"As they dress in India." Photo from MSA 293, the Carlton A. Wilmore papers.

As They Dress in India, by Allison Schwam

Blog Entry One     //     Blog Entry Two     //     Blog Entry Three
To view a working bibliography for this project, click here.

Blog Entry One, March 10th 2016
Life as an International Student at Purdue

The object I would like to work with this semester is a photograph from Carlton A. Wilmore’s papers. Carlton A. Wilmore was a student at Purdue in 1903 and was involved in the terrible train wreck on October 31st of that year. He was injured in the wreck, and after he was released from the hospital he moved to Alabama to finish his recovery and education. There are boxes in Purdue’s archives filled with what used to be Wilmore’s belongings, one of which is the photograph I will be working with this semester. The photograph I have in mind, which I refer to as the “Indian Photograph,” is of six men, presumably all Purdue Students, five of whom have draped themselves in what look like bed sheets, which the caption on the back describes as the fashion in which “they dress in India.” The sixth man, who may actually be Indian, is dressed in a tie, which is traditionally a more Western style of clothing. The men are separated into two rows: the front three men sitting and the three behind them standing. Only two of the men are looking directly at the camera and only one of them is smiling. On the back of the photograph, someone, presumably Wilmore himself, has written “As they dress in India” and then lists the names of the gentlemen in the photograph along with where they are standing. As a whole, it is an extremely intriguing photograph.

Initial Thoughts & Significance

This picture drew me in because of the sheer number of unanswered questions it raises. Where are they? Why do two of the men have their eyes closed? And most importantly, what is with the Indian style of clothing and the writing on the back? Is it a joke? A political statement? Admittedly, some of these questions will most likely never be answered. We will probably never know why the guy in the back left has a goofy grin on his face while everyone else is straight-faced. But, with further research, I believe this photograph could reveal to us some interesting aspects of what life at Purdue was like in 1903-1904. I am hoping to find more information on the Indian gentleman, which hopefully will tell me more about the international population at Purdue during that time period.

Vivian Gu, who took this course previously, did research on a Japanese senior from Purdue’s class of 1904. Sukichi Yoshisaka was an international student and, according to Gu’s findings, Yoshisaka was somewhat outcast because of his ethnicity. While he may not necessarily have been disliked by his peers, it appears as though he was on the receiving end of some jokes due to his heritage. In his peer’s eyes, Yoshisaka’s most prominent feature was his foreignness, which is the sort of attitude that I see in the Indian Photograph from Wilmore’s papers. The gentlemen have all chosen to focus on the difference in fashion that comes with Indian culture, rather than any other aspect of this man. Since the Indian man – if he is indeed Indian – is in the photograph and he is dressed in Western clothing, it gives the sense that the pose is consensual and not made with the intention of offending anyone, but I will have to do more research on the people in the photograph and their reputations on campus in order to confirm that.

Next Steps

As I go on with this project, I am going to continue trying to track down the men in the photograph to get a better sense of who they were. Hopefully that will give me some insight as to what they were trying to convey in this photograph. I am also going to try and find out where this photograph was taken – a dorm room, apartment, fraternity house? Finding out where these men spent their free time will tell me more about them. Also, as suggested by Professor Bross, I am going to do some reading on the theory of “Orientalism” in order to learn more about how international people may have been viewed by Americans in general. Nowadays, a university’s international student population is a point of pride. Today, Purdue’s Enrollment and Statistical Report brags about the steady increase in the international student population over the past decade that has reached a height of over 5,000 international undergraduates enrolled today. It appears as though, a hundred years ago, the international students were seen in a different light, and I am hoping that this picture will lead me to a better understanding of how they were viewed. Overall, I am very excited to be working with this photograph and to uncover the story behind it.

Blog Entry Two, April 11th 2016
Sreenivasa Iyengar’s Elusive Experience at Purdue

Since my last post, I have managed to locate and verify that the man in the middle back of the photograph is indeed from India. According to the handwritten note on the back of the photograph, the Indian man’s last name was Iyengar. The process by which I found him was rather anti-climactic. After digging through Purdue’s archives and finding no mention of anyone by the name of Iyengar, I decided to try my luck with Google. A student by the name of Sreenivasa Krishnasami Iyengar was mentioned in a short article in The Indianapolis Journal in December 1903. The article was discussing the international student population at Purdue at the time, focusing mostly on an individual from “Porto Rico,” but it listed the other international students attending Purdue, including Iyengar, who according to the article was from Bangalore, India.

After finding this comment about Iyengar and verifying that he was indeed an Indian student attending Purdue, I was excited and thought it would be easy to track down further details about his time at Purdue. I was hoping to find snippets about what his relationships with his fellow classmates were like, maybe even find out why he chose to come to Purdue. Unfortunately, things were not as easy as I had anticipated. I did find Iyengar in The Annual Catalogue of Purdue University in 1902-03 and 1903-04, when he was a freshman and sophomore respectively. The Annual Catalogue lists all the students attending the university by class and where they live. It also has plans of studies for different majors so you could see which courses a student might be in depending on their major. His freshmen year he lived on Sheetz Street, at the same residence as some of the other men in the picture. They were neighbors, or maybe even roommates. I asked one of the archivists, David Hovde, if Purdue has any records of roommates from that time, but apparently none of the housing was officially on campus so there are no records of who lived with whom from Purdue’s archives. Even though I cannot tell if they lived in the same room, I at least know they lived near each other. Perhaps that is how they all met. After talking with the archivist and telling him my hopes about tracking down Iyengar, he suggested looking at the Board of Trustee Minutes to see if there was any mention of Purdue admitting Iyengar, which would have been somewhat noteworthy at the time since he was from India, but the minutes proved to have nothing about Iyengar or any Indian students.

So, I know where Iyengar lived as a freshman and sophomore, but he doesn’t appear in any of the Annual Catalogues the following years. The Debris always had short biographies for all of the seniors, but Iyengar does not appear in any editions of the Debris, not even in 1905 which is the year he should have graduated. I looked through the alumni records and found nothing. He is mentioned once in the Exponent in a short blurb about one of the faculty members having dinner with some international students. Beyond that, there is no sign of a Sreenivasa Iyengar attending Purdue University. He seems to have left without a trace. The last time he shows up on any records is during the school year of 1903-04. I can only assume he left Purdue before his junior year.

But all hope is not lost! While I am disappointed that Iyengar himself seems to be a dead end, through researching him I have found other international students who seems to have had more of a presence on campus. I am beginning to look into those students to see what I can find. So far, I know of at least a couple other students from India who were at Purdue at the same time as Iyengar, one of whom was Ram Lal Bery who graduated in 1905.

Allison Schwam part 2

Photograph of Ram Lal Berry

Bery is an exciting find because there is insight on his personal life at Purdue. In the 1905 Debris, Bery’s senior bio states that his nickname was “Hoo-doo” and he could “fully appreciate an American joke.” Kind of awful, right? But these interpersonal comments are what I am really interested in and I hope to find more of. I want to know when the international students were given nicknames like this, because I want to know what the American students thought of them and vice versa. I want to know what it was like to be an international student at Purdue University at the turn of the century. I am going to continue looking into other international students to see if I can gather a general idea for what kind of vibe they got from Purdue and its domestic students.

Allison Schwam part 2

Debris Biography of Ram Lal Bery

In addition to following specific students, I am taking a step back and doing broader research on international relationships between America and India at the turn of the century. A lot of what has come up has to do with American missionaries going overseas to spread their religion and the Western ways and how the missionaries’ work has affected the relationship between the two countries. I have also recently begun looking into what higher education was like in India at the time, hoping that this information could provide some insight on as to why students might have chosen to come to America to pursue their higher education.

Overall, I am still following a couple of different threads of information, but I can see it all coming together. As I go on, I will continue to look through the yearbooks to see if I can uncover any other news about international student life. I will also keep with my secondary research of the relationship between America and India. Even though I may not be able to find out what Iyengar’s Purdue experience was specifically, I believe that through the other international students at Purdue, I will be able to gather what life was like for them in general.

Blog Entry Three, May 10th
The Final Product

The semester is coming to an end, yet the project seems nowhere near finished. Sure, I have compiled enough research to put together a paper covering the gist of what life was like for an international student at the turn of the century, but there is still so much more that can be said. I guess that’s the problem with projects like this: you are never truly finished. There is always more research that can be conducted, more threads of information to follow, more that can be uncovered. But at some point, you have to declare yourself done, and present what you have, which is what I am doing. This last blog entry will give a description of what my final paper looks like and discuss the overall intent of the paper.

My paper starts with the Indian Photograph to introduce the topic of international students in America at the time. I use several secondary sources to explore the experiences of international students originating from a variety of countries, not just India. I explain the intent that the missionaries had in going overseas to try and recruit foreign students and how their “Orientalist” mindset undoubtedly affected their relationships with citizens of other countries. I explain my struggles to track down Iyengar, but reference Bery’s Debris biography to relate my research back to Purdue.

Throughout this entire project, I have been painfully aware that I am doing the exact same thing I am accusing Iyengar’s and Bery’s classmates of doing. I am solely discussing Iyengar’s and Bery’s internationality and am using that one facet of them to draw conclusions about their entire experience at Purdue. Of course, their time at Purdue did not revolve around their internationality. I know that their different ethnicities affected their life at Purdue – if it hadn’t there would be no Indian Photograph, no “Hoo-Doo” – but I also know that it did not define their entire existence, and that is the note on which I end my paper.

International students were not the only ones who faced teasing, though. The Exponents are full of jokes targeted at a variety of people. Everyone was made fun of, whatever the background, but I am trying to make the point that international students get teased for things that the other students don’t have to worry about. And of course, it wasn’t all teasing and insensitive jokes. When I first saw the Indian Photograph, it did not come across as malicious in my eyes, and I still feel the same way. I still have no idea why that photograph was taken, but it seems to have been done in good fun. My paper does not propose that international students are the only students who undergo social abuse, nor do I suggest that the international students only have negative interactions with their peers. However, there is no denying that there are situations of prejudice that foreigners face. They are marked in the U.S. by their internationality, and are therefore viewed as inherently different in the eyes of the American students. But this concept does not just apply to international students. There is a struggle associated with being an outsider in any situation, whether you’re an Indian student at an American school, a female in a male dominated environment, a scientist in a group of artists or what have you, there is an undeniable struggle in being marked as the ‘other.’ My paper explores what happens when your ‘other’-ness is derived from your ethnicity.


To view a working bibliography for this project, click here.

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