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Student's research grant funds tobacco history documentary project

Published on March 29, 2022

Student's research grant funds tobacco history documentary project

Eugene Bertrand
Elementary Education and History major Eugene Bertrand '24

Eastern Connecticut State University sophomore Eugene Bertrand was awarded an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Project Grant by Eastern’s Provost and Undergraduate Research Council. The grant helped fund Bertrand’s history film project titled “Connecticut’s Tobacco Industry and Diversity: A History.”  

Bertrand’s project is in conjunction with the course “HIS 491: Research Assistantship,” which gives history majors a practical experience as they gain research and publishing skills. His project examined southern African American, Puerto Rican and Jamaican migrant workers in the South who travelled to central Connecticut to work on tobacco fields in the early 20th century.

“As someone with a Caribbean background, I think it is vital to understand the impact that Caribbean people made to Connecticut, especially in an area that tends to be understudied such as tobacco contributions within the state,” said Bertrand, who double majors in history and elementary education.

He joined forces with theatre professors Brian Day and Kristen Morgan, who are working on a historical documentary about Connecticut’s tobacco production and its connection to civil rights. Bertrand also sought the help of history professor Anna Kirchmann, whose interests include immigration and ethnic history, New England history and post-Civil War history.

Day and Morgan provided their skills and expertise to Bertrand in the film-making process. Day specializes in filmmaking, editing and screenwriting, while Morgan has a teaching interest in community-based theatre. Bertrand also thanked history professor Jamel Ostwald for contributing to his project.

Bertrand decided to use a documentary to examine the topic of diversity in Connecticut’s tobacco industry, stating, “Instead of writing a paper, a documentary allowed me to have a hands-on field experience. Contributing to a documentary that focuses on some of the work my ancestors did when coming to America is a way to thank them for all the hard work they’ve put in the past to ensure I had a better future.”

Bertrand used the grant to pay for traveling expenses to and from the Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum in Windsor. “The grant helped to jumpstart my project by giving me the opportunity to pay for Uber and Lyft costs,” said Bertrand. “Without this grant, I would not have been able to conduct sufficient research on my topic.”

According to the council, for a student to receive funding their project must have an “original, intellectual or creative contribution to the student’s discipline carried out in conjunction with a faculty mentor, culminating in formal review of that work through presentations, exhibitions and/or publications.”

For the 2021–2022 semesters, the council awarded $1,000 per student. The money can be used on any expenses that arise due to the project, including data collection, materials and equipment, music and film production, travelling and more.

Written by Bobbi Brown