An Interview with 2016 ASA/ACLS Presidential Fellow Eric Debrah Otchere

The ASA Presidential Fellows Program brings scholars from the continent to the ASA Annual Meeting each year, along with a visit to a host institution before and/or after the Annual Meeting. As part of the 60th Anniversary Campaign, the ASA hopes to double the number of fellows that can participate in this program.

First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your area of research?

I am a lecturer in Music Education at the Department of Music and Dance, Faculty of Arts, College of Humanities and Legal Studies – University of Cape Coast, Ghana. I am a past doctoral fellow of the Volkswagen Foundation in Germany. I was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the African Humanities Program (AHP) of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) from August 2015 to July 2016. I am a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Music and Musicology at Rhodes University, South Africa. I was also a 2016 Presidential Fellow of the African Studies Association. My research interests include such themes as: Music, Health and Wellbeing, Music and Emotions, Music Preference(s) and Emotional Intelligence, Music in Education, and the functional use of music in everyday life. Currently, I am working on a monograph about the songs of a dying Ghanaian indigenous fishing culture.

You became an ASA Presidential Fellow through the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) African Humanities Program (AHP) – how did you get involved with AHP, and what project were you working on with their support?

I got to know about the AHP through a few colleagues in my University who were themselves recipients of AHP fellowships. I followed up on their website and looked out for the next application opening. I applied but was unsuccessful the first time. However, I got useful feedback on my application proposal from the reviewers. This helped me to become even more aware of the expectations of the AHP and the kind of projects they were interested in. The following year, I put in an application which was based on some fieldwork I was carrying out on the psychology of work songs. For the AHP application, I decided to focus specifically on Ghanaian Fishing songs and examine the extent to which these songs, apart from easing labor, helped to substantiate various explanations about the people involved.

As an ASA Presidential Fellow, you had the opportunity to go to an institution for a visit before the Annual Meeting. What school did you visit, and what were some of your favorite experiences from the visit?

As an ASA Presidential Fellow, I got the opportunity to visit Rutgers University in NJ before the Annual Meeting. My stay there was very intellectually stimulating. I had the opportunity to present my work to different cohorts (e.g. faculty members, graduate students and undergraduate students) who gave me very insightful feedback.

I did enjoy the warm and selfless dedication of Faculty members who, apart from the hearty reception, took us on guided tours of the beautiful campus and helped us to establish useful networks with scholars in their University who shared similar research interests.

What was the thing that surprised you the most about the ASA Annual Meeting?

Being a first-time attendee of the ASA annual meeting, I was mostly surprised by the topical variety as well as the number of the presentations in a single conference.

What is the greatest thing you’ve taken away from your experience as an ASA Presidential Fellow?

I have taken away many great things from my experience as an ASA Presidential Fellow that it is difficult to point out a single one. Perhaps the greatest thing, stemming from all the rich experiences as an ASA Presidential Fellow, is that I have become more confident in myself as an academic.

Now that you’ve completed your AHP fellowship and your ASA Presidential Fellow experience, what’s next?
 
For me, my bigger intellectual journey has only just begun. The AHP and the ASA have given me a firm foundation to build on. I hope to increase my research and publication output in the coming years. I also hope to follow-up with the rich networks I have established through these fellowships and collaborate with other excellent minds at many different levels.

Do you have any advice for young scholars looking to benefit from an experience like the AHP or ASA fellowships?

The AHP and ASA fellowships offer priceless opportunities for intellectual development. I encourage young scholars to read the application criteria carefully and apply. They should not give up when it doesn’t work out the first time. They should review and re-structure, following the comments from reviewers, and try again. It is definitely worth the time and energy.