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Expanded Horizons: Laying the foundation

History student Joe Venosa uses award to conduct archival investigation
Nov 5, 2009
By Krista Bradley

History doctoral student Joe Venosa traveled to the United Kingdom this summer to conduct archival research about British colonial rule in Eritrea, a country north of Ethiopia. The aspiring professor built upon his previous degrees and educational experiences to find his dissertation subject.

The eastern African country and its Islamic and national movements are the subject of Venosa's dissertation. His research, made possible through a $6,000 Student Enhancement Award he earned from Ohio University's Council for Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity, focuses on the country during its colonial rule by the British Empire during 1941-1952.

"Many of the documents that I found could not have been accessed without going there. Most were located in boxes of old personal files that are not online and can only be consulted in person," Venosa explained.

The trip allowed Venosa to study these primary documents to form the basis of his dissertation research. Since few written records exist from Eritrea in the 1940s, these archives are unique in that they provide rare glimpses into the country's political and social realities at the time.

He focused on three types of documents: personal correspondence of the British officers based in Eritrea, British intelligence reports and newspaper clippings. For Venosa, these documents revealed to him that the nationalist movement led by Muslim leaders was more considerable during the period than much of existing scholarship has realized.

"These documents taught me most about how political activism among the early Eritrean nationalists was complex. Activists were adept at resisting British attempts to control the political atmosphere and facilitating discussion of what it meant to be Eritrean," he explained.

British colonial archives are kept in locations across the United Kingdom, which required Venosa to travel to London, Oxford University and northern England.

"I definitely made time to travel and take in the richness of everything I saw," Venosa said. Most notable were his visits to London's historical landmarks, the architectural sites of Oxford and Durham's castles.

Venosa, a native of New York state, began his studies at Ohio University in 2005 as a history graduate student in the African Studies Program. Upon graduation in 2007, he decided to apply for the doctoral program. Now in his third year in the Department of History's Ph.D. program, his research focus links back to his experiences in the African Studies Program earning his master's degree.

"In winter 2006, I had gone to Eritrea to work on my language training. I had studied one of the official languages (Tigrinya) of the country and wanted to brush up on it," he said. "It turns out now that the country is the subject of my research."

Venosa credits his adviser and Assistant Professor  of African History Nicholas Creary with encouraging him to apply for the Student Enhancement Award. "He pushed me to apply for it and he was right," Venosa laughed.

"It was a very surprising event that I was given the money. I found out the news on April 17, the morning of my 26th birthday."

Venosa is already putting his research to use, writing papers for academic meetings and panels.

"He'll be presenting his work this year and in coming years to the department and African studies professionals," Cleary said.

Venosa hopes to return to Eritrea next summer to complete the field work for his Ph.D. and one day share his research with his own students.


Published: Nov 5, 2009 8:00 AM

Joe Venosa

History doctoral student Joe Venosa is an aspiring professor with an interest in the eastern African nation of Eritrea.

Photographer: Kevin Riddell 

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