Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellows
in the Humanities,
CAS, 2012, English, Creative Writing
Edwidge Danticat & Junot Díaz: A Study of Caribbean Dissent and Descent Through Writing
Authors Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat were born two weeks apart in the Caribbean, moved to the U.S. as children, raised within 35 miles of each other, both studied literature in college and both became authors. Within their writings, both raise issues concerning immigration, Caribbean identity, social and personal repercussions of war and dictatorship, as well as assimilation (or lack thereof) into US culture. Yet both of these authors handle these subjects differently, using disparate vehicles for delivering their messages. My research explores these congruencies, deviations, and what it means for the works these authors produce.
CAS, 2012, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, Philosophy
The Evolutionary Origins of Music: Harmonizing Biology and Culture Through Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Synchronization
Musical activity is universal among the human species, and musical instruments over 35,000 years old have been found suggesting that the human preoccupation with music has been an enduring one. But why do humans continually and universally practice music? Darwin also puzzled over this, remarking that, "As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least direct use to man in reference to his ordinary life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed" (1871, p. 355). Here I take up Darwin's concern for music and offer a new theory of its origins. My interdisciplinary approach aims to harmonize biological and cultural considerations by discussing how music functions for both intrapersonal and interpersonal synchronization.
CAS, 2012, History of Art
Other Honors: Pincus-Magaziner Family Undergraduate Research Grant
Taking Barbs at Masterpieces: Pun and Palimpsest in Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q.
With just a few scribbles and an off-color pun, Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. effectively presages the
demise of the visual form. The age of mechanical reproduction reduced masterpieces into piffling commodities,
evidenced by the very postcard on which Duchamp draws, and extinguished the aura that once characterized
these august works. Though widely considered just another contribution to the artist's readymade series,
L.H.O.O.Q. in fact accomplishes a task unique to its form: as a palimpsest, it succeeds in giving new meaning to
an otherwise immutable cultural icon. Morbid humor is employed here as a method of adaption, desecrating the
Mona Lisa not only to challenge the very definition of art – as his other readymades had done – but also to
proclaim the death of the masterpiece.
CAS, 2012, Mathematics, English
Other Honors: Thouron Award, Dean's Scholar, College Alumni Society Henry Reed Prize, Rittenberg Prize for Outstanding Achievement by an English Major
Alain Badiou and the Adaptation of Set Theory
French philosopher Alain Badiou finds us at "the closure of an entire epoch of thought," and at this juncture he turns to a surprising adaptation: He takes set theory, an abstract branch of mathematics, as the foundation of a new philosophy. He aligns himself with Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, and Hegel, setting out to build the next great philosophical system, and to found it on mathematician Georg Cantor's pioneering theory of sets. What does it mean to transpose such a specialized, technical body of thought to a wildly ambitious philosophical project? I see in Badiou's adaptation of set theory an opportunity to read all of mathematics differently, in addition to a focal point by which to read Badiou himself more acutely.
CAS, 2012, English
Other Honors: Charles W. Burr Book Prize
Birthing a Monster: The Invention of Melodrama in the Romantic Period
Critics denounced melodrama – a genre of theatre invented during the Romantic period – as further proof of the degradation of English theatre, English culture and of the English people in general. Yet this lowly plebian genre became the most popular form of theatre in the 19th Century. Why did melodrama reach such heights of popularity? How important was melodrama's adaptive invention to its popularity? These questions and more force us to confront a genre that transformed the world.
CAS, 2012, Anthropology
Other Honors: Thouron Award, Rose Award for Outstanding Senior Research
Dubstep, Darwin, and the Prehistoric Invention of Music
How did the unique human ability to create and perceive music evolve? Why was it sustained to such a degree that every known culture – extant or extinct – has had music? Myriad theories have been proposed, but all of them treat music holistically. In reality, music is the sum total of a number of separate but compatible elements. My research will explore the possibility that rhythm and melody evolved separately, eventually joining together to form what we now recognize as music. In particular, I will explore the evolution of rhythm, its connection with the brain’s mirror neuron system, and its role as an interpersonal social adhesive. Ethnomusicological fieldwork from the summer 2011 music festival season will inform my analysis.
CAS, 2012, History
“Civilizing” China: Samuel Wells Williams and The Middle Kingdom in 1848 and 1883
In 1848, American missionary Samuel Wells Williams wrote The Middle Kingdom, a 1,200-page behemoth meant to introduce American readers to Chinese history and culture, with the hope that it would “increase an interest among Christians in the welfare of [the Chinese], and show how well worthy they are of all the evangelizing efforts that could be put forth…” Williams, a veteran missionary based in Canton, went on to serve in China for the next thirty years as a Protestant missionary and American diplomat. After returning permanently to the US in the late 1870s, Williams emerged as a proponent of the rights of Chinese migrants in the United States, and also began to revise his earlier masterwork. In this paper, I compare the 1848 edition of The Middle Kingdom to the revised 1883 edition, and argue that Williams’ changes were profoundly influenced by his advocacy for Chinese migrants, and were meant to advance a message that ran counter to the dominant anti-Chinese immigration and anti-Chinese rights political and social narratives that prevailed in the early 1880s.
CAS, 2013, Anthropology, Geology
Digital Adaptations: Sharing Cherokee Cultural Knowledge
My research will address the question of what adaptation means when digital technology makes it possible to return Native American cultural materials to the communities of origin. In the first stage of my project, I will be working in partnership with the American Philosophical Society and the Penn Museum to create a database of digitized cultural materials, including audio recordings and archival images, for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). These digital surrogates will be returned to the EBCI’s total immersion language school as well as the tribe’s Junaluska Museum, where they will be adapted into Cherokee culture in the form of curricula and exhibits. In the second stage of my project, I will travel to the EBCI reservation to conduct interviews regarding the challenges of repatriating culturally sensitive recordings and images, and the types of policy necessary for the successful sharing of Native American archival materials.
CAS, 2012, English
The Unadaptable Bridget: Adaptation of Diary Fiction
Diary fiction has a long important history in gender politics; in recent decades the form has been adapted in various ways for feminist and post-feminist readerships, notably with the emergence of Chick Lit. My project will briefly sketch this history of gender politics and formal adaptation, then focus on the further and increasingly important problem of adaptation to the screen. If the diary tradition has been about women's (changing) voice, how can voice be shifted from the word to the image? I will examine this question through a study of one of the most beloved adaptations of a diary novel: Bridget Jones's Diary.
CAS, 2012, Comparative Literature, French Studies
Malian Media (Mal)Adaptations
This project intends to analyze how media and popular discourse in Mali has adapted (or maladapted) to the ideological war currently being waged in local media between Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Western governments. To my knowledge, no scholars have addressed the role of media in the current situation in Mali. In my research, I will consult numerous academic archives in Mali to garner historical perspective, will interview academics, Imams, and teachers, and will observe various forms of popular media, most notably the radio and political pamphlets. By understanding Malian reactions to these conflicting foreign discourses, foreign discourse, one might predict how the Malian people can reassert their own culture and preserve their society, and thus protect their human rights and democracy.
CAS, 2012, Fine Arts, Photography
Oaxaca: The Blind Daughters
“The Blind Daughters” is a documentary photography project which follows the lives of Rosalia and Mayra, two sisters—both blind, one mute—living in San Bartolo Cayotepec, a slum outside the city limits of Oaxaca, Mexico. The project, which I began last summer, shows how Rosalia and Mayra’s shared condition affects their lives and the lives of their family. More importantly, it asks the question of how people adapt to seemingly impossible situations.
CAS, 2012, Political Science
Other Honors: Santirocco College Alumni Society Research Grant
The Anglo-American Prime Minister: Winston Churchill as a Scholar of Gibbon and Lincoln
It is said that no great line, no great speech, is truly original. Even Winston Churchill, considered one of the most spectacular orators of all time, can be said to have stood on the shoulders of rhetorical and literary giants. A devoted scholar of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War, Churchill incorporated Lincoln’s themes and style into his own wartime speeches. Furthermore, his boyhood obsession with Edward Gibbon's classic "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" taught him to explain complicated historical events in dramatic, sweeping narratives. Taken together, Lincoln and Gibbon profoundly influenced Churchill's rhetoric. My research explores how an American hero and an English historian shaped Churchill’s speeches, particularly Churchill's ability to sway American public opinion and convince even the most steadfast isolationists to enter World War II.
Noelle Li-Zhen Tay
CAS, 2012, Architecture
Modern Visual Culture in Shanghai – The Hybrid Gaze
Vision is not unmediated. It is bound to its context of cultural reactions and social politics, and is thus socially constructed. The Eastern concept of sunyata, meaning blankness, is counterintuitive to the self-aware, independent Cartesian gaze by relocating the gaze to a field of perspectives, allowing it to remain in a state of transformation. As a nexus of East and West, Shanghai plays out in real life the contestations between the two paradigms of seeing. Shanghai assimilates various cultural elements rapidly, disallowing any single paradigm to representing and visualizing the city. This research aims to reconstitute the hybrid gaze through exercises in visual representation. Through observing and documenting architectural spaces in Shanghai, I hope to construct my own representations in relation to the conceptual frameworks in question.
CAS, 2012, History
Religion or Nation? The Jewish Identities of Soviet Immigrants in the U.S.
I will explore the Jewish identities of Soviet immigrants in the U.S., focusing on three generations of two immigrant families. Soviet Jews are in a unique position because they were subjected to historical processes in the Soviet Union that created and reinforced the perception of Jewish identity as a nationality or ethnic group. After the Russian Revolution, religious identity was discouraged and Jews were instead recognized as a Soviet nationality. In the 1920s and 1930s, the state sponsored a new secular Soviet Yiddish culture whose institutions and leaders were later destroyed by Stalin. Soviet Jews were left with little knowledge of Jewish religion or culture but they continued to be identified as Jews by nationality. I will focus on the ways in which immigrants adapted or did not adapt their nationality-based Soviet Jewish identities to life in the U.S. Additionally, I am interested in comparing the Jewish identities of different generations of immigrant families. Some components of identity that I am considering include religiosity, tradition and the role of anti-Semitism.
CAS, 2012, Anthropology
The Path of Suffering, Healing, and Recovery: Physical and Psychological Adaptation to Obstetric Fistulas in Sub-Saharan African Women
How does poor health place women in socially marginalized positions? Here, I use obstetric fistulas in sub-Saharan Africa as a case study. Obstetric fistula is a complication of unaided, obstructed labor, during which tissues tear, causing holes between the vaginal wall and bladder or rectum. Quite suddenly, women find themselves incontinent, and in societies where reproduction is highly valued, are shunned and seen as failures. An increasing number of hospitals provide free treatment for fistulas, as well as psychological healing through the solidarity of suffering. I will examine how women with fistulas reconstruct their illness experience and adapt to their condition in three phases: the punctuation of getting a fistula, the physical and psychological healing process, and reintegration into village life.
Tongjia 'Alex' Zhang
CAS, 2012, Intellectual History, Classical Languages and Literature, Philosophy
Other Honors: College Alumni Society Prize in Classics
Plotinus and the Platonic Tradition
Living in the volatile third century A.D., Plotinus is a Neo-Platonic philosopher who had extraordinary influences on both pagan and early Christian thinkers. Despite the originality that shines through his interpretation of Plato's dialogues, Plotinus insists that he is only an exegete of Plato's thoughts. How, then, does Plotinus transform Plato's metaphysical and moral ideas to suit his own philosophical purpose and the intellectual atmosphere of late antiquity? Could Plotinus' conviction that man should strive for assimilation to divinity be the result of his reading of Plato's Theaetetus, where Socrates expounds the human resemblance to god? This research project investigates Plotinus' adaptation of Plato's philosophy by examining several Platonic themes present in Plotinus' Enneads, including beauty, the good, the human intellect, and god.