Fourth-year Comparative Literature PhD candidate and library student employee Sean Matharoo has a unique array of talents, experiences, and academic interests that should yield results during his Fulbright fellowship in Belgium later this year.
“The funding to pursue something like this is invaluable to me. It enables me to do something I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. I’m really honored and I’m excited,” Matharoo said. “I’ve been given the opportunity to work with Dr. Stef Craps in the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University. His research is focused on the same things that I want to study: memory studies, the Anthropocene, postcolonial literature, and climate change fiction.”
Matharoo added, “The Anthropocene has been theorized by scientists as a geological time period characterized by humankind’s adverse impact on the planet due to the exploitation of land, water, animals, and fossil fuels. I want to problematize the cosmopolitanism of the discourse, which tends to sideline the question of vulnerability.”
Matharoo has been passionate about engaging with environmental issues such as climate change since before he came to UCR. He devoted nearly a year to his Eagle Scout project of building a drought-tolerant garden in his hometown of Inverness, Florida.
After completing his Bachelor’s in English at University of Florida, Matharoo was drawn to UC Riverside for three reasons: the university’s science-fiction program, cultural diversity, and geographic location. “I have always wanted to move out west for social and political reasons, and to be near the Joshua Tree desert and the film cultures of LA.”
Matharoo’s advisor Dr. Sherryl Vint recommended that he apply for the Fulbright grant to study in Belgium, knowing that he feels passionate about bridging cultural and linguistic borders while striving toward solidarity across those gaps.
“What’s really important to me is bringing into the classroom an emphasis on communicating across differences while upholding those differences at the same time,” Matharoo stated. “A lot of students – especially students who don’t come from families that are intimately familiar with the education system in this country – children of immigrants, first generation college students, and so on – they don’t always know that they don’t have to assimilate into one way of doing research.”
Sean credits his collaborative approach to research to his time spent working in Special Collections at Rivera Library with JJ Jacobson, UCR Library’s Jay Kay and Doris Klein Librarian for Science Fiction. “Working in the library taught me that starting with a hypothesis, an idea, a problem or a question, and then thinking about it in a much more improvisational and flexible way, it ends up opening interesting new tangents that are actually really productive for engaging the question,” he explained. “It encouraged me to think of research not in terms of solo-authored projects but instead as collaborative projects.”
When working at Rivera Library, Matharoo cataloged the Jay Kay Klein photograph collection. “There are thousands and thousands of photos and slides in this collection,” he stated. “From the 1940s through the 1990s (Klein) was really active in going to science-fiction conventions and award ceremonies, taking photographs and meticulously documenting where he was, who was in the photograph. I worked on his collection, moving the analog negatives and slides over to digital metadata so that scholars, artists, or anybody who is interested could say, ‘I need a photo of Octavia Butler at this convention in this year,’ for instance, and they could easily find it.”
During his Fulbright fellowship, Sean plans to take classes at Ghent University, conduct research, and write the first few chapters of his PhD dissertation. “There are other PhD students at Ghent working on projects similar to my own. There’s a really incredible, thriving community there that I’ll be able to network with and learn from.”
He hopes to connect his Fulbright research with the Afro-Belgian community in Ghent through interviews and collaborative artistic projects. “I intend to superimpose interviews, field recordings, noise music, text, photography, and video into audiovisual sculptures,” he explained.
After completing his PhD, Matharoo plans to teach at a university. “I don’t want to treat my students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge,” he said, “but, rather, to create a space where we can do the work of education together, always experimenting to create alternative ways of thinking and being.”