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University News

Late scholar’s work donated to U. libraries

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009

More than 700 books from the collection of the late Michael Bhatia ’99, an international relations scholar and Afghanistan expert, are now available to researchers at Brown libraries.

A visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies from 2006 to 2007, Bhatia was an Oxford University doctoral candidate when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in May 2008. He had been working there as a civilian member of a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team, according to the library.

The University received Bhatia’s library collection from his family at the end of June, said Medical School Librarian Tovah Reis. With the first stage of processing completed, Bhatia’s books are now available to researchers in the Rockefeller and the John Hay libraries, she said.

The remaining part of the collection, including papers and conference proceedings, will be available to the public in the future, she said.

The complete collection includes primary resources such as posters from the first election in Afghanistan, according to James Der Derian, professor of international studies, who said he has looked through the collection.

“He had one of probably the best conventional libraries of international relations that I’ve come across,” Der Derian said.

Der Derian directed a documentary titled “Human Terrain,” focusing on the Human Terrain system and Bhatia’s experience. The documentary won the Audience Award at Florence’s Festival dei Popoli in November.

The collection, which includes topics such as the history of peacekeeping and the role of non-governmental organizations in conflict resolution, complements the University’s existing resources. Bhatia also possessed what Der Derian called an “exotic taste in literature.”

On his research trips to regions including West Africa, East Timor and Afghanistan, Bhatia collected local literature from marketplaces and bookstores, Der Derian said. He even brought back Jihadi texts, such as a translated copy of a book by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a prominent warlord in Afghanistan.  Such texts are not easily accessible to Western scholars, Der Derian said.

As a collector, Bhatia did not discriminate between academic sources and popular cultural sources, Der Derian said. “Michael was a voracious reader and collector,” he said. “He wanted to digest everything out there.”Der Derian said Bhatia collected primary resources because he did not like to rely solely on Western accounts of the peoples and cultures of Asia and Africa.  “He was really trying to get through the barrier that we often get in Western academic circles” depending heavily on second-hand reports, Der Derian said.

Der Derian said a library reveals many aspects of a person’s life by presenting what the person reads, writes and thinks about. Bhatia’s collection is special among the collections donated to Brown, creating “a multifaceted image of a scholar in his prime as opposed to one at the end of a long career.”

It is a “snapshot” of a young scholar’s mind, he added.

Bhatia researched topics such as the role of Western organizations in conflict zones and the circulation and usage of small arms in conflict zones. One overriding theme of his work was finding “a means to reconcile difference short of violence,” Der Derian said.

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