Ross School - Senior Projects 2011

 

Student: Julian Mardoyan-Smyth

Mentor: Carrie Clark

Domain(s): Cultural History, English

 

 

 

Product                            

 

Title:  Phantoms of the Past: Counterfactual Histories about Cuba.

Description:

My senior project focused on highlighting Fidel CastroÕs influence on world history through a series of Counterfactual essays and doctored images. I choose this project because if felt that it would allow me to learn an enormous amount about history, and to also create a product that harnessed my imagination. As the project developed I realized that the rules and parameters of Counterfactual Histories were much stricter than I had hoped. However I worked through these difficulties and was able to create a project that I am proud of and displays the uses of Counterfactual Histories.

 

Details:

 

Project

 

PowerPoint

 

Abstract

 

The idea for my project developed out of a series of rejections. I had initially wanted to attempt a creative piece, but threw that idea away after reminding my self that I did not have the patience. I then thought I would do a historical fiction story, so that I could continue to use my imagination and create something unique. However I threw this idea out as well, as I thought I lacked the technical know how. Then during a meeting with Carrie Clark, we came up with the idea to mix creativity and writing to create propagandist stories. I would doctor historically important images and write a short summary of what was going on in those images, thus creating an alternate narrative of world history.

            I then began looking for a good summer reading book, which I found once I shared the idea for my project with David Kaner. I told David about the idea, and asked him what he thought. He said he thought it was cool and that he just so happened to have a book dedicated to counter factual history lying about, and said he would lend it to me, which he did.

            However once I started reading I felt it did not fit my personality and my project, so I put it aside and ordered a different book, called Unmaking the West: "What-If?" Scenarios That Rewrite World History, which became the foundation of my entire project. The book helped me to understand the debate behind counterfactual history, its uses, and most importantly how to structure one.

            Unfortunately as I read the book I realized that the project I wanted to create was impossible to create without proving that counterfactual histories are not a valuable aspect of historiography. The book also illustrated that my project would have to be remolded in order to create a scholarly, and valuable counterfactual history. So I reconstructed the goal for my final product. The final product would now be a series of essays demonstrating the usefulness of counterfactual histories, by creating one. For me that meant that I would not be creating a series of doctored images, but a series of written stories that strayed from the true path of history.

            Now that I knew what I was doing I would have to figure out what subject in history I wanted to write about. It was difficult to find historical moments that fit the criteria for a counterfactual history and also were contemporary enough for my classmates to understand the implications. I finally settled on the Cuban Revolution, and how the revolutionary Fidel Castro influenced world history, over Mustafa Kemal AtatŸrk, due to the influence Cuba had on the Cold War with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

            By this point in time it was already November and many of my friends already had large portions of the product done, and I had really just started. At this point I had to really hustle to get all the information I could about Cuba, and begin writing my product. Once I had a decent amount of information, I began thinking of what I was going to focus on, and how I was going to construct it. My research pointed to one major divergence in Cuba, the switch from a capitalist country friendly with the U.S.A. and a communist one. Once I knew I was focusing on writing a narrative in which Cuba retained its capitalist principles I had to find the defining moment in which Fidel won the revolution, and then find a probable way in which to make sure it did not happen.

            With more research I finally knew the moment in time I would be examining, as well as other historically important moments in time influence by the Cuban revolution. With plans for writing four narratives, one about Cuban history, another about the now failed Cuban revolution, another about CubaÕs influence in Angola, and a conclusion, I began writing. Writing was one of the most difficult parts of my project. I began writing two weeks before thanksgiving break, and wrote four papers, two of which had to be completely thrown out, the other two which were rewritten and edited beyond recognition. I rewrote every single one of my essays at least for times, the only exceptions being the conclusion, and the essay about what a counterfactual history is.

            Once I had the final form of my essay, I moved to editing, which was brutal. I spent well over 200 hours alone editing my papers, working with my mentor, outside consultant, as well as many family friends. However I ended up with a product that I am extremely proud of.

            The final product was a power point in which my essays are contained. There is an opening screen describing what counterfactual histories are, and what my topic was. Then there is a navigation page in which one can click on a series of links to read more about counterfactual histories, what my project was, a summary of Cuban history, my essay about a modern capitalist Cuba, an essay about the previous essayÕs influence in Angola, a conclusion, and the real history of all the events covered. The product also contains a series of doctored images, with one-line capitations, to give another visual aspect to the product.

 

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Outside Consultant

 

James Earle: Chair of Ross School History department.

I asked James Earle to be my mentor because of his love of history. I approached him as soon as I knew how my final product would be formatted because I knew that I would need lots of help formatting my writing.