Name: Ella Fratantuono ‘08
Major: History
Academics: Tuition Exchange Scholarship
Activities: Women's Ultimate Frisbee Team
MRC Employee

What made you want to pursue undergraduate research and this project in particular?

I have been eager to do research for a long time, and this is why I joined the Honors history program. I have hopes of going to graduate school, and several professors encouraged me to do research in preparation of that.

After studying abroad in Turkey, I knew I wanted to focus on some aspect of Turkish history. In a political science class I was intrigued by a textbook that claimed that missionaries had had a very active influence in American Foreign policy toward Turkey. I had hoped to originally center my research on investigating the connection between missionaries and the state department, and my project has since evolved from that.

So, tell us about your research project.

Well, the project I am doing is to compare how American consulates and American missionaries viewed the Ottoman Empire, particularly from the year 1908–1914. I choose to look at missionaries and consulate officers because both tended to keep a lot of records. I chose 1908-1914 because during 1908 the Ottoman Empire had the "Young Turk" revolution, and I thought that Americans might have something to say about the changes or lack of changes in Turkey from this revolution. I choose to stop in 1914 because WWI made things a little bit messy.

So, to do this project I spent the summer researching. I spent a few weeks in Richmond looking at records from the department of state related to the internal affairs of Turkey, and then I traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to look at University of Michigan's collection of the American Board of Foreign Missions-Near East. I have also read books on Ottoman/Turkish history, the history of American missions, Orientalism, and colonialism. Although I have begun writing, my research is definitely not done. There’s a missionary newspaper that was published in Constantinople that I would like to access in D.C., and a few books on American missionaries and consulates that I can use to strengthen my argument. As of now, the overall goal of my project is to explore how various values as Westerners, Americans, government workers, and missionaries played out in these people as they witnessed Turkey during a time of transition.

Have there been any challenges in the research process?

When I first was deciding on a topic, I realized my lack of Turkish language skills would be a problem. I couldn’t do primary source research with Turkish documents. A few professors in the history department and one in the political science department helped me to design a project in which my lack of Turkish language skills was not a problem. It started out as sort of a diplomatic history project in which I would see how missionaries influenced state department policy, and so I still ended up using English-language primary sources, but my project has moved away from that original topic to a large extent.

How influential was studying abroad in Turkey on this project?

It was very influential. To be honest, I didn't know that much about Turkey before studying abroad there. I did have some interest in the Middle East, but more than that I was just looking for my Richmond study abroad experience to be a little different and a personal challenge. I had a fabulous time, and found Turkey, it's people, and it's history to be incredibly fascinating. When I got back in the spring I had to develop a topic for my honors research and that’s when I became interested in incorporating Turkish history.

Going to Turkey really helped me to focus my academic goals-ultimately I hope to study Turkish history in a graduate program. In the mean time I have to develop the language skills necessary to do that. I study Turkish online in my spare time, and I hope to go abroad again to become fluent in that language. Then I will begin studying Arabic and Ottoman Turkish(old school Turkish written in Arabic script.)

What's in store for you after graduation?  

Well, I plan on applying to grad schools next year. Even though I know I want to go to graduate school eventually, but I am also looking for opportunities to spend a year in Turkey teaching English right after graduation.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

The liberal arts education has meant that although I can concentrate on a history major, I am not confined to view the world only through the lessons I learn in those classes. Instead I have been able to explore different disciplines, which has ultimately contributed to my understanding of history as I can reinterpret history through the many viewpoints I have found in classes across the curriculum.