Finding Creativity in a Community of Researchers
Joseph VanderZee ’12 is a different person—and scholar—than the one who began at the University four years ago. He credits his transformation to “the community of researchers” he joined at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies—and particularly that community’s willingness to embrace undergraduates as a vital component of its enterprise.
While always a motivated and talented student, VanderZee never thought when he entered Notre Dame that he would emerge as the author of seven major research presentations and papers. His Grand Rapids, Michigan, high school was a good one, he says, but the research opportunities it offered were in the sciences.
With the thought that he might one day become a priest, his goal in college was to understand “why people think and act the way they do,” in whatever discipline he found most suited to fulfilling that quest.
Becoming an International Scholar
VanderZee became acquainted with Kellogg as a first-year Notre Dame student through Faculty Fellow Karen Graubart’s class on gender and colonization in Latin America. Already a Glynn Family Honors Program participant, he applied at Graubart’s urging to the Kellogg International Scholars Program (ISP), which pairs faculty mentors with talented undergraduates—providing them opportunities to learn research skills, as well as access to funding for their own research.
Now enamored of “all things Latin American” and already fluent in Spanish, International Scholar VanderZee began working his sophomore year with Faculty Fellow Jaime Pensado, pouring through articles related to the student movements of the 1950s and ’60s in the archives of the Mexican periodical Siempre!.
The research inspired VanderZee to take up a parallel investigation of his own. Struck by the number of articles lamenting the character of youth of the day and the resulting dysfunctional family, he wrote about the cultural shift this attitude represented and delivered his paper at the 2010 Latin American Studies Program research presentation night.
That was a defining moment.
Not only did VanderZee realize that he could contribute to the scholarly understanding of a culture, but he remembers the “boost” he felt in being “recognized at an early stage of my undergraduate career.”
“I was inspired that night by my peers as well,” he says. “When you participate in any program at Kellogg, you meet undergraduates who have done their own amazing research or had their own amazing experiences and so become aware of otheropportunities and programs.”
A Research-Intensive Path
And so began a string of research experiences that taught VanderZee—in a very hands-on way—what it means to be a scholar.
With the assistance of another Kellogg faculty fellow, the late Sabine MacCormack, VanderZee put together a proposal for a Kellogg Experiencing the World grant for summer 2010. His project: researching mission schools founded for the indigenous elites in the archives of the Universidad Ruiz de Montoya in Lima, Peru.
Through Kellogg, he also won a scholarship to study his junior year at the prestigious Center for International Studies at the Colegio de México in Mexico City.
His research there on the city’s infamous October 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, in which government soldiers killed large numbers of student protestors, culminated in the “best paper” award at the Institute’s “Mexico: 1810, 1910, 2010” Undergraduate Student Conference as well as the Monsignor Francis A. O’Brien Award from the Department of History.
VanderZee’s capstone research experience was his senior honors thesis, directed by MacCormack, a world-renowned expert on the colonial Andes. He returned to Lima on a Kellogg/Kroc Undergraduate Research Grant the summer before his senior year to continue his study of religious education during Peru’s colonial period and to hone in on a thesis topic.
Digging deep into four archives, VanderZee was captivated by the life of a 17th-century Peruvian missionary, Diego Francisco Altamirano, whose History of the Province of Peru drew from colorful and anecdotal missives to his superiors in Rome—communications in which Satan and the Virgin Mary assumed as prominent a role as any human characters.
VanderZee argued in his thesis that in addition to instructing and inspiring the faithful, Altamirano’s magical accounts helped the Jesuits to legitimate their authority and to defend Catholic ideologies.
A boon to his research, VanderZee notes, was the access Kellogg provided him to visiting scholars. In his final year at Notre Dame, he had the good fortune to meet and seek advice from both Visiting Fellow Donato Amado Gonzáles, a noted ethnohistorian from Cusco, and Ramón Mujica Pinilla, the director of the National Library of Peru.
Shaped by Two Key Mentors
VanderZee is “the best and most hard working student I have met at Notre Dame,” says Pensado. “His genuine interest in Latin American history and social justice is contagious.”
In written comments, MacCormack called VanderZee’s thesis a “penetrating” work of scholarship with “superb documentation”—one that successfully pushed a “complex and sophisticated argument.”
“It is—in short—an outstanding piece of research, a substantial contribution to knowledge, and a pleasure to read,” she wrote.
With commendations from his mentors of that caliber, it is no surprise that, in addition to graduating magna cum laude in history, VanderZee won the Kellogg Institute’s 2012 John Considine Award, which honors outstanding contributions to the study of or service to the Church in Latin America.
Now teaching ninth-grade world geography in El Paso, Texas, through Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education master’s program, VanderZee plans to eventually enter the priesthood and to earn a doctorate in history.
Looking back at his time at Kellogg, VanderZee praises the “huge” mentors he had in Pensado and MacCormack.
Pensado, he says, “demonstrated how to dive into sources and write about them boldly,” while MacCormack “shaped and broadened my understanding of the possibilities for scholarship.”
VanderZee also praises the support the Kellogg Institute offers undergraduates.
“Not only did my Kellogg opportunities enable me to study and research abroad,” he says, “my experiences were ones that allowed me to function independently—to burst the mold and be creative.”
Most of all, he is grateful that as an undergraduate, he was considered an integral member of the Institute’s scholarly community.
“Kellogg,” he says, “embodies the idea of a community of researchers who model how to go about historical research and the meaning it can have in the world today.”
Click here to read VanderZee’s words of tribute to Sabine MacCormack.