What do Syria, Nepal, Iran, ancient Galatia and sixth-century Europe have in common?
At first glance, they were simply the settings for one set of the presentations and panel discussions by history department students at the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) on Thursday. However, when the 90-minute session was at its end, the audience that gathered in MUB 302 had been treated to a journey along a path that exposed connections from the past to the present — and even some guidance for the future.
Qizhen Xie ’16 was the first to present, introducing the audience to an ancient example of an issue that persists well into modern times — and one that would play a role in each of the presentations that followed: the push and pull between assimilation and retaining cultural identity.
In his talk on "Ethnic Identity and Redefinition of the Galatians in the Hellenistic World," Xie brought attendees back to the centuries between 6 B.C. and 3 B.C. and the Celtic expansion to Galatia. As the minority in the region, he explained, the Galatians tried to stay together to preserve their culture. Tracing various sources — including ancient currency bearing the likeness of a Galatian king — Xie showed how elements of their culture were preserved and how Hellenic and Roman influence affected the Galatians.
Speeding ahead in time and across the Mediterranean to Europe in the 6th century, Charles Haycook ’16 also looked at issues of assimilation as Christianity became the predominant religion and earlier pagan forms of worship were subverted.
In his presentation, "More than Ducks and Newts: Magic in Sixth Century Europe," Haycook started from the humorous context of the classic Monty Python take on witchcraft to show just how magic, murder and false accusations were addressed in the laws of the Salian Frankish Kingdoms from 511 to 754.
In the second portion of the presentations, the focus shifted to modern history, but the themes persisted as Emma Bivona ’17 shared her paper, "Persecution of the Baha’i Faith in Iran Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979."
Baha’i, she explained, is based on inclusion and peace — and today in Iran, those who practice the faith are often forced to do so in secret or face imprisonment and other forms of oppression because their beliefs are seen as a threat to the theocracy.
In Nepal, another form of oppression is taking place, Cameron Calato ’17 explained in his presentation, "Where the Hills and Planes Collide: A Look at Nepal’s Political Tension Through Tharus in Chitwan."
Calato spent time studying in Nepal, witnessing the devastation in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake and the political struggles that contributed to issues including fuel shortages.
In Nepal, he explained, the people of the southernmost plains region struggle with lack of representation in the government and years of oppression by those who moved into their region, using fear tactics to convince them to give up their lands. With 90 percent of Nepal’s government in favor of the country’s proposed constitution, those in the south are protesting their lack of representation and the impacts on their way of life.
There are no simple answers, Calato was quick to point out, and it is essential to consider both sides. Living with the people of the region, following their traditions and hearing their stories is essential to understanding, he said.
John O’Neill ’16 was the last to present, sharing his research, "Syria: A History of Resisting Revolution and a Failed State’s Future."
Amidst current concerns about the refugee crisis and oppression of Syrian citizens, O’Neill took the audience back in time through Syria’s history to the events leading up to when Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, rose to power.
“Why should we care?” he asked, showing images of the current suffering Syria and the aftermath of the government’s response to the Arab Spring in 2011. “Over 60 years, they took power by force, by illegitimate means. You have to look back to move forward.”
Moderator Michael Leese, assistant professor of history, summed up the power of URC events like this: “It’s a great thing we do here at UNH, providing students the opportunity to present their research.”