Graduate Student Spotlight
Dan Royles, Ph.D. candidate, History Department
Owning AIDS: the Political Culture of African American AIDS Activism
Dan Royles took time away from writing his doctoral dissertation to answer these questions from The History Newsletter about his research project.
Can you describe your dissertation research?
The title of my dissertation is "Owning AIDS: the Political Culture of African American AIDS Activism," and I examine the ways that African Americans have combated HIV and AIDS in their communities. So far, this part of the story of AIDS activism in the United States has been ignored, but taking it into account changes our sense of when, where, and how grassroots work against the epidemic took place.
I look at different efforts undertaken by African American individuals and organizations to educate black communities about their risk for HIV, and the language and tactics that they used in doing so. They often put AIDS in the context of other challenges facing African Americans–things like mass incarceration, the need for affordable housing, and lack of access to quality education. They also called on black Americans' sense of belonging in a larger international community of people in the African diaspora by looking to African tradition for a set of unifying values to guide HIV education programs. At times, African American AIDS activists also traveled to parts of sub-Saharan Africa to exchange information and give assistance to communities there in doing their own prevention campaigns, which is a concrete intercontinental connection that I certainly didn't expect to find.
What have been the most rewarding and the most difficult parts of your research?
My research includes a lot of oral history, which has been both thrilling and terrifying. In some cases I'm talking to people who have been doing important, difficult work on HIV and AIDS literally for my entire lifetime, and I'm purporting to tell their story. That's intimidating! But interviewees are also very aware that they've been left out of the historical narrative, and they're eager to have their stories told.
Recently I learned that one of them, a wonderful man named Curtis Wadlington, passed away just as I was editing the transcript of our interview. In a sense, I'm now the custodian of his final words. That's an awesome responsibility, and again a little bit terrifying, but I feel incredibly fortunate and honored to be able to do this work.
How has Temple helped you in your research or career as a grad student?
Temple has been a wonderful, nurturing environment for me in my graduate career. I'm lucky to have brilliant colleagues and mentors in the history department who are always willing to read work in progress and bounce around ideas. I've also really enjoyed participating in events and groups–and grabbing countless cups of free coffee!–upstairs at the Center for the Humanities. I can't overstate the importance of material support that I've received from the history department and the Center for the Humanities throughout coursework, research, and writing. Without that help, I wouldn't be able to undertake an ambitious dissertation project, and I wouldn't be able to move through the process as quickly as I have.