in the end, the quality of graduate-level education: more funding for research activities, more financial resources for graduate fellowships and grants and, consequently, more time for graduate students to commit themselves whole-heartedly to their projects.

Other academic institutions have been more unfortunate, however. This is especially the case for some public universities, fulfilling important social functions at the local level, but which have been increasingly forced into a tight corner through this tough and somewhat unfair competition. For them, insufficient funding means more financial strain for graduate students, forced to pick up paid TA-ships or other types of precarious work which leave little room for actual research. It also means a smaller pool of top graduate applicants. It is because of this structural context that the struggles of graduate students or other university workers gain an increased importance. And fortunately, this is one of the most amazing aspects of New York academic life. NYU’s Graduate Employees Union (GSOC-AWU) has been the first graduate student union to obtain a work contract from a private university. And at the moment, graduate employees and university all over New York universities are organizing and fighting for their rights.

My fulbright experience

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Students at the advising center

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Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission

Adress: 2 Ing. Nicolae Costinescu Street, sector 1, Bucharest, Romania
Phone: 021.230.77.19
Fax: 021.230.77.38
E-mail: office@fulbright.ro

Fulbright Educational Advising Center

Phone: 021.231.90.15
E-mail: feac@fulbright.ro

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