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The Journey Abroad: Research Trip March 2010


by LaTanya Olatunji


I began my journey where it all begins; New York. I rented an apartment in East Harlem, and made it my base as I moved around the country, researched and pulled together bits and pieces of information, ideas, thoughts, and even memory. I rented the place from super talented and wonderfully compassionate, Professor Anthony De Jesus, who not only was a great landlord but had time to sit, discuss, and generate feedback around my dissertation topic.  I began at Fordham University’s African American History Department, where I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know, well-known and established political activist and scholar Dr. Mark Naison.  Naison, co-founder of the Bronx African American History Project, was warm and inviting and really helped me in terms of making it possible to gain access to library resources, connecting me to other scholars, and generating ideas which worked to challenge and widen the ways in which I had thought of framing my research. I had spent a significant amount of time at Fordham, where I not only was able to access their research archives but had met a number of other graduate students who had similar interests, was able to access interviews from the Bronx African American History Project, and had ample time to work closely with, and learn from Professor Naison.

The Schomburg Institute is located within the heart of Harlem, and I had the honor of visiting and conducting research there. I was granted access to their archives, which were very extensive. There, I was able to find original press releases, flyers, images, recordings, and other artifacts related to the development of early Hip-Hop culture. Since I am looking specifically at female rappers, I found The Schomburg particularly helpful in enabling me to piece together a story puzzle that has often been omitted from dominant hip hop discourse that works to valorize/ prioritize male narratives, and almost totally negate female presence.

I left New York and ventured to California, with hopes of accessing UC Berkeley’s resources. I had never been to California, and was immediately smitten by her beauty. I was astonished to find so many politically conscious people in the Bay Area. It seemed as if everyone had ideas and thoughts concerning politics. At Berkeley, I was granted access to library resources, and was really able to benefit from the vast number of dissertations they had available as PDF files through their Intra-University network. I was also able to gain access to a world-wide search engine which enabled me to save newspaper articles and other writings about female rappers. I was really happy with the amount of information I was able to leave UC Berkeley with.

I received news in California, that I had finally been granted permission to access The Hip Hop Archive at Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Insitute. I left California for New York, and pretty soon was on my way to Boston. At Harvard, I was greeted by Alvin Carter, who had helped me a great deal by introducing me to the space & faculty, and worked to ensure that I could maximize use of the Archive’s resources.  The Hip Hop Archive had everything. There, I was able to access early Hip-hop magazines, explore rare and unfamiliar texts, view artifacts, listen to songs that I had rarely or never heard, and more.  The Archive’s Director, Dr. Marcyliena Morgan was also there.  Morgan, like Naison, has published widely within the field of Hip Hop scholarship.  Thus, I was honored to sit and speak with her at length concerning my research interests. I thank her for giving me her time, and challenging me to think about the work in new ways.  It was unfortunate that my time there was limited.

Throughout the remainder of my time in the States, I was fortunate to visit other institutions, make contacts and meet other scholars.  I spent a few days at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. The Librarian’s were gracious enough to grant me access to the Stacks, and helpful in familiarizing me with the institution. I spent countless hours reviewing all kinds of articles, and other texts related to my dissertation topic. I also had the opportunity to spend time with Dr. Susan Lytle, at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Dr. Lytle was very generous in granting me time to explore and share ideas around the dissertation. We talked a great deal about ways to navigate practitioner perspective within the supposedly “objective” dissertation. She referred me to a vast body of knowledge, and really inspired me in a number of ways.

All in all, the journey was phenomenal. I had learned so much within the almost four weeks that I was there. My schedule was so tight with meetings and traveling between institutions that I almost didn’t have the time to rest.  In any case, I am grateful to all the Scholars who had been so gracious in giving me their time, and patience. In the Hip Hop community, we are known to “shout-out” those who we seek to acknowledge, those who are positive contributors, and I would like to do that. Shout out to Dr. Roy Sommer, Alvin Carter & Dr. Marcyliena Morgan at Harvard, Dr. Mark Naison at  Fordham, Dr. Tony DeJesus at Hunter College, Karen Eaddy at Yale University,  Kensho Kuma at UC-Berkeley, Dr. Katrina Hazzard-Donald at Rutgers, Wilfredo Gomez & Dr. Susan Lytle at University of Pennsylvania. Through them, their knowledge, kindness, patience, scholarship, I have learned new ways to think about and work through the dissertation.