Biehl fellows present diverse summer research


Photo by Matt Hembree

By Fleming Smith

Staff Writer

        On September 21 in McClurg Dining Hall, five seniors presented the research they completed this summer as the latest class of Biehl Fellows. Julian Cope, Cici Lekakos, Hadley Montgomery, Edgar Payano, and Lauren Perkins each presented the challenges and successes of their six weeks abroad and shared their findings.

        Cope, an economics and environmental and sustainability double major, based his research in Havana, Cuba, studying “Shifting Commodity Chains Underlying the Urban Food Market” and how the shift from communism to more free markets affected food access.

“I became interested in this topic after visiting Cuba with my father last January, after conversing with various individuals about their experiences with food access in recent years, I decided to pursue this topic more under the Biehl Fellowship,” Cope explained.

He conducted several primary interviews in Spanish and completed detailed literature reviews during his stay in Cuba, also working with professors at the University of Havana. He discovered that recent changes in government policy led to the creation of new markets and relationships that often spurned the government, favoring relationships between non-state players. Under government control, food access was limited and extremely inefficient.

“Each of these [new markets] has served to improve the quantity, quality, and variety of food that is available to individuals and restaurants in Havana,” Cope said, naming relationships such as farm to paladar, meaning a private restaurant, and punto de venta, a kiosk at farms where producers could directly sell their products.

       Cope concluded that food access has improved in Cuba and that financial opportunities provide powerful incentives for producers to increase production and seek new market relationships. When asked by an audience member about the most interesting thing he saw a person sell in the markets, Cope replied with a laugh, “A pig head—just the head!”

        History major Lekakos spent last semester in Rome and continued her studies into the summer as a Biehl Fellow, researching the “Christianization of Rome from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages as Experienced and Reflected in the Porticus Octaviae and the Sant’Angelo in Pescheria.”

The Porticus Octaviae was built in 146 B.C.E. and includes a church still used today, therefore constituting a building with a vibrant 2,000-year history. “I was inspired by this project because I stumbled upon this structure while I was just exploring, and it’s really fascinating, the piecemeal construction of it, and I wanted to know more about its history and why it looked so bizarre,” Lekakos explained.

        Through her research, Lekakos traced the history of Rome through the lens of Christianization and how the movement affected buildings in Rome. At one point, the Porticus Octaviae was largely abandoned after pagan temples were outlawed. However, when the revival of Rome occurred, such buildings flourished again.

        “My effort to study this building is sort of to challenge the idea that this was a dark age, and that nothing good was happening and everyone was sort of a savage,” Lekakos commented. “There was a real cultural renaissance that was going on at this time.”

        Montgomery, an economics and environment and sustainability double major, studied “An Ecological Management Agricultural System” in Cuba. She first went to the Matanzas province and stayed at a seminary through a connection with Sewanee’s School of Theology, then spent the latter half of her stay at a pineapple farm near Los Arabos.

        She explained her interest in farming by showing a picture of the farm her family once lived on. “My family used to live off of this farm but no longer does because of industrialization of agriculture,” Montgomery explained. “There’s been a huge flight from rural areas to urban areas and my family was a part of that.”

        After Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba, the United States placed a trade embargo on the country, isolating it from the U.S. and all of its allies. The Soviet Union initially aided Cuba, but after its dissolution, Cuba struggled to find chemicals for its crops.

        “They were left with no real way to have their own food. They really had to revamp their agricultural system and their way to provide for the people,” Montgomery explained. The majority of Cuban farmers are unable to use chemicals on their produce.

        Despite the obstacles in ecological management, Montgomery discovered that the farmers she met felt a strong sense of obligation to the community, creating bonds of camaraderie in farming communities.

        “One of my friends said to me while I was there, ‘We’re building something, we just don’t know what the end will be,’” Montgomery recalled.

        Anthropology major Payano studied “Water Management Methods in the Quispicanchi Province of Cuzco” in Perú. After previously studying abroad in Perú during his junior year, Payano was glad to be able to return.

        He described three case studies from his research: Mahuayani, Ocongate, and La Margen Derecha. Mahuayani was isolated but rich in water volume and still had the capabilities to self-manage its resources. Ocongate, where Payano lived during his research, experienced a disproportionate use and distribution of water, with only two-hour windows at morning and night where water could be accessed. Its nearby river was contaminated. La Margen Derecha also suffered under contaminated water, as well as a lack of resources in communication.

        While concrete plans were difficult to maintain, a theme common amongst all the Biehl Fellows, Payano took any opportunity that emerged to further his research. “From waking up at five in the morning to get a taxi at six, then hiking two hours to talk to a communal president for like 30 minutes, that was something that gave me life every day,” he joked.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity because I was able to go back to Perú and reaffirm that I need anthropology in my life,” Payano explained.

Perkins, an international and global studies major, researched the “Political, Economic, and Social Integration of Turkish Immigration in Berlin-Neukölln.” Turkish immigrants form 12 percent of Neukölln’s population but are isolated and live in parallel societies, facing many obstacles to integration in German society.

“I was really excited to tackle this topic because it’s at the intersection of almost all of my academic interests and I’d previously done quite a bit of research on Turkish immigrants in Germany,” Perkins explained.

Through interviews with Neukölln government officials and examining their documents, Perkins discovered that German identity in this province still held a strong connection to ethnic identity. Citing the Integration Policies in Neukölln document, she described how “the language in this document was pretty shocking. It wasn’t really integrative, it was assimilationist, and actually anti-pluralist.”

One section of the document describes Muslim immigrants to Germany as having “a susceptibility to be tempted by the prospect of easy money,” which Perkins says “completes a process of dehumanization.” The document especially focuses on the children of immigrants, seeking to maintain ultimate control over their education in order to assimilate them into German society, even against the parent’s wishes.

“[Neukölln] absolutely has to to accept that on some level it is culpable for many of the integrative failings in the region and it has to have an appreciation for a foundational amount of diversity in the district, as well as a spirit of compromise and societal openness,” Perkins concluded.        

        The Biehl International Research Fellowship began in 1991 after an endowment from Carl Biehl (C’32). The fellowship program invites rising juniors and seniors to apply for funding to research in a foreign-language country under a social science major or minor. Information on the application to become a Biehl Fellow can be found at