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Introducing our new Holding History Project Assistant

A picture of Chris during a visit to Quiapo Plaza in Manila

Chris Cañete Rodriguez Kelly, Fulbright Fellow (2022-23) and PhD candidate in the Department of English at University of Wisconsin-Madison, joins the Holding History team this fall as Holding History Assistant Director. Their research focuses on the relationship between Philippine novels written in English and Philippine novels written in Tagalog, a relationship that forms over the course of the twentieth century as a result of US-colonial education policy and Cold War cultural politics.

In reading and translating underread Tagalog novels and literature, Chris’s research is already indebted to the work of archivists and other professionals who specialize in preserving and sharing information. From June 2022 through January 2023 they conducted archival research on this topic while on a Fulbright Fellowship in Manila, Philippines, an experience that was as life-changing as it was challenging.

One of Chris’s most exciting discoveries came while digging through boxes of the

personal notes and effects of Tagalog author Amado V. Hernandez, housed by the National Library of

A pile of Hernandez's address books at the National Library of the Philippines archives

the Philippines. Partially crumpled within a manila folder, Chris found a handwritten note detailing

Hernandez’s participation in an event in Stockholm, Sweden, where Hernandez was slated to speak alongside twentieth-century intellectual giants such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Digging further, Chris learned that Hernandez had been invited to speak as a witness at Bertrand Russell’s 1966 International War Crimes Tribunal, at which the United States was investigated for its military involvement in Vietnam. In studying the history of the Philippines, as this anecdote suggests, it becomes clear that Filipino participation in world-historical events is always invisible and ubiquitous at the same time. Chris’s research asks how invisibility is, for minoritized peoples and places, a function of ubiquity, how something that is everywhere must always be, simultaneously, invisible.

Archives, for Chris, complicate what we desire or expect from academic work; they teach patience and demand solitude, but are particularly well-suited for those of us whose cultural and ethnic histories remain obscure. To the Holding History project Chris brings a desire to undo or bend back at least a little bit of this obscurity.

Chris is now Holding History's second graduate Assistant Director. Our first, Thom Van Camp, earned his PhD in May and has begun work as a writer in the nonprofit sector, managing communications for a collection of food banks, affordable housing projects, and other community-focused organizations across the country. Thom worked with us three years and was instrumental in creating a digital presence for the program. He designed and built the Holding History website, helped us move much of our programming online during the pandemic, and produced our first season of the HH podcast. In addition, he served as mentor to dozens of undergraduate and graduate student writers and contributors. To engage with some of Thom’s brilliant work here on the site, check out his beautiful digital essay “How to Quit Your Books” or listen to his NPR-esque segment about our first post-pandemic in-person event.

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