Doors to Diplomacy Project ID: 6841

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International Schools CyberFair Project Narrative
Title: Cultural Diplomacy with the Muslim World
Category: 8. Arts and Culture

School: West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North
    Plainsboro, New Jersey, USA

2 students, ages 17, 17 worked together to complete this Doors to Diplomacy project on March 15, 2011. They have participated in Doors to Diplomacy in the following year(s): 2011

Classes and Teachers: Mr. Bruce Salmestrelli, Aparaajit S., Avanti D.

E-Mail contact:

Our School's Web Site:

Project Overview

1. Description of Our Team

As his high school workload began to subside, high school senior Aparaajit, 17, began to search the Internet for interesting competitions that he could participate in to deepen his understanding of international politics. Upon finding Doors-to-Diplomacy, Aparaajit was extremely excited by the familiar project focus of international diplomacy, which he had studied extensively in the summer of 2010 at the University of Texas (Austin). Seeing that Doors-to-Diplomacy was a website competition, he approached his web-savvy buddy, Avanti, 17, and together they set about the project, titling their website Cultural Diplomacy with the Muslim World. Aparaajit and Avanti both expressed their interest in Doors-to-Diplomacy to their AP European History teacher, Mr. Bruce Salmestrelli, and he generously agreed to coach them. Thanks to Mr. Salmestrelli, Aparaajit and Avanti were able to complete the project in an organized fashion, as he helped them set realistic goals uncharacteristic of their usual last-minute styles. Mr. Salmestrelli also counseled them to expand their research by channeling the Internet as well as to connect with more Fulbright alumni, who would be able to share their experiences with them. His advice broadened their research base and added breadth to their project.

2. Summary of Our Project

Cultural Diplomacy with the Muslim World is a Web Project intended to illuminate what has remained in forgotten shadows for too long: culture’s role in international diplomacy. The Golden Years of Cultural Diplomacy have long since passed, and too often the US government resorts to a forceful, coercive tenor in its interactions with the rest of the world. Our website seeks to show the ingenious and graceful ways in which culture was harnessed in the past to engage with Muslim publics, and in the process, to show how effective it can be in the Muslim world today. We chose the Muslim world because of its ever-increasing relevance in the modern international system; it is a place of great unrest, widespread popular anger, and more so than ever before, youth. In light of the numerous revolutions that gripped the Near East and North Africa, we believe that focusing our website on Cultural Diplomacy with Muslim states makes the site germane and meaningful. We also believe that culture is too often dismissed as a vehicle for peace; Cultural Diplomacy is a process that takes time; it is no quick fix. But it lends much-needed context to our more visible foreign policies, and in the end, it always leads to a wiser, more nuanced, and more cordial understanding between nations. It is the first step towards mutual understanding, and by extension, the first step towards lasting peace.

3. Our Computer and Internet Access

A. Percentage of students using the Internet at home:more than 50%

B. Number of workstations with Internet access in the classroom:more than 6

C. Connection speed used in the classroom:dedicated connection

D. Number of years our classroom has been connected to the Internet:more than 6

E. Additional comments concerning your computer and/or Internet access (Optional):

Our computer and Internet access was constant throughout the duration of the project. There were no issues in getting online at any point in order to do research or connect with each other. Online communication and the virtual sharing of files were the most common ways through which we worked together early on. Towards the end of the competition, we worked at one another’s houses or in the public library so that we were even more in sync.

4. Problems We Had To Overcome

The toughest challenges we faced came during our research period. It was very, very hard to find documentation (visual, textual, or auditory) of the events we wished to chronicle on our website. We were looking hard for noteworthy examples of Cultural Diplomacy with Muslim publics, and found a large portion of our material in Dr. Richard T. Arndt’s book American Cultural Diplomacy, The First Resort of Kings. But we desperately wanted proof of these events, so in a moment of spontaneity, we decided to try and call Dr. Arndt. To our delight, he picked up! And thus began the correspondence with the author whose book we were dissecting, a dialectic that proved supremely helpful. We told him about our difficulty in finding primary documentation (photographs, news articles) and he generously offered us the option of going to his home in Washington, D.C., to pore over his dozens of old photographs. Aparaajit took him up on his offer and traveled on a day trip to actually meet with Dr. Arndt at his home. It was awesome!

We also had to face the technical challenges posed by web design. The website proved to be recalcitrant and uncooperative at times, but with a little tinkering and a little assistance from the Help menu, everything worked! There were certainly frustrations, but overcoming the glitches and hiccups made the experience all the more satisfying.

5. Our Project Sound Bite

Doors to Diplomacy has taught my students what it means to investigate a topic, dive head first into a subject and contact experts in the field without being shy. The competition has shown them how to synthesize the vast research they have done and how create a finished, coherent product.

6. How did your activities and research for this Doors to Diplomacy Project support standards, required coursework and curriculum standards?

Because our website deals with Arts and Culture, our website strives to address content standards as outlined in the National Standards for Arts Education. We delve into the four basic arts disciplines—dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts—through the examples we offer of past cultural diplomacy with Muslim states. Because of the content standards, we chose to categorize our website by these and more disciplines: visual arts, theater, music, dance, film, literature, and architecture. The project fit into required district curriculum guidelines in that it demanded 21st century competencies—we had to master the use of information, media and technology so that we could properly communicate with others, build the website, embed video, sound, add images onto the site, and properly store all of our research digitally. We also had to decide what was the healthiest, most appealing balance of media on the webpage and, in that way, tap into our advertising and design skills. We learned how to work well with each other and to split up work according to our strengths; we also came to better understand the meaning of culture, the role of the arts in culture, and the power of the Internet as a channel through which to share culture. Finally, we realized that our school doesn’t emphasize broad based understanding of culture enough, that people don’t really know what the word means and trivialize it; culture, the very root of identity, is serious business! It is not a diversion!

Project Elements

1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your Doors to Diplomacy project?

Aparaajit and Avanti first came to me with one main resource - the book “The First Resort of Kings” by Dr. Richard T. Arndt. After I suggested that they broaden their research base, they later contacted Dr. Arndt himself, and even visited him in Washington to collect first-hand photographs, paintings and most importantly stories from the experienced cultural diplomat. A successful meeting with Dr. Ardnt led the team to contact even more connections. They later emailed many Fulbright alumni and interviewed Princeton University Professor of Arts and Cultural Policy Studies Stanley N. Katz, recording the whole interview with their laptop. The team really took advantage of many Internet resources. Besides using the Internet to get Dr. Arndt’s contact information and to email the Fulbrighters, Aparaajit and Avanti also used many online book sources to deepen their study.

2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your Doors to Diplomacy project both on-line and in person.

We have strived to act as ambassadors for our Web Project because we believe that it can spark the much-needed conversation on the role of Cultural Diplomacy in today’s far-too-aggressive American foreign policy. We have contacted experts in the field, told them about the website, asked them for their input, and will continue to remain in touch as they review the site and suggest changes. It was wonderful working with Dr. Richard T. Arndt, author of The First Resort of Kings, the book which served as our single largest source. We corresponded through email and Aparaajit visited him at his home in Washington. There, Aparaajit incidentally met another former diplomat and was quick to tell him about the website. Dr. Arndt has promised to remain in touch and to spread the word about our work. In fact, he even told us, “We need something like this! It’s not often that people, especially kids your age, are so interested in a form of diplomacy that seems foreign to us now.” Urging Aparaajit to consider a career in the foreign service, Dr. Arndt showed heartening interest in our research and inspired us to dig deeper. We will remain in touch with him and hope that he can share our work with his vast contacts. What better way to spread the word? What better people than Washingtonians?

3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?

We believe that our website will edify the thoughtful citizen. We know that it will make a difference in showing those who explore the site the cultural diplomat’s definition of culture, and hope that this definition will make them more self-aware of their own culture and their role as a potential exporter of it. People in our community have not had the opportunities yet to really explore our site, but we are sure that once it is up and running, it will be viewed by many experts (with whom we have established contact – namely Prof. William Glade of UT Austin, Prof. Lawrence Graham of UT Austin, Prof. Stanley Katz of Princeton, and Dr. Richard Arndt, our primary source and most helpful correspondent.) Hopefully these premier academics will enjoy viewing the site and pass it along within their networks, and hopefully, through these influential channels, someone will see it and join the call for the reinstatement of Cultural Diplomacy in the armamentarium of US foreign policy.

Beyond that, the website has changed us: we’ve gotten closer to each other, to the local academic community, to our adviser, and to the local cultural scene. We’ve come to work well with each other, and have come to understand the ins and outs of conducting research together. We’ve gotten closer to the academic community at Princeton through our reaching out to Professor Katz as well as students of Princeton’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). We’ve gotten close to Mr. Salmestrelli, and he’s gotten a little more lenient with our European History workload (which is bound to change as soon as the website is uploaded!). And finally, we’ve come to appreciate American culture, and the multiculturalism inherent in it; we’re rearing to expand our cultural horizons by going to see more art, more recitals, and more local architecture!

4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?

We did not need large amounts of advice during the development of our website. Besides the academics and Fulbrighters we contacted, we needed advice and assistance from our coach, Mr. Salmestrelli. But besides him, we really did not look for further assistance. Having had experience with conducting research, citing sources, and synthesizing information, we did not need much assistance in writing the analytical and historical parts of the website. We also did not need any assistance with the actual design of the website itself, because Avanti is very adept at coding and because we were using a straightforward webhosting service. Nonetheless, a big shout out goes out to the friends who helped Aparaajit navigate during his Washington adventure, namely Daniel and Aditi, as well to the 2010 UT TASPers who sent him the virtual copies of their thoughtful and tremendously helpful final TASP papers. Thanks guys!

5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)

Although the research process was familiar to both of us, the level of intensity of the Doors-to-Diplomacy research was not. The Web Project forced us to make many new discoveries about the modern world and ourselves. Our biggest discovery was made while browsing the Internet for more information about the expert on cultural diplomacy and author of our major resource book Dr. Richard T. Arndt. Scrolling through many Google pages about the experienced and professional cultural diplomat, we came across Dr. Arndt’s distinguished resume with his phone number under his name. Not expecting much, we decided to call the number. Much to our surprise, Dr. Arndt picked up immediately and was extremely willing to help us with our project. Thanks to Dr. Arndt we not only got to hear about all his first-hand experiences and collect primary sources, but we also learned that in today’s modern world, the best and richest information is only a phone call and a Google search away. But through our research we also learned that everyone might not be as helpful and responsive as Dr. Arndt; however, fear of nonresponsiveness should not detract a researcher from trying to gather as much information as possible!


View our Doors to Diplomacy Project (Project ID: 6841)

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