Lauren Yapp '09
Position: Doctoral Candidate
Thesis Title: “Reconstructing Sophiatown: Personal Memory, Public Narrative, and the Production of History in South Africa, 1940-2009”
When I first chose to study history as a Harvard freshman, it was in the modest hopes of getting to spend the next few years exploring a personal curiosity for the past. Little did I know then that the experiences and skills I gained as an undergraduate in the History Department would end up inspiring my professional aspirations as well, ultimately putting me on the path to a future career in academia.
Now pursuing a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Stanford University, my current research might appear on the surface rather removed from my earlier studies. As a history concentrator at Harvard, I conducted senior thesis fieldwork in South African archives and museums, while today I work in Southeast Asia and use an ethnographic approach to investigate how contemporary peoples understand and narrate their own pasts. Nonetheless, even while now working in a different discipline and on the other side of the globe, I often find myself reflecting upon and drawing from my experiences in the classrooms of Robinson Hall. Indeed, the skills I learned years ago as an undergraduate in the History Department have transferred seamlessly over into my new life as an anthropologist-in-training. Some of these lessons – for instance, how to write with sophistication and clarity, or how to uncover and reassemble scattered fragments of information into a convincing narrative thread – are undeniably practical and rather concrete. In my view, however, the most profound and powerful tool that the study of history has to offer is also its most abstract: a fine-tuned sensitivity to the complexities of the human experience and a near compulsion to always put things in their wider context across both time and space.
Taken together, these skills and approaches are ones that can greatly enrich any career, be it inside or outside the halls of formal academia. Speaking from my own experience, I can easily say that I apply the lessons learned as a history concentrator on a daily basis to inform and enrich my ongoing research. This undergraduate background has not only enabled me to begin the next chapter of my professional life on a solid intellectual foundation, but will also continue to grant me a unique perspective on my work and my discipline in the years to come.