Dr. Janice Lee Jayes’ interest in seeing the world from different perspectives led her to receive a prestigious Fulbright Scholar Award to teach American studies, history, and literature at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, for the 2021-2022 academic year. This is a second Fulbright Award for Jayes, an instructional assistant professor in the Illinois State University Department of History; her first Fulbright was 2004-2005 at Assiut University in Egypt.
“Over the past 20 years their economy has done extremely well, and they’ve been much more active in regional politics. They’re involved in a lot of other countries—not just those in the immediate neighborhood like Syria, Iraq, and Azerbaijan, but also in Libya and the Mediterranean. I think Turkey is the most interesting actor in the Middle East right now, and their policies have a significant effect within Europe as well,” she said.
Jayes’ interest in Turkey is not new. As an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College, she learned that many of her school’s alumnae went to that area as missionaries in the 1800s.
“They worked in missions, they set up schools and hospitals. There were female doctors—they were really an amazing group.”
Her time in Turkey has allowed Jayes to explore this further by collaborating with a colleague at Bilkent who shares her interest in the interconnected nature of U.S. and Turkish history.
“We got interested because both the Ottoman Empire (as the area was known before World War I) and the United States started using the term refugee in mid-19th century government programs to deal with displaced populations,” she said. “In the Ottoman Empire, there were waves of refugees fleeing anti-Muslim violence in Bulgaria, and other territories lost to Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Ottomans developed a bureau of refugees to resettle these populations. These are really the first government-organized programs to deal with displaced populations.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees was established by Congress during the U.S. Civil War. Jayes noted the close ties between missionaries in Turkey and the abolitionist movement in the United States.
“The people promoting the idea that the U.S. government should be helping the displaced freedmen (formerly enslaved people) with settlement, housing, education, etc., had many connections to missionaries in Turkey.”
She continues, “We just got interested in the connections and wondered, ‘Are the Americans aware of what the Ottomans are doing? Are they watching them since those programs emerged before the Freedmen’s Bureau?’” When she returns to the U.S., Jayes will look at missionary association papers and U.S. congressional records of conversations about the Freedmen’s Bureau to look for references to the Ottoman Empire’s programs.
Meanwhile, the opportunity to teach undergraduates in Turkey allows Jayes to see cultural differences in how history is taught and different reactions to current events. For example, she notes that her Turkish students and colleagues associate NATO with the last 20 years of the invasion of Afghanistan, American bombings in Yemen and Somalia, and American military activities in Syria. As a result, their perspective on the war in Ukraine differs from that of many Americans. The opportunity to re-examine what is emphasized and what is omitted in history education is a lesson Jayes will bring back to her U.S. classroom.
“Their version of history is different because the sorts of things emphasized in their high school curriculum are different from what is emphasized in American high school curriculum. It’s interesting to see what people know, and what they don’t know,” she said.
Beyond the university campus, during her Fulbright Jayes has explored the country by taking trips with a local travel agency, which allows her to interact with fellow travelers who are Turkish. Joining her during her Fulbright year are her dog, Sputnik, and her daughter, Madeleine Jayes Walwik.
When asked what advice she would have for someone considering applying for a Fulbright Award, Jayes says, “It’s a great experience. Like any other grant, read the directions, attend the informational webinars, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can only apply to one country, and the people putting on the webinars often have a good idea what countries receive more applications.”
She also noted that Fulbright staff can provide insights on what countries might be good destinations for families with young children, for example. Jayes said adjunct faculty should not be deterred by the fact that they do not have sabbatical.
“My department wasn’t expecting it (my absence), but they were very supportive,” she said.
In fact, Dr. Ross Kennedy, chair of the Department of History, commented, “Janice Jayes is one of the most effective and versatile instructors we have in the History Department. She usually teaches courses on Middle East history but can also offer classes on Latin America and on international relations. She is also a talented scholar and a cosmopolitan academic, having taught in Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, and Morocco. I was not surprised when she won a Fulbright, and we look forward to her return to ISU in the fall so our students can benefit from her experience.”
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is supported by the people of the United States and partner countries around the world. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program.
Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 participants from over 160 countries the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright program is an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support.
For more information on the Fulbright program at Illinois State visit Fulbright | Office of International Engagement–Illinois State or contact Illinois State University Fulbright Scholar Liaison Dr. Erin Mikulec, or Fulbright Program Advisors Dr. Lea Cline and Jason Reblando.