NEWPORT, R.I. – Angela Wheeler, a double major in cultural & historic preservation and international studies who is currently studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship to pursue research in the Republic of Georgia.
Wheeler, of Berlin, Mass., who will graduate from Salve Regina next month after three years of study, is completing her final semester in St. Petersburg, where she is taking intensive courses in Russian language and history. Since late January, she has also served as an intern at St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, where she assists with archaeological collections management and planning for an upcoming conference on virtual archaeology and the role of new technology in museum education.
This summer, she will travel to Azerbaijan with a Critical Language Scholarship. “I intend to explore the role that cultural institutions play for Azeris, who, like Georgians, also live with the legacy of imperial Russian and Soviet policy towards the Caucasus,” she said. “Additionally, I hope to learn more about the Azeri Muslim (as opposed to Georgian Orthodox Christian) attitude towards the preservation and secular display of sacred art.”
Wheeler said the specificity of her research interests and career objectives led her to pursue a Fulbright U.S. Student research fellowship. Her project combines practical work with collections management and administration with investigation of the museum’s social, cultural, and political role. “I plan to adapt my research and knowledge to the Georgian museum model by working directly in Tbilisi with my contacts at the Georgian National Museum’s Simon Janashia branch,” she said.
“During my year abroad, I would like to focus my work on the politics of public memory in contemporary Georgia, particularly the negotiation of an emerging state’s national identity from its imperial-Soviet past. My project will center on the application of methodologies used to create effective brand identities for the Georgian National Museum and its branches, with the goal of moving Georgian museums out of post-socialist transition and into the role of an educational center and community resource.”
Wheeler said she’d like to continue her work with the contested display of Georgian sacred art in the secular museum context. “Additionally, I plan to study the role that visual display plays in how the Soviet/Russian past is presented in the Georgian National Museum’s ‘Museum of Soviet Occupation,’ particularly after the ideological changes of the 2003 Rose Revolution, and especially the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict.”
While her primary research interest will be Georgia, she said she intends to contextualize her work on the Georgian National Museum by exploring museums in other post-socialist countries with comparable experiences of colonization and occupation.
“As a student of cultural and historic preservation with international studies, I have been both driven and encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary projects grounded in anthropology, history, material culture studies, heritage conservation, and regional studies,” she said.
Beginning in her freshman year, Wheeler supplemented her undergraduate curriculum with self-motivated studies of Georgian language and culture, and traveled to the Republic of Georgia in summers 2010 (for independent research on Soviet-era funerary traditions leading to a presentation at the American Anthropological Association’s Annual Meeting) and 2011 (as a student in Wellesley College’s summer archaeological field school).
“On both occasions I met with specialists at the Georgian National Museum, and became interested in the changing role of this institution in the ethnic and national consciousness of a post-socialist society,” she said. “During my final year of undergraduate study, I pursued this interest by writing a thesis investigating the effects of Georgian national narratives on heritage management in the capital city Tbilisi, where the museum’s headquarters are located. I also served as an intern at the Museum of Russian Icons at home in the U.S., where I conducted curatorial research and studied the contested status of religious art in secular institutions, using a conflict between the Georgian National Museum and Zarzma monastery as a case study. When completed, this article will be published in the Journal of Icon Studies.”
After she completes her Fulbright year, Wheeler hopes to apply to a master’s or doctoral program. “Depending on the direction my research takes me, I may choose a degree program in either anthropology or history/East European regional studies.”