Patricia Akhimie

NHD 1992

Where do you currently live?
Washington DC

What is your current occupation?
Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library

What school did you attend while participating in NHD?
Cloonan Middle School, Stamford, CT

What college did you attend?
Princeton University (BA, 2000), University of Michigan (MFA, 2002), Columbia University (MA 2003, Phil 2005, PhD, 2011)

Who were your teachers?
My English teacher was our National History Day teacher.

What years and in what category did you participate in NHD?
Individual Exhibit titled: European Impact on the Art of Benin: A Cultural Encounter in 1992

What are a few of your favorite or defining moments from your NHD experience?
I created a project about cross-cultural contact between West Africans and Europeans in the Renaissance. My father is from Nigeria and I focused on that region (known as the Kingdom of Benin in the early modern period) for my research. I remember going to New York City with my parents to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to get a first hand look at the ivory and bronze sculptures there and feeling that I was learning about the past and about my own family’s history at the same time. I arranged an interview with a curator of the exhibits and enjoyed talking with her about the works I had been researching. I was so excited, during the competition, to share my insights and my sources (like the interview) with the judges. When my name was called when the finalists were announced I was so surprised and so proud that the work I did was being recognized in that way. I remember jumping up with a huge smile and looking back at my parents as I headed to the stage.

How did NHD help you after high school?
I certainly trace my interest in research in the humanities back to my NHD experience. I learned something very important: what I research is as much about learning who I am and how I want the world to change as it is about learning about others and about how the world has been in the past.

What recognition did you receive for participating in NHD?
I won first place in Connecticut and went on to the national competition.

Did you do anything with your NHD project or research after the contest year?
I returned to my research on cross-cultural exchange between Europe and Africa during the Renaissance (early modern period) as a graduate student. I wrote a Master’s thesis in which I used some of the same primary sources and images of Afro-Portuguese objects and went on to study the broader topic of concept of race in the early modern period in English literature for my doctoral dissertation. As a professor I wrote my first book–Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference (forthcoming from Routledge)–about race and other forms of difference in Shakespeare.

What has kept you busy since your days as an NHD student? Any particular challenges, stories, or achievements?
I am now a Professor of English Literature, a scholar of race in the early modern period, and a mother. My research has been supported by funding from the Ford Foundation, the John Carter Brown Library, and the National Sporting Library.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your NHD experience?
NHD turned out to be a truly formative experience for me. I learned that I take delight in research, and that researching is one way I can learn about history and about myself at the same time.