This past week I was able to meet with my faculty mentor, Dr. Rose Shinko, for the first time in order to share my research interests with her and see how I can approach discovering potential puzzles within my thematic/regional interests.
I went into my meeting with Dr. Shinko quite timidly, fearing that the regional focus of my project, and the nature of my project grappling with gender identity was too narrowly defined–that by virtue of choosing what I believed to be endemic geographical and thematic areas, there were not many research questions to articulate. But during our meeting, Dr. Shinko and I were about to zoom out on the project qualities that I predetermined to see how much space there is within my frame of research to explore. I thought that by electing to research gender identity for Balkan women, I was limiting myself by being too specific too soon, but, as Dr. Shinko highlighted, there are so many potential foci within my topic. The topic of gender is vast and can be analyzed through a variety of lenses to imply many different things. I can research the role of women in the peace building process–did personal identities for women shape their leadership in reconciliation and rehabilitation after the wars of the 90s? How did women channel their hurtful experiences into effective mediums for change after the end of the wars? I can research the historical imposition of notions of female identity on Balkan identity–How did that change after the wars? Why/How were women politicized during the war, and how did this politicization revolutionize military policy? Did this politicization cause women to have to seek peace for themselves after the war was over? What was the framework that enabled women to take peace building leadership into their own hands on an unprecedented level for the region? There are so many directions that I can take my project to wrestle with this general puzzle of identity formation/internal identity hierarchy for women. This makes my job harder, because there is so much research and research I need to do in order to articulate a specific puzzle that fits into this theme, but it also makes me relieved that I still have so much exploration to do–topic and region haven’t defined everything for me.
Dr. Shinko recommended several different types of sources to engage with to really understand the full scope of my topic. She recommended a wide variety of primary sources to look into, in order to gain exposure to as many different ways of expression for women of the region as possible. She suggested listening to interviews with Balkan women who were deeply affected by the war, with a PBS series titled, “Women, War, and Peace” particularly capturing my interest. Within this series, PBS has a feature documentary on Bosnian Women called “I Came to Testify,” which captures the violent exploitation of women as a political tool, and the profound strength some women had after the war was over to stand up to their aggressors in court . She also mentioned studying art and literature in order to gain a better understanding of female experiences during the time, and gain greater insight into gender identity formations/changes during that time. Dr. Shinko also said that this could be a pillar of my research project on its own–the analysis of art as a medium for healing after the atrocities women enduring during the time.
Beyond making me feel more comfortable with the embryonic and explorative stages of my research project, Dr. Shinko gave me specific recommendations which will allow me to probe and discover different interests and topics within my general research puzzles. I am very much looking forward to meeting with her again in the near future.
 “I Came to Testify” (PBS, 2011), accessed September 12, 2018, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/full-episodes/i-came-to-testify/.