Ohio University

Recent Ph.D. graduate focuses on digital ethnography

Yonatan Tewelde, an instructor in the School of Media Arts and Studies, recently completed his Ph.D. in the School of Media Arts and Studies after defending his dissertation on October 20.

Tewelde’s dissertation concentrated on the largest video chat room community, Paltalk. The application was founded in 1998 as a pastime or entertainment space but has since transitioned into an essential communication tool for dispersed communities.

Photo of Yonatan Tewelde
Yonatan Tewelde, who just completed his Ph.D. in Media Studies, has been part of the Bobcat Family since 2015.

Tewelde’s specific focus is upon his native community in Eritrea, which has a large number of refugees, migrants, and exiles due to political disputes. His interest in new media technologies, such as Paltalk, concerns how these migrants are utilizing these applications to recreate their communities and stay in touch with one another.

Eritrea is located in Northeast Africa and is considered one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships. Having lived there as both a teacher and filmmaker at a university, Tewelde dedicated most of his time to acting as an ethnographer, documenting everyday aspects of Eritrean life. After moving to the United States in 2015, he continued to publish these images on Instagram in hopes of showcasing the beauty of his country, rather than the suffering and scandals that often found their way into the media.

“This is my way of showing what my everyday life looked like from my own perspective. Whether it be my way from home to work, or to the university, or as I was struggling, or when I went to the market. I am not trying to sensationalize things. I am sick and tired of seeing very negative and sad images and representations of my culture, not just from outsiders, but from its own citizens,” he said.

Tewelde began his education by earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. He then went into filmmaking for eight years, working as an instructor of journalism and mass communication and a video producer in Eritrea. Throughout 2013 and 2014, Tewelde traveled to both Turkey and Germany to complete a master’s degree in Communication and a one-year program focusing on international culture and business. Finally, after relocating to Athens in 2015, he has become a vital member of the Communication and Development Program and the School of Media Arts and Studies.

After completing his dissertation, Tewelde has kept busy working as a remote editor for his clients scattered across the globe and instructing two courses at Ohio University: Introduction to Social Media and Assessing Digital Media Transformation & Innovation. When he is not teaching college students, Tewelde is remote learning with his own two children, ages five and seven.

Check out Yonatan’s photography on his Instagram page: @yonatan_tsighe