The second day of our Honors College experience began with a private tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, during which CDDRL Honors students learned about the richness and diversity of African American life, history, and culture. As we traveled through time in the exhibits, we discussed a depth and breadth of topics, including the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights Movement's diverse methods of resistance, and race-related Supreme Court cases. After our guided tour, we explored the new Afrofuturism exhibit, highlighting Afrofuturist expression through art, music, and activism and exploring and revealing its “historic and poignant engagement with African American history and popular culture.” The NMAAHC is my (Teiana’s) favorite museum in D.C., and it was a true treat to explore before its opening to the general public. Learning about the struggle towards Black liberation and social equality was an incredible privilege and a reminder of the power and resiliency of African Americans.
While we examined how American history has been narrativized, preserved, and memorialized at the NMAAHC, particularly for a domestic audience, our afternoon visit to the State Department enabled us to consider how the U.S.' perspective of its own history has shaped its foreign policy goals. We learned how its historical involvement on the international stage impacts current relations and programs with foreign governments. During our conversation with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, we were introduced to one governmental approach to synthesizing academic research and government policy goals. The office's integration of political scientists, data scientists, and others trained in quantitative research into its team illuminated an alternative (and often less emphasized) career pathway for students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. Distinct from the background of a regional specialist and the development of broader foreign policy goals, these researchers' style of thinking and analysis enhances the office with the programmatic perspectives necessary for policy goal implementation. This includes the planning, facilitation, and evaluation metrics that guide its country-specific programs and initiatives. As I (Isabelle) learned more about the Bureau's work under its broader scope of anti-corruption and drug trafficking prevention, I noted de-escalation, use of force, and accountability schemes among its prominent themes — issue areas that also resonate with current policy discussions in the domestic space. Reflecting on the visit, the office highlighted the ways in which academic research, when equipped with the historical knowledge of past policy approaches and programs, can be utilized and further developed within government to produce new and innovative visions for future international engagement.
The day concluded with our visit to New America, a think-tank composed of policy experts, technologists, and social entrepreneurs who research, report on, and analyze data and provide policy recommendations. Their organization focuses on five key thematic areas: “education from birth to workforce; family economic security and wellbeing; people- and planet-centered global politics; political reform and civic engagement; and technology and democracy.” Conversing with Political Reform Senior Fellow Lee Drutman, Political Reform Director Mark Schmitt, and Political Reform Deputy Director Maresa Strano, we learned about the organization’s “fresh thinking” approach to reform American democracy and build bridges between academia and industry. We enjoyed hearing about how their cultural reform and civic engagement programs aim to make their research accessible to the public and strengthen democracy.
Day 2 offered an incredible mix of history, geopolicy, art, research, and fun. As aspiring leaders in advancing democracy, development, and the rule of law, we felt empowered and excited to revive American democracy and contribute this “fresh thinking” to our own communities, reflecting on the past to inform a brighter future.