Erin Aoyama

Erin Aoyama

Class of 2015, America
Ph.D. Student in American Studies, Brown University
Erin Aoyama

Thesis Title: Separate and Unequal: The Impact of Jim Crow on Japanese American Internment and Postwar Identity

What Now: Ph.D. student in American Studies at Brown University

What Next: Right now, I'm preparing for my qualifying exams, after which I will begin researching and writing my dissertation. In the future, I'm looking forward to a career that hopefully involves teaching, research and writing, and thinking about the ways we can shift how K-12 students learn and think about history and its role in their lives. 

Follow Me: @ekaoyama (Twitter)

I'm currently pursuing a PhD in American Studies at Brown University. I work broadly within 20th century American history, comparative ethnic studies, and Asian American studies. My current project, which has its roots in my Hist & Lit senior thesis, examines the liberal politics of apology, specifically surrounding the aftermath of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. I completed an MA in Public Humanities, so much of my work at Brown has also revolved around public-facing scholarship and expressing history using art and storytelling, through a collaborative multimedia project called No-No Boy.

Though so much of my current trajectory is a result of my experience in Hist & Lit, there is one moment in particular that I think about often. Halfway through my first semester as a Hist & Lit concentrator, one of my sophomore tutors went through a paper with me, line by line, kindly pointing out moments where I had written a beautiful sentence, syntax-wise, but where I was not actually saying anything. This was just the first of many moments in Hist & Lit that made me a much stronger writer, but it comes to mind often when I'm workshopping papers in writing group or working with undergraduate students on their own writing. 

As a grad student, the close reading and writing skills that became second-nature during my time in Hist & Lit are absolutely invaluable. My teachers, mentors, and peers taught me to be a generous, engaged, and thoughtful class participant, which I know has also made me a better teacher for my own students. (As an added bonus, those mentors and teachers have remained important mentors for me, even years after graduating!) Above all, my experience in Hist & Lit challenged me to think more deeply and more broadly about how we construct historical narratives. These kinds of questions--about how we think about what "counts" as history and, in turn, what we teach younger students and what we leave out of our classrooms and textbooks--continue to motivate my work as much as my more focused research questions about Japanese American incarceration and public apology.

From the seminars that opened my mind to different ways of thinking and questioning, to the junior paper that provided my first taste of an in-depth research project, to the senior thesis process that started me on a project I'm still wrestling with five years later, to the oral exam that has made preparing for qualifying exams now seem more manageable, Hist & Lit gave me the freedom to explore topics that captivated my interests and, perhaps more importantly, made sure I had the critical thinking, research, writing, and presentation skills to do so in an impactful and fulfilling way. I'm so grateful, every day, for how Hist & Lit has shaped and continues to shape my path!

Read More:
• No-No Boy and their album1942 on Spotify