Two Calvin scholars land Fulbrights

Research to focus on AIDS advocacy, Netherlands documentaries


Summer 2010

Amy Patterson has worked in Senegal, taught in Ghana and studied AIDS advocacy in Zambia.

Patterson, a Calvin professor of political science, will return to Zambia in January 2011 for six months of research as a Fulbright Scholar, funded through the African Regional Research Program. She will study Christian and secular HIV support groups in that country.

“I’m just really intrigued by the role of these AIDS organizations and what they mean for their members in terms of their members’ empowerment,” she said.

Approximately 15 percent of Zambia’s population is HIV-positive, Patterson said. If that percentage of Calvin’s roughly 4,000-student population were HIV-positive, she hazarded, it would mean that 600 students would have the virus. In Zambia, which has a population of 12 million people, approximately 2 million people are infected by HIV.

“Probably a good number of that 15 percent don’t know they’re HIV-positive—until something happens,” she said of the Zambian situation. “They get sick and take an AIDS test. Or they get pregnant, and they’re getting prenatal care, and they take an AIDS test and find out they’re HIV-positive.”

Zambians diagnosed with the virus need many forms of support, Patterson said. “They’ve found out they have this disease for which there is no cure. They might be stigmatized because they have this disease.” And when those who test positive fall sick and are unable to work or take care of their children, she said, they need more material forms of support.

Patterson first traveled to Zambia three years ago and now will be returning to study how HIV support groups such as the Network of Zambians Living with AIDS, Circles of Hope and others empower their members emotionally, socially and politically.

Some of the groups are church-based and some are not, and Patterson believes they are beginning to move beyond meeting members’ immediate needs into things like community mobilization and AIDS advocacy. “They seemed to give people more hope, more power, more courage …,” she said.

Patterson will be based at the University of Zambia in Lusaka during her African sojourn, and her family—husband, Neil, and daughters Sophia and Isabel—will be with her.

“Africa has special meaning to me,” she said. She met Neil when they were Peace Corps volunteers in Senegal, right out of college. “Africa has taught me much about my faith, humanity, human decency, human resilience and creativity, and the vast diversity of God’s creation.”

On another continent

Images of the Netherlands—in paintings, photographs and films—have had a significant effect on how Americans view the Dutch homeland, said Henk Aay, Calvin professor of geology, geography and environmental studies. Aay has recently earned a Fulbright Scholarship to live in the Netherlands, researching documentary films about that country.

The films he will study were made by the Dutch government and distributed throughout the United States from 1942 to 1974 by the Netherlands Information Bureau (NIB): “The Holland, Michigan, office of the NIB loaned hundreds of films about the Netherlands to schools, churches and other community organizations throughout a 22-state area,” said Aay. He will screen a sizable sampling of films from the NIB collection, comparing them with other documentaries about the Netherlands made at the time.

“Dutch-American relations have long been studied with many different topical themes and viewpoints,” Aay said. “This study will add a new dimension to this literature by focusing on cultural diplomacy via film.”

The American idea of things Dutch has been shaped by images that date back to the American colonial period. “At the beginning of the 19th century, Washington Irving’s … drawings and presentations about the Netherlands were especially influential in America,” Aay said. Later on, Americans enjoyed the image of valiant Hollanders fighting against tyrannical Spain. And at the turn of the 20th century, Aay explained, the work of the Dutch masters triggered Holland mania—a passion for all things Dutch.

“These developments, including literary images, produced a visual representation of the Netherlands consisting of tulip fields, windmills and land parcels, everywhere separated by water. Nostalgia sustained much of this imagery,” he summed up. Aay wants to know how the films distributed by the NIB fit into the picture: “Did these documentaries affirm the earlier stereotypic portrayals of the Netherlands, or did they broaden the imagery?”

The topic is an important one, Aay said, because there has been little or no research done about the Holland, Mich., NIB. “The larger question of how visual materials … distributed by the Dutch government affected American perception of the Netherlands is also very relevant and groundbreaking,” he added.

A native of the Netherlands, Aay has been researching Dutch language and culture for 25 years. He has spent several sabbaticals researching at the University of Groningen and at the Free University in Amsterdam and has led 10 Calvin interim classes to the Netherlands. Aay has been the holder of the Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture since its creation in 2006.

Aay will research in the Netherlands for four months: from March to June, 2011.

“This research gives me an opportunity to learn some new approaches in cultural geography,” Aay said. “And then there is the opportunity to live in the Netherlands, and what’s more, in a part of the country, Zeeland, with which I am less familiar. The opportunity to live in another country not as a visitor, but more as a resident doing ordinary and everyday things, is something I really cherish."