Highlighting its dedication to mentoring undergraduate researchers, Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) hosted a unique research conference for its first Indian Ocean Fellows, an initiative of the Sonneborn Interdisciplinary Collaboration Chair.

The Fellows - students and alumni from Georgetown campuses in Doha and Washington, DC - presented their cross-disciplinary projects related to the Indian Ocean region under the theme “Movement and Stasis.”

The Sonneborn Chair was recently awarded to Rogaia Abusharaf, GU-Q Professor of Anthropology, with her collaborators, Professors Anaya Chakravarti and Cóilín Parsons, from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The chair, which seeks to advance collaborative and innovative work in interdisciplinary research and mentored student learning, provides funding and support to advance their research and support student engagement as part of the Indian Ocean Working Group (IOWG).

In remarks at the conference, Dean Safwan Masri highlighted the strategic importance of this initiative, saying: “From the moment I arrived here as dean, one of my top priorities has been to bring the two campuses closer to one another, broadly speaking, and specifically in terms of faculty and students… so I wanted to welcome you and say how important it is that you're here.”

Dr. Abusharaf added: “I am delighted to witness our first Indian Ocean Fellows sharing their insights on this dynamic part of the world. Home to over half the world’s population, it is a region of immense significance, and, through the Sonneborn Chair, we have the opportunity to develop a new generation of voices to help us better understand its history and future.”

The student presentations spanned diverse themes within the humanities, linking history and agriculture, literature and law, sociology, and migration.

John Ewotu (GU-Q’24), presenting his project The Legacy of Slavery in Africa: Conflict and Remembrance, said: “Despite our diverse backgrounds and areas of interest within the field, we discovered a common ground that fostered engaging and thought-provoking discussions throughout the event.” From Qatar, Rejoice Onyenagubo (GU-Q’24), and Maleiha Khan (GU-Q’24) also presented their research.

Alumni Aashish Karn (GU-Q’23), currently at the University of Lancaster, returned to campus to present a project originally developed for his Honors thesis. His paper Beyond the Suffering Subject: Ties, Networks, and Belonging among Nepalese Migrants in Qatar is being considered by a peer-reviewed journal.

Dale Menezes (GSAS’24), a PhD student set to join GU-Q as a postdoctoral fellow in Fall 2024, presented Cultivating Coconuts in Goa: An Indian Ocean Story? while Lukas Soloman (SFS’26), from the DC campus, explored The Gunny Sack and the Asian Diaspora in Colonial East Africa. “It makes it feel like what we’re studying, what we’re doing, and what we’re passionate about is meaningful, and that there is a community of people who care about the things that I care about,” Lukas noted. Other students traveling from the DC campus to present at the event included Vera Berezhny (CAS’26), and Andrea Ho (SFS’24).

The Sonneborn Chair advances the faculty team’s decade-long collaboration and bridges the scholarship and research produced by the IOWG, which has been primarily based in Qatar, to the campus in Washington, DC. Although the working group has hosted a number of international conferences for scholars working on Indian Ocean studies, this conference is the first to focus primarily on student research.

“We have an opportunity over the next three years to collaborate and try to bring our students into this obsession that we all share with the Indian Ocean,” said Dr. Chakravarti.  

Dr. Parsons added: “This will be a three-year project of experiential learning and research, based in the region, which is something we haven’t been able to do before, and this grant gives us the opportunity to bring our students into our research and share with them what we’re doing.”

About the Indian Ocean Working Group

The IOWG was co-founded in 2014 by Dr. Abusharaf with Associate Professors Firat Oruc and Mohammad Reza Pirbhai, Assistant Professor Uday Chandra, and the late Professor Amira Sonbol, aiming to build collaborative expertise across the boundaries of traditional area studies to remap the Indian Ocean World.

For more information on the research initiative, please visit the website at https://www.qatar.georgetown.edu/research/initiatives-and-projects/indian-ocean-working-group/.