Published December 11, 2017
Claude Welch and Jeannette Ludwig have no plans to stop teaching, despite both retiring from the classroom.
What has changed is that they’ve discovered a new method of instruction: photography.
Through the new Welch-Ludwig Collection, images assembled throughout more than 50 years of travel across the globe, the couple aims to inspire future generations of students to embark on journeys of their own.
“I see this collection as a legacy that plants a seed, a lure to get people out into the world. If someone sees a photo and wants to go there, then our job is fulfilled,” says Ludwig, associate professor emerita in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
The collection, held in the UB Libraries Digital Collections, contains thousands of photos from their personal and academic trips around the world. Their images capture nearly two dozen nations in sub-Saharan Africa, and the breadth of Western Europe and Asia.
However, Welch, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science and self-designated photographer, does not consider himself a traveler. Welch, a pioneer in the study of human rights, particularly in Africa, collected many of the images while conducting research.
Rather than an assortment of vacation photos, the images taken over the course of decades instead serve as a record of the varied effects of urbanization and political change.
“The pictures show the shift in the dominant external influences away from colonial powers toward us, China and multinational corporations,” Welch says. “Our first picture taken in Africa dates from 1963. The last time we were in China was 1988; however that country is changing at an exceptional rate. The collection is designed to help people understand these kinds of transformations.”
Adds Ludwig: “It would be interesting to see what’s happening in China now. It’s like going home but everything is a little bit different since the last time you went there. The places change, attitudes change, and way of doing things change.”
Adventuring around the world began at a young age for the pair.
Welch credits his fascination with various cultures to his parents, who took the family on several vacations across the U.S. and Europe.
For Ludwig, however, the passion began with language. As a child, the languages she heard at home ranged from English to Malay to Schwyzerdütsch, a dialect of German spoken in Switzerland.
A search for the correct pronunciation of the word “bourgeois” sent her off on an exploration of the French language that lasted a lifetime.
“I found language fascinating,” says Ludwig, who is fluent in English, French and Swedish.
“Understanding how other people communicate in a way that we don’t was like looking under the hood of car and finding out how it runs. Language is invisible, but it binds people together.”
Religion, a second window into culture, was another catalyst for Ludwig. As an undergraduate at Drake University, her natural curiosity of how various religions functioned led her to the campus’ divinity department and later to Buddhism.
Of the dozens of countries Ludwig has traveled to, India remains her favorite, partly because of the country’s multifaceted culture. But also because India is the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, her travels there held more meaning and took the form of a pilgrimage.
While India is the favorite destination of Ludwig, Welch favors Ghana and Senegal in Africa. But both continue to be amazed by the architecture of Italy.
Ludwig vividly recalls a colorful mosaic in Sicily’s Piazza Armerina, a Roman bath and gymnasium, that depicts women stretching, exercising and lifting weights. The image stunned her with its beauty and depiction in ancient days of an everyday activity that is still practiced in our time.
Moments like these fuel Welch and Ludwig’s desire to continue their travels overseas. The couple have a trip planned to Germany in the spring. They also have not crossed Australia, most of South America and, surprisingly, the west coast of the U.S. off of their to-go list.
To Welch and Ludwig, there is not a country they won’t like.
“We as a people walk away pretty easily when we’re not interested. The fault is in you, not the place,” says Ludwig. “You can’t walk away from how people live in their environment and say that’s not interesting. People live perfectly wonderful lives and perfectly difficult lives in places all over the world.”
So with every new journey, the collection will grow.
And just how Ludwig was once inspired to study abroad after viewing photos from a college classmate’s trip to France, she hopes UB students, faculty and staff receive the same motivation from their collection.
The Welch-Ludwig Collection serves as their final lesson to their students.
“Lesson number one: Feel free to develop your own collection and contribute them to the university,” says Welch. “Lesson two: Recognize what an intentional world we’re in and that the U.S. is only part of it.”
The Welch-Ludwig Collection is available online in the UB Digital Collections.