Hearing Voices

Professor Researches Environment in African Country

By Carrie Seibel

The American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee gathered approximately 40 people before the winter storm last Friday. Assistant Professor Marcus Filipello spoke about his studies in Benin, Africa for the first time outside of his classes.

The lecture was titled “Reading Landscapes and Hearing Voices in Benin” and was part of UWM Libraries’ “Academic Adventurers” series. This series is a continuing series of informal Friday afternoon programs that bring UWM community members together. It is designed to give the community an opportunity to hear their colleague’s adventures abroad and interact in a group discussion that may further research and idea.

The AGS Library is located on the third floor of the east wing in the Golda Meir Library. Library Director, Eva Barczyk, introduced Filipello to the mix of college students, middle aged, and elderly who attended. The lecture started with a summary of Felipello’s research and travels through Benin, and provided maps and photography of the landscapes.

Filipello conducted a localized study in an area of Benin that was agriculturally thriving. Some locals said never to cut the plants down, while others said it only remains for certain spiritual reasons that are not all respected. Either way, Filipello wanted to understand how they are trying to shape their environment with progress.

Mark Rommeke, a 73-year old historian from Shorewood said that this is his second time attending the lectures and his first time hearing Filipello speak. “I am glad that I came. The research he conducted in Benin is very interesting, and it is good to see UWM in support of this type of research.”

Initially, Filipello wanted to research the native medical consumptive practices in Togo, but due to “political situations” in Togo, he focused on something else. His research kept bringing him back to Benin and the historical road building of the 1930’s that was abandoned. Filipello spoke about the fact that some people do not even have roads.

“This kind of research and the information that comes from it is very new to a lot of people, so I really need to figure out how to present this information in a way that is easily comprehendible for people that are interested,” Filipello said.

Rommeke’s wife, Joette, really liked the photographs. “This type of research is very new to me and I would love to hear more,” she said. Joette has always been interested in African Studies, and Benin is new to her.

Retired Librarian, Luanee Forger was pleased with the way UWM presented the lecture and the series as a whole. “These lectures are very necessary types of studies, and it says a lot about the different types of research taking place at this university,” Forger said.

Filipello received his education from other universities. He received his PHD from the University of California-Davis in 2010 and got his MBA from the University of Missouri. His research interests include sub-Saharan African history, especially Benin, environmental history and the history of development. He plans to continue his research on the road development in West Africa and continue educating students at UWM.

He said, “I’ll be going back to visit Benin many more times and I would definitely present at UWM again.”

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