Honors Project Abstracts

Read some of the abstracts from our previous Honors students:

2018 Cohort

Yasmine Albanna, “Language, Gender, and Identity in The Sand Fish: The UAE’s First Postcolonial Novel”

This paper examines The Sand Fish as a novel that justifies an Emirati identity to a largely Western audience. Since the United Arab Emirates was a country that was founded in 1971, its citizens are currently experiencing a crisis of identity: can their relatively new culture be considered unique? Can a new national identity by constructed as authentic, with valid traditions that are distinct only to them? Maha Gargash’s The Sand Fish is unique in its attempt to answer these questions by using the English language, building on structures that were previously established by Arabic-language short story authors. By transplanting Emirati experiences into an English novel, Gargash bypasses the need for third-party translations, and speaks directly to a wider global audience. Gargash’s narrative construction and themes place the novel squarely within a larger Anglophone postcolonial literary tradition and justifies its position as the first Emirati postcolonial novel in English.

Jenna Bachman, “The Personal Overrides the Political: Post-Feminist Argument Trends in the Discourse of Women Not Supporting Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election”

This thesis examines how women contributed to sexism in the 2016 election by analyzing the discourse they used to describe why they did not support Hillary Clinton. More broadly, it uses the 2016 election as a case study to predict the rhetorical challenges future female presidential candidates may face, particularly from other women. There are five main texts under examination, all written by women during the period before the 2016 election—four opinion pieces and one interview of ten different women. The texts are analyzed in conjunction with feminist theory, specifically post-feminism, the idea that feminism as no longer necessary. Much of the discourse examined rests on what Angela McRobbie terms “female individualization,” which appropriates the language of “choice” to argue that patriarchal norms are eradicated and therefore do not impact women’s decisions in their personal lives. The title “the personal overrides the political,” an allusion to the feminist slogan of the 1960s, summarizes the argument thread underlining most of the discourse analyzed—that one personal action of Clinton’s that appears to contradict the goals of women’s liberation supersedes all of the political work she has done in favor of women’s rights. The ultimate argument of this paper is that such arguments set a dangerous precedent for future female political candidates—requiring them to be near perfect in order to warrant being elected. 

Ali Badreddine, “I Am the Hole in Things: Batman and Loss of Faith”

My thesis builds on recent scholarship dealing with superheroes and American comic books to investigate the narrative possibilities of political resistance within the genre. Utilizing a figuration of the Batman from Grant Morrison’s Batman R.I.P. storyline, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, I trace the narrative arc of Batman’s resistance to the international capitalist cabal known as The Black Glove and contextualize it as a failed instance of opposition to the flexible neoliberal subject position. In this essay I synthesize Ramzi Fawaz’ reading of American superhero comic books as potential sites for the theorization of political resistance to neoliberalism and Paul Lopes’ application of the process of recombination to comic books. In doing so, I demonstrate how the complex multi-media environment of the comic book industry functions as a “safety valve” to absorb and nullify narrative instances of opposition or challenge to the neoliberal system of capital. This nullification occurs as a figuration is translated, through recombination and reification, from the narrative environment of the comic book to other forms of media. I trace this process through the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh’s initial appearance in Batman R.I.P. and subsequent appearances in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon and as an action figure.    

Cayli Baker, “Violence as Subversion: The Language of Suffrage in ‘Circe’ and ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –’”

The works of poets Emily Dickinson and Augusta Webster have largely been examined separately. In my research, I examine how the two poets interacted with the early women’s suffrage movement through their poetry. Rather than physically participating in protest, both Webster and Dickinson address gender and generic tropes imposed upon on their feminine speakers. In considering both “Circe” (1870) and “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun” (1860s), I argue that the violent language in Webster’s and Dickinson’s poems mirrors violence and perceived radicalism at the beginnings of the suffrage movement, situating these two works within the broader timeline of the women’s suffrage movement. In an examination of the two poems, metaphorical violence illustrates feminine potential at a time when women’s contestation became a political consideration.

Klara Boger, “Racial Passing and Epistemologies in the Works of Sui Sin Far”

This thesis examines the writer Sui Sin Far’s representations of racial and ethnic passing during the period of Chinese Exclusion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It explores the relationship between racial identity and racial epistemologies, primarily of mixed-race people of Anglo-Asian descent and of Chinese people living in the Americas during the era of Chinese Exclusion. It is an era marked by social stratification and strict racial and ethnic hierarchies. In considering the literary trope of passing in Far’s work, I argue that racial and ethnic identities are informed through one’s own lived experiences of having a raced body in a society that is racially organized. Racial identities are not entirely performative, but have roots in the epistemologies of raced bodies. Accordingly, this thesis discusses a legal history of Chinese Exclusion in the Americas, the racial spaces of Chinatowns in the United States, and the juxtaposition of orientalism and racial performativity. It examines her memoir “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian,” her non-fiction writing “Half Chinese Children,” and her short stories “Woo-Ma and I,” “Son of Chung Wo,” and “Its Wavering Image.”

Bethany Cox, “Who are ‘The Homeless’?: A Rhetorical Analysis of Homelessness as Represented and Constructed by the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act”

As a work primarily concerned with political language and its social and political implications, this research aims to critically examine and interrogate the rhetorical representation of homelessness, as an identity and as a social problem, in the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. To do so, I ask questions such as: How is homelessness defined? Who is considered homeless, and who is not? How does the Act’s construction of homelessness shape the experience of being homeless and the services available to those who are? Ultimately, this projects exposes and critiques reductive and unproductive constructions of homelessness presented in the Act, as its restrictive definition, emergency-based understandings, and homogenization of homeless identities excludes specific sub-groups of homeless populations from accessing services, limits government intervention in homelessness to short-term aid, and reproduces problematic narratives regarding personal culpability for homelessness rather than federal. Ideally, this work will encourage its readers to think critically and carefully about the language Americans use to speak and write about homelessness, as my research indicates a need to reexamine popular understandings of a homeless identity that is undeserving of assistance and homogenous in nature.

Lisa Dammeyer, “The Grey Area”

The Gray Area is a short story collection exploring the lives of millennials and two of the things they have become most notoriously known for—their unprecedented use of technology and their willingness to engage in non-traditional romantic relationships. Each of the five stories looks at a different character’s experience with dating, casual sex, and other relationships. One of the main goals of this project was to examine the many ways in which millennials are stereotyped and categorized (i.e. as self-obsessed, entitled, needy, etc.). Some characters play into these stereotypes, while others contradict them, demonstrating the inherent problem with categorizing people and generations. The Gray Area also aims to explore a side of relationships that most people, regardless of generation, deal with: the temporary, often fleeting, nature of romance. Characterized by brief encounters and at times abrupt endings, the stories in The Gray Area, above all, work to establish the lives of millennials as worthy of literary representation.

Halie Danielson, “‘That’s Something Humans Do, Right?’: Supernatural Through an Asexual Lens”

In this project, I use asexuality as a framework to examine the sexual assumption in and around the CW's Supernatural (2005-present). As a long-lived and prominent entry into the fantasy genre of television, Supernatural presents a thesis of what it means to be human in contrast to the inhuman other—a theory of humanity in which sex is universal and essential. I consider nonsexual intimacy, compulsory sexuality, and the nonsexual non-human as I probe what it means to read a text "asexually." Defining asexuality as not merely the absence of sexuality but rather a substantive queering force, this reading complicates the assumption that all people experience sexual attraction/desire equally. I explore the inadequacy of language surrounding nonsexual human relationships as it manifests in Supernatural's "family don't end in blood" mantra, which sanctions nonsexual physical and emotional intimacy between unrelated individuals as long as they fall under the "chosen family" umbrella. I also consider the role of fandom and textual interpretation in the sexual assumption, as fans read the sex in Supernatural's subtext that creators claim not to have written.

Jacy Eisel, “Whiskey Freedoms: The First Delivery”

During World War I women found themselves in a world that, for the first time, needed their help. Men, having been deployed for the war, left their workplaces empty of able hands and in search of replacements. The only options were the women that remained. What seemed like an opportunity for women quickly turned into a nightmare that included significantly lower pay and harsh working conditions. That changed, however, once Prohibition was enforced. After surviving an explosion in a munitions factory, my protagonist, Lucile Taylor, falls into the dangerous game of bootlegging alongside a group of bootlegging women called The Black Dolls. Highlighting the ways in which women were liberated by such a major shift in work, Whiskey Freedoms aims to contrast female work life in 1918 with that of 1923 while simultaneously exploring the Roaring Twenties in the small town setting of Frostburg, Maryland. Through my project I have discovered that though time may dictate the female experience unique to that period, the fight for liberation that we see Lucile strive for is something that transcends time and unites women of both 1923 and 2018. 

Elliot Frank, “Environmental Racism and Black Nature in Komunyakaa's Magic City

In this essay I trace the influence of the environment as a poetic image within Yusef Komunyakaa’s oeuvre. I center my investigation on Komunyakaa’s 1992 collection Magic City, which portrays his experience growing up in Bogalusa, Louisiana during the mid 20th century. Komunyakaa directly engages with the dual history of anti-black discrimination and environmental degradation in Bogalusa and portrays how industrial oppression has complicated the relationship between the black citizens of Bogalusa and the environment. Komunyakaa’s style diverges from traditional white Anglophone portrayals of the environment, which rarely consider race in relation to nature. Magic City is a powerful example of what Camille Dungy names “Black Nature” writing, and understanding Magic City within this lineage of African American environmental writing helps to amend the lack of ecocritical attention paid to Komunyakaa’s work. Furthermore, his treatment of the environment in Bogalusa marks an intervention into environmental discourse that assumes the speaker is race-less and class-less, and therefore Komunyakaa’s work is critical to understanding the deep linkages between race, nature, and capitalism in the US.

Victoria Jennings, “Baltimore Polytechnic Institute: Examining Students’ Engagement with Literature”

With our nation’s ever-increasing push for STEM education, the issue of tailoring literary content to student interest and experience has become more complex. The potential for English Language Arts to lose exigence among student populations has increased as schools have become increasingly STEM-focused in response. In urban centers like Baltimore City, students of social and/or economic disadvantage face the additional challenge of navigating a political environment characterized by discriminatory beliefs and practices. This thesis seeks to uncover and evaluate the best strategies for teaching English literature at the intersection of these factors using Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly)—a Blue Ribbon School known for its math, science, and technology focused programs—as a model.

Christine Kirchner, “Dreams and Nightmares: Lost Horizon’s Shangri-La”

To many people, the term “Shangri-La” denotes an exotic and dream-like paradise. Few are aware, however, of the term’s origin in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Close analysis of the novel combined with a study of its central characters reveals that Shangri-La is not only a place for healing from the wounds of the Great War but is a problematic and Orientalist space. Having lost sight of Shangri-La’s origins, Western culture unknowingly perpetuates the Orientalist tropes and ideas associated with the alleged utopia. This thesis seeks to inform readers of Shangri-La’s nightmarish origins.

Jenna Klaverweiden, “Pinterest, Women, and Labor: Pinning for the Ideal Image, Home, and Life”

This project is focused on examining why and how the popular social media site, Pinterest, is viewed and perpetuated as a highly feminized platform with a largely female audience. Statistics show that a majority of Pinterest users are, in fact, women, but the question remains why that is so and what about Pinterest makes it viewed in such a highly feminine way. This project, then, aims to look at the rhetoric surrounding the site to uncover how Pinterest has been constructed and perpetuated as feminine. In examining the programming and construction of the site itself, I aim to explain what in Pinterest’s conception and creation has coded it in a feminine way, focusing mainly on its connection to lifestyle. In this connection to lifestyle and view of Pinterest as inherently feminine, this paper then moves to examine what problematic implications of said construction are, focusing mainly on domestic and gendered labor. Then, moving outside of the site, I examine the rhetoric and language used to talk about Pinterest, mainly in major news outlets, which uncovers both how Pinterest has been constructed in this way and illuminates, similarly to above, potential problematic implications regarding sex, gender, and gender roles and stereotypes.  Ultimately, then, the goal of this project is twofold: one, it seeks to examine how and why Pinterest has been constructed as feminine in viewing both the rhetoric within the site and outside of the site, and two, it then examines the significance and implications of that construction. Ultimately, then, this project aims to illuminate the problematic implications of the perpetuation of Pinterest as feminine, mainly by showing how these constructions reinforce gendered labor and gendered stereotypes in ways that detrimentally affect society and gender ideologies.

Julia Maier, “A Rapture on the Lonely Shore”

This creative thesis explores the questions “why do we do art?” and “why do we need to justify it?” My creative project, a play in two acts, was inspired by the life and creative work of Vivian Maier—a nanny whose talent for street photography was only discovered after her death. In my play, I aimed to explore the questions: What drives our relationships with art? In what different ways do we validate art? I modeled my main character, Alice, on Vivian Maier (though she is not Vivian) and created other characters who had different relationships and backgrounds with art to see how they would oppose, contradict, or even complement one another. My main goal with this project was to be part of the conversation surrounding Vivian Maier, and a broader one about art. Much of the intrigue about Vivian Maier questions why a nanny would be a photographer. I didn’t want my character, Alice, to have to justify her talent. Art, I found, can be driven internally, as it is Alice’s way of making sense of and connecting with the world.

Courtney Steininger, “Children of God: Understanding Marilynne Robinson’s Home as a Mode of Religious Literature”

“Children of God” explores the function of parables within the context of the Bible and Marilynne Robinson’s Home, a contemporary retelling of the parable of the prodigal son. This paper focuses on how Robinson uses the novel form as a means of reimagining the classic parable as a vehicle for understanding the human condition from the point of view of the fallen child, the obedient child, and the pious father. I argue that Robinson’s parable reworks Jesus’ parable in order to rework prejudiced viewpoints associated with conventional Christianity. When exploring Robinson’s treatment of the “obedient child” Glory, I rely on Marxist analysis and the framework of liberation theology to consider how economic conceits highlight systems of oppression. Ultimately, this paper looks at how Robinson reworks a defining religious narrative to raise questions about conventional religions’ ability to fully imagine the lives of women, the poor, and others with subjugated identities. This paper posits that Home is a new mode of religious literature, and ultimately provides a framework for understanding these religious texts that challenge social conservatism.

Radhika Tyagi, “Narrative’s Place in a Pre-Health Curriculum”

In modern Western medicine, the disease-centered care model has been replaced with a patient-centered care model that focuses on treating the patient rather than the disease. To prepare future physicians for a career in patient-centered medicine, most medical schools in the US have implemented a humanities component to their curriculum, but pre-health programs at undergraduate institutions have yet to follow suit. My thesis studies the value of incorporating literature courses in the pre-health track at the University of Maryland. I have surveyed pre-health students and English faculty at the University of Maryland to gauge their receptiveness to the implementation of a literature course designed pre-health students as part of the pre-health curriculum. My thesis concludes with a close reading of Haruki Murakami’s short story “Kino” to show how, as an exemplary literary work, it could be effectively incorporated into a literature curriculum for pre-health students.

Emily Wescott, “Emerson, Whiteness, and the Natural World: From Nature to English Traits

Ralph Waldo Emerson is an iconic antebellum writer for a myriad of reasons. He is lovingly nicknamed the Father of Transcendentalism for his crucial contributions to the intellectual and spiritual movement that swept 19th century America. He is seen, time and time again, as a symbol of new spirituality, truth, intellectualism, freedom, and sincerity—and also as a face of antislavery. Emerson’s involvement in the antislavery movements in antebellum America are not to be discounted or thrown aside, but rather questioned in regard to his published works. This is what my thesis explores. How does Emerson express his antislavery sentiments explicitly and inexplicitly? What is his definition of race? Is his mind clouded with the same white nationalism that plagued so many of his contemporaries in the 19th century? And how are these questions answered within Nature, an early work from 1836, and English Traits, a later and quite controversial travelogue from 1856? My thesis reframes and rethinks Emerson’s Nature using a new lens of race, a lens honed and warped by English Traits. Ralph Waldo Emerson is undoubtedly a fierce supporter of antislavery—but what is the truth of his life-long, tumultuous relationship with race, the natural world, and his writing?

Mitchell Wilson, “Race, Sensation, and Detection: Colonial Anxiety in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Of Fergus Hume’s little-studied novel, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), A.E. Murch once wrote that the novel was neither “strikingly original, nor was the mystery by any means baffling.” For the most part, she is correct. However, Hume’s narrative includes a foray into the ethnic enclave neighborhood of Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street, which complicates the novel’s racial politics and offers a compelling framework for discussion. Scholars have categorized the novel both as a hybrid sensation/detective novel and as being modeled after similar novels written by Emile Gaboriau, which also fall into this generic category. In my paper, I argue that orientalist and racist depictions of people of color are structurally significant for this hybrid genre. Hume’s novel also anticipates the emerging “Asian invasion novel” genre, which implicitly relies on racial stereotypes. As such, race is the through line that holds together this novel’s generic categorizations: detective fiction, sensation fiction, and Asian-invasion fiction.

2017 Cohort

Alexa Brennan, "A First-Rate Girl: A Creative Thesis Project"

In this project, I have worked through a creative lens to write about feminist issues in college life. Through critical studies, articles, and data, I have researched and found proof as basis for my assertions. Through pieces from pop-culture and interviews, I have found specific opinions that reiterate my own. The first half of this project is a broken down analysis of the research I have done, which mostly explores female experiences with sexism, coming from social constructs and sex. In the story that comes after, informed by the critical writing, I attempt to use all of that information at different points to discuss the issues they cause for women, Marina in particular. Working through sex, society, and self-image, the character experiences the problems that so many women in her circumstance do. 

Elizabeth Caldera, "The Suffering Heroine of Mansfield Park"

My research explores the character of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, examining the significance of her role in the power structures in place throughout the novel. This thesis analyzes five scenes that depict the prominent physical and emotional pain of its heroine, demonstrating how Fanny’s limited agency due to her economic dependency and gender cause her prolonged suffering throughout Mansfield Park.  Her position as an outsider reveals an artificial social hierarchy within Mansfield Park that both restricts Fanny’s agency and causes her suffering. It is only when the novel removes Fanny to Portsmouth that Austen provides a mode for Fanny to fully utilize agency. However, her return to Mansfield Park and her marriage at the end of the novel to her cousin Edmund demonstrates Fanny’s embracing of the artificial social hierarchy in place at Mansfield Park, depicting the difficulty of escaping this system that restricts her agency.

Soumini Chatterjee, "The Fabric of Fictional Arranged Marriages Interwoven With a Touch of Reality"

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake has mainly been analyzed in scholarly critical discourses through an Indian American man – Gogols’ eyes. It is about his life, his trials and tribulations growing up in America that constitutes the chunk of many theses and dissertations. But nowhere an extensive emphasis is given on the women in the novel –Ashima, Rina, and Moushumi. In this essay, I have traced their journeys from Calcutta to Cambridge, from India to United States. A journey that is similar to mine. As transnational Hindu brides, Ashima, Rina and me have arranged marriages in common. Keeping this spectrum of arranged marriages as the framework of my thesis, I have looked into India’s colonial past to connect this aspect of arranged marriages with a specific construct of the Indian womanhood –the New Woman. Born out of the dialectics between anti colonialism and pro nationalist politics, she is a blend of tradition and modernity. She becomes a powerful political symbol—a metaphor for a new nation. But is the New Woman really new? Is tradition and modernity equally balanced? Or does the hold of tradition outweigh modernity? Does being a New Woman help sustain an arranged marriage? What is its validity to a contemporary Indian American woman? These are some of the questions that my thesis has explored and answered.  

Sudipta Das, "Bande Mataram: An Early Attempt at Indian Nationalism"

Rajmohan’s Wife by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay is India’s first published novel (published in 1864), and it is often considered Chattopadhyay’s failed and forgotten novel. Chattopadhyay was a prominent activist for India’s independence movement and nearly all his works were written in pure Bangla. However, Rajmohan’s Wife is written in English, which is puzzling. My research examined possible explanations for Chattopadhyay’s dual use of English and Romanized Bangla within this text. I suggest that Chattopadhyay’s writing works to include a bhadralok (Indian genteel class) audience while simultaneously excluding a British colonial audience, despite the novel being written in English. I argue that this work subverts the colonial power of the British Raj through its rich use of untranslated Romanized Bangla and through its metaphorical characters Matangini, Rajmohan, and Madhav. 

Sophie Dean, "The Most Exquisite Moment: Reading Clarissa's Memorialization of the Kiss as a Queer Resistance of Heterosexual Narratives"

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf explores the course of a woman’s life within a single day through the lens of memory. Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife, spends the day planning for her upcoming party that night in London. Her compression of time and memory into a single measurable unit of a day offers an alternative mode of temporality throughout the novel, as it is punctuated by solitary memories that stand alone in time, most notably, Clarissa’s kiss with Sally. The queer kiss remains a memory Clarissa returns to, and a moment that disrupts the heteronormative progression of time that values a traditionally sequential reproductive romance, offering a queer alternative. Drawing on queer theory and recent scholarship on the novel, I explore in this thesis the extent to which Clarissa’s return to her memory of the kiss, in its opposition to heterosexuality,  serves as a queer means of reproduction in Mrs. Dalloway, presenting an alternative to the accepted procreative norms of a stable marriage and children. 

Casey DeFrancesco, "Through the Eyes of the Beholder: Decoding Paratexts in Translations of Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book"

This thesis examines the paratexts (i.e. prefaces, notes, commentary, and appendices) of Arthur Waley’s and Ivan Morris’s respective English translations of Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book through the lens of biographical criticism. First, I submit that Arthur Waley’s Jewish heritage led others to perceive him as a mediator between Western and Eastern cultures, which resulted in his producing a translation the greatly relies on mediating commentary to demonstrate The Pillow Book as an historical artifact. Second, Morris was educated at the Japanese Naval Language School during World War II, allowing him real interactions with Japanese Americans, thus resulting in his producing a work that focuses on elucidating Japanese culture as a whole to a post World War II America gripped with fear of the Japanese. Consequently, this thesis works to encourage readers of Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book to understand the translations of her work as both her own product, as well as the product of her translator.

Warren Griffiths, "Ecology and Southern Gothic: Sublime Fluidity in Faulkner's Old Man"

William Faulkner’s work, although it precedes the popularity of environmental studies and ecocriticism, the study of the environment in literature, is steeped in questions of ecology and the philosophy of nature itself. This paper explores his short novel Old Man within an ecocritical framework, claiming that Faulkner uses a flooding of the Mississippi Delta to mirror and symbolize white Southern society. By dramatically altering the natural setting of his novel, Faulkner challenges sociocultural binaries of gender, race, and freedom through a broader questioning of the nature/culture dichotomy itself.

Elizabeth Lewis, "Gloria Steinem: The Face of Feminism in the New York Times"

Upon examining the New York Times’ portrayal of Gloria Steinem in all articles published between 1966 and 1976, this thesis reveals that the Times repeatedly endorsed and defended Gloria Steinem as their appointed spokesperson for the feminist movement during the first decade of the second wave of feminism. Steinem was depicted as more than simply an activist; she served as an emblem of passion, intelligence, beauty, and even dignity – symbolizing the literal diversity of the very movement for which she advocated. These recorded images of Gloria Steinem as “the face of feminism” hold particular significance considering their ability to not only influence the trajectory of the New York Times’ subsequent published perspectives of the spokesperson but to also shape the general public’s ultimate perception of the entire feminist movement.

Jonathan Offenberg, "Passing the Thump: Nature and Working-class in Moby-Dick"

Anyone who has ever seen a western movie or even a truck commercial can probably observe that masculinity and nature are deeply interwoven in American culture. Yet literary depictions of this relationship are highly conflicted. Famous American pastoralists like Ralph Waldo Emerson both idealized nature and glorified its subjugation, and modern critics of American pastoralism tend to concur that the male relationship to nature, while often romanticized, is ultimately violent, racist and misogynistic. This argument can easily be applied to Herman Melville’s 1851 classic, Moby-Dick, the central premise of which is a bitter struggle between the monomaniacal captain Ahab and a notorious white whale. This premise, however, is more complicated than it appears. Melville’s narrator, Ishmael, initially seems to endorse his captain’s enterprise as a means of reclaiming a lost sense of masculinity, but gradually comes identify with the whales he intended to slaughter, and begins to question Ahab’s violent expression of manhood. Moreover, Ishmael comes to recognize women and minorities not as enemies or threats to his manhood, but as partners in the struggle against hierarchy and dominion. This thesis follows Ishmael in rejecting the notion that the male relationship to nature is necessarily hegemonic. Through an extensive close-reading of Moby-Dick, in conjunction with classic texts in American pastoralism, gender criticism, and environmental criticism, I ultimately raise the possibility of nature as an avenue for the expression of male love and interdependence rather and violence and patriarchy. 

Ashely Stefun, "Progress is a Two-way Street: Examining Bi-directional Transfer Across Languages and Contexts"

Rethinking our understanding of translingualism, this thesis explores the experiences of eleven multilingual writers in the U.S., demonstrating first, how they experience not only transfer from their first language to their second language, but also from their second to their first, and second, how these experiences problematize current pedagogical theories on writing in a second language. Aiming to help scholars look at students’ long-term goals, this study looks at some of the ultimate goals of students and, as a result, the types transfer that occur over the long term that could enhance current writing instruction and our understanding of students’ translingual experiences. Thus, while current instruction prepares students well for English-only contexts, it does not help students to employ the resources from their second language and navigate the rhetorical decisions necessary as they transfer from their second language to their first. 

Rachel Walker, "'In Paint, In Blood': Ekphrasis and Trauma in Natasha Trethewey's Thrall"

This project examines ekphrasis in Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall, primarily in relation to themes of trauma and woundedness which appear in the poems. Trethewey’s ekphrasis grapples with topics ranging from a contemporary family dynamic to 18th century images of colonial life. In this paper, I demonstrate how Trethewey’s treatment of the visual arts connects physical and personal trauma to the larger cultural trauma caused by the colonization of the Americas. Trethewey’s focus on image collapses the distance between cultural trauma and physical injury in order to illustrate how oppressive systems act on individual bodies and families. While Trethewey’s ekphrasis often shows the speaker bearing witness to moments of past and present-day racial trauma, ekphrasis is ultimately reworked as an affirmation of the speaker’s mixed-race identity.

2016 Cohort

Alexander Blinkoff, “The Death of the Emerald Ace”

In 2009, the Japanese professional wrestler Mitsuharu Misawa suffered a mid-match spine injury that caused his death. My project is a piece of historical fiction charting Misawa's life from his youth in the seventies to his death, exploring the psychology of a man whose passion for his art form cost him his life. I hoped to explore the thin line dividing passion from unhealthy obsession, while also dealing with themes such as wrestling as a form of national identification and masculinity, as well as the place it has in modern Japanese culture.

Erin Cheslow, “Strange New Worlds: Science Fiction, Empire, and Mythologies of Extinction and Survival”

Postcolonial studies often portrays British imperialism as very black and white, literally. Literature is either pro-Empire or anti-Empire, very concerned with racial politics or not at all concerned with them. In reality, much of the writing and rhetoric of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, especially literature written in the colonies, explores more of a grey area, where colonialism is perpetrated but also questioned. Science fiction is particularly useful in exploring these grey areas as it allows for the development of times and spaces that are outside the immediate reality of the writer or the reader. By presenting issues from this speculative and detached perspective, science fiction authors were able to ask questions and imagine a space in which the Empire was not everything it claimed to be. The uses of technology and emerging modes of scientific thought brought contemporary concerns to the forefront and examined them more closely to reveal systemic flaws and possible solutions to the problems of Empire.  Using the works of H. G. Wells, Samuel Butler, and a Tasmanian science fiction author, A. J. Ogilvy, I explore Victorian racial theory and the ways in which those theories played out in colonial spaces, both developing and critiquing imperial rhetoric. Using events in Tasmania and New Zealand, these science fiction authors reexamine the ideology of the inevitability of extinction and its effects on imperialism in the British Empire. Their work demonstrated the ways in which science and politics were intertwined while pointing to the ridiculousness of the fictionalized science that was claimed as fact throughout the Empire in their own extreme uses of science and technology. 

Isabel Finkelstein, “Sounding Experience: A Consideration of Three Aesthetic Moments”

The works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Walter Pater weave a consistent thread of inquiry into how sensory experience translates across a broad range of media. Often referred to as “the poet of sensation,” Alfred Tennyson notably attempts to utter consciousness through metered voice in his medievalist lyrics “Mariana” (1830) and “The Lady of Shalott” (1832). James Whistler, by comparison, paints tonal color as a multi-sensorial moment in an 1864 portrait of his mistress, Symphony No. 1: The White Girl. Writing on Renaissance sculpture, painting and poetry in his 1873 collection of essays The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, essayist and critic Walter Pater intones a phenomenological exploration of the effects of the art encounter. By examining these three works together, this thesis shows that the presumed division between the world of fine arts and literature is perhaps more entrenched in contemporary scholarship than it was for nineteenth century thinkers. I posit poetic resonations of poet, painter, and critic as an extension of an under-recognized continuity between the stylistic movements designated as Victorian, Aesthetic, and Modern.

Morgan Folger, “Reframing Apocalyptic Environmental Narratives Through Optimistic Appeals”

I seek to understand how reframing environmental narratives through optimistic appeals can lead to more effective environmental advocacy. I analyze rhetoric used in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and compare it to an alternative approach, one used by Amory Lovins in his Ted Talk A 40-year Plan for Energy. I then provide a theoretical framework that explains four key rhetorical tools: values, appeals, framing, and presence. After examining both Gore and Lovins’ uses of these rhetorical tools, recommendations are provided to summarize how an effective argument for climate change activism can be constructed.

Paige Goodwin, “Uncertainty & Doubt in John Patrick Shanley’s Play”

Doubt: A Parable ends famously with the line, “Oh, I have such doubts!”, causing the entire play to come full-circle.  This thesis strives to understand the manipulation of the audience’s reasoning in John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 play. The play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and yet, this research draws largely on play reviews, as well as general play and religion theories due to the lack of published scholarship on the play.  This thesis interacts with the opinions of play reviewers to analyze the wide range of audience responses to the characters and events in the play, due to Shanley’s constant revealing of ideologies that we may not be aware we have.  The parable of the play is unexpected, it’s fresh, and it’s worthy of far more scholarly discussion than it has been given.

Dionte Harris, “Toward a Theory of Black Queer Male Childhood”

This thesis examines the figure of the black queer male child in twentieth-century African American literary and cultural production, particularly in the works of Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, Marlon Riggs, James Earl Hardy, and Essex Hemphill. Theorizing black becoming in the context of black queer male childhood, this project emphasizes the interconnection of black ontology, black childhood, and black masculinity. I argue that the black queer male child is a discursive form of (in)articulate masculine identity, a performative state and modality of black masculine being and becoming, and is often incongruent with the ostensibly “legible” scripts of black masculinity and sexuality. However, I maintain that to critically examine the black queer male child brings to light a genealogy of writing and art about black queer male formations and black queer male intimacy. In the final analysis, then, this thesis aims to not only reconstruct how we theorize childhood and masculinity, but also furnish more nuanced methods of theorizing blackness and queerness and the varied ways in which they inflect the trajectories of childhood and masculinity. 

Stephen Mince, “‘What New Strange Ways Our Modern Beaus Devise’: Gender Fluidity in Susanna Centlivre’s A Bold Stroke for a Wife

As eighteenth-century English society began to establish the early structures of gender that would persist into the twenty-first century, Susanna Centlivre’s play A Bold Stroke for a Wife appeared in 1718 as a piece in support of gender fluidity. This paper examines the play’s depictions of male performance and homosocial bonding, as well as its emphasis on frequent changes in male dress and demeanor, in order to suggest that Susanna Centlivre used the theatrical space to argue that more fluid performances of masculinity enable both men and women of the eighteenth century to resist patriarchal impositions of a gender binary.

Chandini Narang, “Environmental Writing uses the Transformative Power of Literary Characters in Reality to Promote the Conservation Movement”

Since literacy is widespread now, books are potential tools for the conservation movement to use to persuade the public through narratives. The literature examined, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, Tania James’ The Tusk that Did the Damage, and Palumbi and Palumbi’s The Extreme Life of the Sea, give potent imagery of wildlife and the environment to create character transformations in the texts. These transformations provide readers with better models for respecting nature to promote a sustainable future. 

Stacia Odenwald, “‘Things in the Head’: A Study of Things in Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry”

Bishop admitted to having “that uncomfortable feeling of ‘things’ in the head, like icebergs or rocks or awkwardly placed pieces of furniture [as if] the nouns were there but the verbs were lacking.”  Upon examining her lifework, readers find that her verses are overflowing with such ‘things’ – from the map described in 27 lines in her first published poem to the speaking almanac and Marvel Stove in “Sestina” to the knife on the shelf that “reeked of meaning, like a crucifix” in “Crusoe in England.”  My paper explores the role that things, both physical and metaphysical, play in both Bishop’s poetry and her larger literary project.  I prove that throughout her life, Bishop began to view things with increasing amounts of pathos, and by the end of her career, the things in Bishop’s poems signified people.  Ultimately, Bishop’s things are a vehicle through which modern scholars can examine and better understand her elusively emotional poetry.

Tarika Sankar, “Love Comics and Cinderella: Indo-Caribbean Women Negotiate Sexuality in Ramabai Espinet’s The Swinging Bridge and Ryhaan Shah’s A Silent Life”

In this paper, I examine how contemporary fiction by Indo-Caribbean women navigates questions of female sexuality within the interlocking forces of global capitalism, western neoliberal ideologies of romance and a transnational double-diaspora. Though historically constrained by Indian patriarchal norms and expectations of sexual purity, Indo-Caribbean women in literature of the 21st century sometimes find greater freedom to develop their sexual identities after migrating to urban centers in the industrialized north. However, I argue that Espinet and Shah’s fiction reveals considerable tension between western romantic discourses and Indo-Caribbean female identity, as such discourses tend to enact an erasure of ethnic heritage and reassert the objectification of female bodies.

Emily Shwake, “ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere In Danger of Failing to Rise”

In her award-winning compilation of eight short stories, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer—a contemporary African-American female writer—evaluates the challenges of growing up as a marginalized Other. Though most of her characters are African-American women, her exploration of various identities demonstrates her attempt to universalize the debilitating experience of growing up in isolation. By warping the conventional Black Bildungsroman, Packer exposes the dangers of the capitalistic model: the individual cannot grow without the active, unyielding support of their community. The stories in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere negotiate the optimism of the Bildungsroman genre and a realistic evaluation of the danger of isolation.

Katherine Stuller, “Grasmere: A Play for Dorothy Wordsworth”

Grasmere is a play that reveals the unknown tale of Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of the great Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth. Though she was describe as "plain" and "awkward" by her friends and family, Dorothy was a poetic genius who served as William's muse for nearly 50 years. This clever yet heartbreaking play accredits Dorothy as the mastermind behind some of William's most famous works, and proves that true love and dedication require a life-changing sacrifice.

Reis Ely Vance, “CivilWarLand on Screen: Mass Media Industry, Historical Identity Erasure, and the Professional South of George Saunders and Percival Everett”

Attempting to trace the formations and exploitations of Southern identity through contemporary mass mediation, this project examines George Saunders’ “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” and Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier as texts that explicate on the damage done to individuals for the sake of mass-consumed identity and political consolidation. Using Robert Jackson’s conception of the Professional Southerner, I further define spaces of the Professional South as they appear in narrative, divorcing themselves from actual history in order to create Disney-fied reinterpretations of Southern myth.

Akhila Vishnubhotla, “Forget Her Not: Analyzing Palace of Illusions As a Feminist Retelling of the Mahabharata

From beloved characters such as Krishna and Arjuna, to themes of righteous ruling and honor, the Mahabharata is a timeless story that has been passed down through the generations, especially within Hindu families. However, as I grew older, I noticed that the women in the longest epic poem in the world were almost completely ignored. The female protagonist, Draupadi, is said to be the woman that changes the course of history, and yet in the actual epic her thoughts and feelings are largely ignored. Enter The Palace Of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a novel that looks at the epic through the point of view of Draupadi.  This paper seeks to analyze ways in which Divakaruni rewrites the epic in order to include women. While some of her attempts fall short, Divakaruni ultimately frames Draupadi/Panchaali as a strong, feminist character and by doing so she gives the epic a new perspective – one in which the main female protagonist is given the agency she deserves. 

2015 Cohort

Dean Delasalas, "Incorporating the Teachings of Applied Legal Storytelling into Legal Writing Texts"

In this paper, I will discuss how narrative principles from the field of Applied Legal Storytelling can help lawyers produce clear, concise, and engaging legal writing.  While always desirable, this kind of legal writing has become even more important because changes in the legal job market have made writing skills even more marketable.  In response, law schools and legal writing texts have been striving to produce the lawyers that the legal job market demands.  However, reforms to legal education have been too slow while legal writing texts recognize the power of narrative, but still do a disservice to readers by not adequately explaining how to use its full potential. To help correct this oversight, I will examine three narrative concepts: narrative coherence, narrative fidelity, and foreshadowing.  I will couple these concepts with a corresponding element of “good writing”: narrative coherence with clarity, narrative fidelity with conciseness, and foreshadowing with engaging.  After defining and illustrating these concepts, I will cite court cases to demonstrate how these concepts are conducive to their respective element of good writing.  By showing Applied Legal Storytelling in action, I wish to provide readers with another means of analyzing legal writing and with tools to reliably produce good legal writing.

Michael Lawrence, "The American Writer as Good Citizen: David Foster Wallace and the Form of Political Engagement in The Pale King"

In the four years since the posthumous publication of David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King, scholars have begun to examine ways in which the novel deals not only with the boredom inherent to working at the IRS, but also more deeply with political issues that greatly concerned Wallace at the time. This thesis traces Wallace’s attempt to transform himself into a more politically engaged writer through the act of writing The Pale King. Wallace himself sought to be a “good citizen” who could urge his readers to be similarly unwavering civic participants. By situating his fictional proxy, David Wallace, as beholden to the law, dissolving him into the system of the IRS, and offering a decidedly non-literary replacement for the character as a model for civic participation, Wallace dramatizes the difficulty of merging the political and literary. Ultimately, the compromise of both a literary sensibility and an individualistic view of the role of the writer come to stand for the sacrifice necessary to bring Wallace’s vision of unmitigated political engagement to fruition.

Jonathan Raeder, "Last Call for the Boiling Man"

Last Call for the Boiling Man is a collection of three short stories about one day in the life of an up-and-coming indie rock band from Baltimore. Each story follows the wanderings and adventures of one member of the band as they spend the day in Baltimore, told in a variety of forms and styles. It’s an important day for The Boiling Man; the first of many major shows on a huge East Coast tour. Yet none of the three will ever make it to the show, for something malevolent and unknowable lurks in the decaying streets checkered history of Baltimore, waiting to end the band before it truly ever begins. Weaving together themes of modern indie rock culture, Maryland’s embattled history, and ideas of fame and identity, Last Call for the Boiling Man is a surreal look at how impossible it can be to ever honestly “be yourself” in a world of endless, restricting, possibilities.

Christopher Stevenson, “Every Anarchist is a Baffled Dictator"

“Every Anarchist is a Baffled Dictator" is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress concerning the future of race in the United States. The excerpt follows American expatriate Charlene Lazar the day after the death of her husband, the fascist dictator of Romania in 2054. This day is also her first day in the United States in fifteen years. She comes home to a family that is less Caucasian than the one she grew up with and she attempts to grapple with this fact.

Aurora Wheeland, "Catherine’s Exceptional Body: The Haunting Of The Law In Wuthering Heights"

Current criticism of Wuthering Heights discusses either the law or the supernatural, neglecting the connection between the two. Research of nineteenth-century British property and coverture laws reveals their impact on Emily Brontë in the context of the supernatural feminism in her novel. To this effect, this thesis engages with nineteenth-century British Common Law, the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, and other primary sources from Brontë’s time in order to develop the claim that Catherine Earnshaw’s ghost is a metaphor for the legal predicament of women under the legal system of coverture. By turning the dispossessed woman into an exceptional body that demands a return to her home, Brontë’s novel incites the need for legal reform. Coverture confines women to the position of having to submit to men’s will, but, through her role as a ghost, Catherine forces men to succumb to hers. Catherine’s existence as a spirit of vengeance is a response to the patriarchal laws that impede a sense of female ownership or belonging. Like her, the modern figure of female monstrosity in literature and film is symptomatic of a gendered reality in which it is still impossible to empower women without making them an exception.

Caroline White, "Warmth Equation" 

My project entitled "Warmth Equation" attempts to examine loss through different lenses. The collection of poems explores familial relationships, specifically father and daughter, and inspects how the death of these relationships changes perceptions, alters the memory, and incites projections. The poems create a sense of unity both through their formal and elegiac elements. Form is pivotal to this collection: gaps between words are used instead of traditional line breaks and as a literal illustration of absence. This specific type of form also allows for the movement of the poem to mimic the movement of the way that the brain thinks associatively. This project attempts to map out these associations in times of grieving, sometimes fighting against them and other times accepting them. The gaps and the associative leaps combine to result in a collection of unconventional elegies that both personalize grief and challenge the traditional form.