Name: Lonneke Geerlings
Research Level: PhD
Institution: Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
(If current PhD student):
Year Started: 2014
Predicted End Date: 2018
You’re in an elevator with a stranger for one minute. They ask you to explain your research, what do you say?
I am researching a forgotten woman in history, called Rosey E. Pool. She a writer, translator, and educator. Born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam, she was one of the few of her family members to survive the Holocaust. After the war she travelled as a Fulbright scholar to Black colleges in the American South, where she saw similarities between the race segregation there and segregation she had experienced herself under Nazi rule. However, her initial ‘claim to fame’ was that one of her former pupils was growing to become somewhat of a celebrity: Anne Frank.
What got you first interested in your research area?
Actually my supervisor approached me with this subject, and I am forever grateful to her for giving me this opportunity. I had done research before on transnational history, often focusing on the Netherlands and the United States, so this was a perfect fit.
Which moment has been your proudest so far?
My research allowed me to go to New York for the first time, which was wonderful and it allowed me to visit some of the places Rosey Pool went to. But actually most of the things I am proud of are difficult to explain to others. Like that time when I had been digging in one particular archive in Amsterdam for days and days, when I finally found what I was looking for: Rosey Pool’s autograph from when she was nineteen years old. Doing research often has those ‘unremarkable proud moments’, I guess.
Would you like to share any ‘blank spots’ in your field – questions which you think are important but which are under-researched?
It is remarkable that a person like Rosey Pool has not yet been researched – even though many of the people in her network (f.e. Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Audre Lorde, Amiri Baraka, W.E.B. Du Bois, but also Anne Frank) have been researched extensively.
If you turned your research project into a popular non-fiction bestseller, what would the title be?
I am actually thinking of writing a Dutch version of my dissertation, intended for a general audience. One quote by Pool sums up her goal in life very well: “That piece of yellow cloth became my black skin” – referring to the yellow star she had to wear during the war. I’m thinking of including that in the title.
Which field of research (or whose work) is your greatest inspiration for your project? How does your research stand out from this?
There have been many inspirational works. I just read Gerald Horne’s Race Woman. The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois. It is truly admiring how he is able to critical remarks about the racism and sexism that Graham Du Bois encountered. He does not overanalyse stuff but as a reader you’re aware he has read all relevant literature on the subject. That’s what I’m aiming for.
Research Across Borders
Which countries have you worked in so far? Which ones would you like to work in in the future?
I have primarily studied in the Netherlands, but I have been to Dundee (Scotland) as an Erasmus student, and have had a fellowship in London (Eccles/British Library), and in the future I will go to Berlin (EHRI) and the United States (EAAS). I would love to work in the U.K. or the U.S. Research in the U.K. is inspiring and suits my topic quite well.
What is the biggest difference between American Studies in different countries that you have encountered so far?
In most countries a lot of research has a slight of hint of the country of origin – French-Canadian connections, Romania and the U.S. during the Cold War, etc. etc.
What’s the craziest place your research has taken you to so far?
Amongst other places, the former house of Rosey Pool in London, at 23a High Point at Highgate. I try to investigate the place as a contact zone where ironically a lot of Americans met each other. Last year when I was in London, I rang the doorbell and apparently an American couple lived there now. Unfortunately, history wasn’t their cup of tea. But I got to see the place from the inside, which was great. I must admit a felt a historical sensation when I stood on the exact place where Rosey Pool used to live, sleep, and eat.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully I will be a part-time researcher and part-time lecturer at the university I’m working at currently. But in general – I like to keep all options open. I am very passionate about historical research, and I hope I will be connected to this field some way or another.