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May 3, 2007


Anthropology Professor Philip Kilbride Awarded Fulbright to Study in the Czech Republic


To the list of 2007-08 Bryn Mawr Fulbright winners, add Professor and Chair of Anthropology Philip Kilbride, who will spend the spring of 2008 teaching, writing and doing research in the Czech Republic. Kilbride has spent most of his research career studying childhood and family life in Africa, though he has also published on communities in diaspora, including the Irish in Africa and U.S. ethnic groups. But he has long had an interest in the Czech Republic, sparked, he says, by students.

Kilbride is happy to explore interests suggested by his students; he tends to take them seriously. Among his many books is an edited volume, published by the University of Alabama Press in 1990, of Bryn Mawr undergraduates' senior theses (its title: Encounters with American Ethnic Cultures). As a Fulbright scholar in the Czech Republic, he will be following in the footsteps of one of his students, Chapurukha Kusimba, Ph.D. '93, who is now the curator of anthropology, African archaeology and ethnology at the Field Museum in Chicago. In fact, Kilbride's Fulbright award will bring about a reunion with Kusimba: Kusimba, Kilbride and Czech anthropologist Peter Skalnik will collaborate on a collective autobiography that will focus on the intellectual histories of three anthropologists operating in Africa, the United States and Eastern Europe.

But the students who first drew him to the Czech Republic were ones he met years before he taught Kusimba or the undergraduates whose theses he edited. His interest relates to his scholarly and personal interest in religion — or, in the case of these Czech students — irreligion.

"It fascinated me that these students could feel perfectly happy and whole with no sort of religious or spiritual belief whatsoever," he says. "Czechs score very low on scales that measure religiosity, unlike their neighbors the Poles, who are culturally so similar in many ways. That is so different from my own experience growing up as an Irish Catholic in the United States that I was always intrigued by it."

In 1999, Kilbride finally managed a brief informal research visit to the Republic. He established contacts there and in 2000 was invited to present a paper at a conference celebrating 40 years of African studies at the University of Prague. His paper, titled "Street Children in Africa: Some Implications for the Czech Republic," predicted that the number of homeless, unparented children in Prague, at that time very small, would increase as the nation began to feel the effects of market reforms and the unraveling of the Communist safety net.

Now Kilbride will have an opportunity to test his prediction. Aside from his work on the theoretical autobiography with Kusimba and Skalnik, he will finally be able to dig deeply into his research on post-Velvet Revolution street children. He'll also teach a course on the anthropology of childhood and work with graduate students on ethnographic techniques in the community. "There will be a close connection between the teaching and the research," he says.

"I'm also planning to enjoy myself. I love Czech food, and fine wine and superb beer is very inexpensive. I love classical music — although I have no talent as a player, I'm a great listener — and there is hardly a better place to enjoy that tradition.

"And when I come back to Bryn Mawr, I'll probably develop a new course about the Czech Republic."


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