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Marshall Scholar to Study Dehumanization Throughout History

November 23, 2015 – Matthew Quallen (SFS’16) plans to use his recently awarded Marshall Scholarship to study the concept of animalization throughout history as he seeks advanced degrees overseas.

“Animalization – at least the small piece of it I propose to study – is a refined way of thinking about dehumanization,” says Quallen, who won a 2016 Marshall Scholarship that pays for two years of graduate study in the United Kingdom. “The simple version is – oppressor says to or of the person whose oppression they seek to justify, ‘you're an animal, not a person, so I can treat you badly.’ ”

“But these logics get complicated in all sorts of surprising ways and get used for variety of different purposes, some of them even positive,” adds the international history major. “I think working to riddle them out is a good place to deepen understanding of how people become and remain marginalized, which is an essential question for societies today.”

Quallen, 21, of Farmington, Connecticut, intends to pursue a master’s degree in history at the University of Manchester to be followed by a master’s degree in geographical research from the University of Cambridge.

Like a Ph.D. Candidate

Now a research intern at The Brookings Institution, Quallen writes a history column for the student newspaper, serves as historian to the student government association, and is a member of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation.

The group is charged with providing advice and recommendations to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia on how best to acknowledge and recognize the university’s historical relationship with the institution of slavery. 

Quallen also has worked with three organizations promoting youth engagement in international affairs, including the United Nations Association of the National Capitol Area.

“Mr. Quallen is an outstanding student of history,” writes Georgetown history professor Marcia Chatelain in her recommendation for the scholarship. In my course on the Great Migration, Mr. Quallen’s ability to read history was on par with a Ph.D. candidate preparing for qualifying exams.”

A Meaningful Life

For his senior thesis at Georgetown, Quallen is analyzing the role animalization played in degrading the status of American slaves.

“That analysis is moving towards a finding that slavers persistently enlisted the technique of animalization to justify their practices,” Quallen explains.

“Matthew demonstrated the focus, skill, maturity, intellectual independence and initiative, and sheer brilliance of an advanced graduate student,” writes Lori Merish, professor of English, in her recommendation.  “I cannot stress this enough– he is an absolutely dazzling student, and his performance in my course was consistently of the highest quality.”

The Georgetown senior says he’s had “many incredible professors and mentors” at Georgetown, including theology professor Diane Yeager’s Problem of God course, for which he read the works of Kierkegaard, Buber, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

“She was so good at cutting to the core of their concerns,” Quallen says. “For me the course because a kind of watershed moment, where these really powerful thinkers got me to foreground concerns about how I could live a meaningful life.”

Mechanisms of Silence

Quallen has long held an interest in, as he put in his personal statement, “understanding the mechanisms that made the silent mute in history.”

In the summer of 2013, he investigated slaveholding in his hometown as part of a team that included museum staff and volunteers. The team searched probate records and other 17th- and 18th-century archival sources, locating about 20 previously unknown enslaved residents.

After Quallen finishes his master’s degrees, he hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in history and eventually, become a leading historian of the techniques that silence dehumanized people.

“.... recently, I have been thinking much more about what it means not to have history,” Quallen wrote in his personal statement. “It means, in part, to not feel bound to the nation or community and for the nation or community not to feel bound to you. … But diligent scholars – the kind I hope to be – can do something about this. They can equip people with narratives that encourage them to join communities and to welcome their fellow citizens.”