Elementary my dear Watson Fellow: an interview with Karlee Bergendorff


By Jenna Salisbury

Staff Writer

Recently, Union student, Karlee Bergendorff ‘15, was awarded the Watson Fellowship along with Warren Thompson ‘15. Watson Fellows receive a $30,000 stipend to conduct a year’s worth of independent study in countries of their choice. Bergendorff’s project proposal is titled “The Dirty Archeology of Alternative History.” She is currently studying Political Science, Art History and Fine Arts at Union.

Jenna Salisbury: How did you learn about the Watson Fellowship?

Karlee Bergendorff: I first heard about the Fellowship my freshman year and thought it sounded really interesting and kept it in the back of my mind. Then further into my college career, I met David Ogawa, who used to be the chair of the Art History department. He provided me with more information on the Watson Fellowship as well as suggestions for my project proposal.

JS: So I read that you are a Political Science and Art History and Fine Arts interdepartmental major. What do you love about each discipline?

KB: I love the way they intersect; I’ve found a lot of unexpected parallels between the two in many of my classes, and was fascinated with how well they intertwined.

JS: Who or what inspired you and your Watson project? Why?

KB: Well, I grew up in Catskill, New York and that area is pretty rife with abandoned resorts or rundown, forgotten buildings and as a kid I would often venture into these abandoned places and began seeing them as art with an interesting backstory.

JS: I researched your project proposal for the Watson Fellowship and noticed that you wanted to collect history not included in textbooks and express these stories through art. What gave you this idea, and could you go into more detail as to what you hope to achieve through this project?

KB: I hope to learn more in-depth knowledge about these places and personalize it more, beyond textbook trivia. You know how history textbooks usually only discuss the “great revolutionary narratives” but graze over the more intimate, unknown stories, which I think at least, are just as interesting as the former. Also, I have been collecting discarded objects for a while and have incorporated them into art and thought it would be cool to intertwine that with places and history. I want to express a place’s backstory through art. I want to recycle what is left of an abandoned place to recreate its fascinating history.

JS: You chose to conduct your independent study in Argentina, Germany, India, Cambodia and South Africa. Why did you choose these countries? What about them appealed to you and your project?

KB: Because a lot of them have this history of imperialism and/or communism as well as greater narratives which tend to overshadow the smaller, more intimate narratives. I thought that these countries had such rich cultures and a long history that can be explored in more depth.

JS: What do you hope to achieve in the future after your year abroad?

KB: I was accepted into a few law schools, so I will defer for a year and then hopefully attend law school.

JS: What advice would you give future applicants of the Watson Fellowship?

KB: I’d tell future applicants to base their project on something they truly feel passionate about because the committee really looks for that connection between you and your project. This is an opportunity to explore your long held quirky or creative interest in an international setting. Most importantly, be prepared to get invested and excited about your project proposal!

This is the third consecutive year that two Union students have received the Watson Fellowship for original projects.

Union is one of forty institutions connected to the Thomas J. Watson Foundation that funds countless projects.


Leave a Reply