Student Research

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American Studies

It’s All about Reality: Authenticity within the American Folk Tradition, from Blues to Hip-Hop

Student: Chris Zinn
Mentor: Walter Greason

Nearly every American musical genre is connected by the traditions and aesthetics of folk music. This aesthetic is the key to music’s continued evolution, expanding what are socially perceived as valid forms of artistic expression. It accomplishes this through an unwaveringly populist sentiment, working to create a strong atmosphere of inclusivity. That feeling of community is crafted through a focus on the authenticity of the musical artists; this authenticity allows the artist to voice the concerns of oppressed or voiceless people, eventually leading to the establishment of regional folk communities. The folk aesthetic is hardly without flaw; this focus on authenticity is far-reaching enough to lead to the loss of performers’ credibility or, in some cases, their lives. I plan to explore this aesthetic focus on authenticity through four musical genres closely associated with it: the blues, Southern soul, post-punk, and hip-hop. Audiences continually find resonance within the authenticity found in Robert Johnson’s ethereal Delta blues, the minimalist funk of James Brown, the Minutemen’s synthesis of white and black music, and the integrated sampling which marks the hip-hop genre. Why do these play as authentic to popular audiences? How did these artists work to counteract the increasing racial divide within popular music? I am working to discover, through these four genres and some of their most notable artists, the greater importance of the folk tradition’s obsession with authenticity. It should ultimately become clear that the focus on authenticity is the antithesis to segregation within American music.

Burnt Cork and Sad Songs: The Career of Bert Williams

Student: Geoffrey Swann
Mentor: Patricia Schroeder

Bert Williams was once the top-paid African American performer in the world. He was the first recorded African American star in both music and film, and he even performed for the King of England, teaching him how to cakewalk. Now, however, he holds no place in popular culture, and is studied by academics for his controversial use of blackface in his comedy. Through my research into his life, as well as the scholarship surrounding his works, I see Williams as a man who sought to change the discourse of race in America, but could not fully succeed. My paper will present Bert Williams in an uncommon light: acknowledging his failures as well as his successes. By analyzing biographies both recent and contemporary to his life, as well as the wealth of analysis of his work in the last ten years, I have found many scholars moved to defend Williams’s plays and comedy as subversive and progressive despite the use of blackface which modern audiences see as offensive. While I agree that his aim was to subvert common minstrel stereotypes, his work used an iconic sign too familiar to white audiences of the time: the bumbling Jonah-style “coon”, which also garnered mixed opinions from African American audiences. This is not to say he didn’t have successes, such as making Broadway shows by and for African Americans, but we must modify our analysis of his work to make clear his failures. Through this research, we can come to a more nuanced understanding of the way Williams wished to portray himself, how he was actually perceived by audiences both white and black, and how we respond to him now.


God’s Cartography: Religious Morality and Mercantile Forces in Medieval Islamic Maps and Texts

Student: Lindsay Hogan
Mentor: Susanna Throop

The lands encompassing Islam in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries were vast. Since the 6th century Muslims had spread west from the Arabian Peninsula all the way into Spain and east into India. In an attempt to visualize, catalogue and glorify these lands, men traveled by every means attempting to articulate and bring back the diversity within Islam. The growing technology of the age allowed Arabs to travel by land and sea all far beyond the center of Islam. As a result, this era produced fascinating and detailed maps, as well as even more detailed texts and travel accounts. With this historical context, I have read and analyzed the works of several important cartographers in an attempt to answer the following questions; How can cartography be used as text to chronicle historical developments in medieval Islamic society? And how did these people understand Islam’s place in the increasingly interconnected world? These questions will continue to shape my year long honors project. This summer I have begun to uncover and articulate a few important themes in the texts of two particular cartographers, Muhammad Abu’l-Qasim Ibn Hawqal and Muhammad ibn Ahmad Shams al-Din Al-Muqaddasi. First, Islam permeated the lands of the medieval Middle East, but also the actions and thoughts of the people. Unexpectedly, in the chronicles covering the lands of Islam, religious partiality and polarization between Islam and other religions, mainly Judaism and Christianity, as not emphasized. Instead the authors constantly criticized sects and divergent communities within Islam, suggesting that “otherness” was not a preoccupation of these travelers. The other important forces that these texts highlight are trade and commerce, which seem to have created a conflict for medieval geographers who grappled with the challenge of promoting an Islamic way of life, while dealing with the moral implications of trade, wealth and greed. These authors, their texts and their visual maps ultimately reflect the larger conflict of forces at this time in Islamic history, namely, devotion to religion and the desire to disperse it, versus the moral contradiction implicit in a more commercial and globally interconnected world.

Indecent Conduct: The Creation of a Queer Subculture in Interwar Philadelphia, 1918-1945

Student: Arielle Ross
Mentor: Dallett Hemphill

How did the gayborhood come into existence? Who builds a closet, who builds a community? Has homosexuality always existed as we, in the twenty-first century, conceptualize it? What role do race and gender have in establishing a community based on something as inherently invisible as queer sexuality and gender identity? My project explores the existence and establishment of queer community in Philadelphia between World War I and World War II. In the 1920s, the conceptualization of homosexuality and queer identity changed fundamentally. In the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, sexuality was a private matter. Even when it was made public, queerness was not sexual: it was gendered. Men who had sex with men were defined by their gender expression, rather than their sexual partners: only effeminate men who took a submissive role were considered gay. After the First World War, as psychology gained scientific credibility, “homosexuality” became about identities, rather than behaviors. To find queer people in interwar Philadelphia, I took advantage of Pennsylvania’s longstanding anti-sodomy laws, using Philadelphia City Vice Squad records to map the sites of arrest for “indecent conduct”, and “solicitation to commit sodomy,” crimes which clearly involved queer men (Lesbians are elusive in criminal records because there were no laws prohibiting sex between women, as there were with men). I discovered that arrests of gay men were concentrated on the fringes of the heterosexual vice districts of the Tenderloin and the 7th Ward. In this examination of place as a site for queer community, intersections of racial and sexual marginality emerge, providing a unique lens into the interwar origins of later gay communities in Philadelphia.

The Investiture Controversy: Desire for Unity as a Cause of Conflict

Student: Nate Schmalhofer
Mentor: Susanna Throop
At the root of the Investiture Controversy lay the changing goals of the Church and the “State” in the eleventh century, embodied by Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV of Germany respectively. Both of these men aimed for unification in their early reigns, but the unification and changes which they aspired to were poorly matched, despite their similarities. Once he came of age as a ruler, Henry IV began to reach for the political unification of Germany, potentially modeling himself after Charlemagne and his kingdom as the ideal embodiment of a Christian Kingdom. Meanwhile, Gregory VII dreamed of uniting the Church under the headship of the papacy in order to foster increased accountability, consistent orthodoxy, and ideally the formation of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Ultimately, however, the changes which Gregory VII envisioned were incompatible with the Doctrine of Two Swords, the traditional political theory that called for the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, and the Pope, Gregory VII, to rule side by side. By elevating the status of the pope to God’s most significant representative on earth, Gregory was asserting the preeminence of the papal directive in both secular and sacred life. Such a situation could have never been acceptable to Henry IV. For, in order to maintain order within Germany, Henry had to buttress his own power and authority with the moral weight of spiritual authority. Thus, Henry IV both wanted and had to maintain the Doctrine of the Two Swords to keep peace at home as well as to advance his own plans for political unification. Meanwhile, in Gregory VII’s mind, he needed to destroy that very same doctrine to complete the consolidation of Church teaching. In my Summer Fellows research, which is part of a broader Distinguished Honors project focused on the polemics of the Investiture Controversy, I have explored the differences in how Gregory VII and Henry IV acquired, and wielded, their power and authority. In addition, I have analyzed how traditional German ideas of peace and justice were at odds with those that the Church sought to enforce, and the implications of these different ideas in the Investiture Controversy.


An Awfully Grave Occupation: A New Historicist Approach to Edgar A. Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

Student: Daniel Gene Barlekamp
Mentor: Rebecca Jaroff

Western society witnessed several grotesque cultural reactions to the development of medicine as a professional science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Among them are increased anxieties over premature burial, dramatic growth in the grave robbing and body snatching trade, and the maturity of mesmerism into a legitimate field of study. Of course, popular literature of the time reflects such phenomena.

This paper historicizes Poe’s unforgettably ghastly tale of mesmerism and living death, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845). I begin with an in-depth examination of the bizarre “scientific” articles that likely influenced Poe, and then proceed to contextualize his work amongst similar contemporaneous fiction. Ultimately, I account for the major cultural impact of “Valdemar” by considering what it reveals about popular 19th century American mindsets. I intend to expand this essay into a chapter of my Honors Thesis, which will be a larger project on the psychological aspects of Poe’s Gothic fiction.

Surviving Crime Fiction: The Women Who Would Not Disappear

Student: Sarah Schultz
Mentor: Meredith Goldsmith

Crime fiction, like much genre fiction, heavily depends upon conventions that can either create a pleasant sense of familiarity or a feeling of triteness. Lovers of the genre are quick to point out that even within a genre, variations on the basic foundation can create masterful texts rich in complexity. One variation exemplified by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Dorothy B. Hughes is the development of complex and realistic female characters. Crime fiction is a particularly misogynistic genre, with women typically stereotyped as either femme fatale criminals or brutally wronged victims of early 20th century American crime fiction. While the hard-boiled style made popular in early 20th century American crime fiction would seem especially constraining to women, powerful exceptions to the norms exist. In the novels The Thin Man (1934), Farewell, My Lovely (1940), Mildred Pierce (1941), and In a Lonely Place (1947), women characters transcend the limitations of genre to bring greater depth to the novels. By deviating from the norm of passive innocents or highly aggressive and sexualized female figures, these authors reveal a misogynistic genre to be fertile ground for the empowerment and experimentation of women.

All the Tastes in Nectar Soup: Artistic Community and the Beat Generation

Student: Maeve Sutherland
Mentor: Rebecca Jaroff

In 1944 in Greenwich Village, Jack Kerouac had not yet been on the road, William S. Burroughs still wore his clothes to lunch, and Allen Ginsberg reserved his howling for the full moon. It would be four more years before Kerouac comes up with the name “Beat Generation,” but these young men, along with Lucien Carr, David Kammerer, and a network of other artists and pseudo-intellectuals, were already beginning to challenge artistic precedent.

This project centers on the early Beat group as an authorial unit, as they criticized each other’s work and wrote with similar a prioris. Their complex homosexual and homosocial relationship dynamics, in addition to their literary influence on one another, becomes evident in their fictionalized accounts of Lucien Carr's murder of David Kammerer in August 1944. Among the narratives are Ginsberg’s unpublished Bloodsong, Kerouac’s The Town and the City and Vanity of Duluoz, and the Burroughs-Kerouac collaboration And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which is of special interest as a snapshot of Kerouac and Burroughs’ writing style before they had published their first novels. The murder rocked their group, but also perpetuated an atmosphere in which the young writers felt compelled to tell their story and pass whatever judgment they saw fit through fiction.

Reshaping Perceptions of the “Other”: An Exploration of Human Disabilities, Graphic Novels, and the High School Curriculum

English and Education
Student: Amanda McBride
Mentors: Elizabeth Ho and Stephanie Mackler

American High School classrooms privilege the expected, the normal, and those who are capable of academic success, as defined by society’s traditional yet narrow scope. But what about those who do not align with these traditional ideals? The problem with our current education system is how it “others” those who are different, especially those with disabilities, and fails to provide them with an adequate education because of their differences. Though federal laws such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Individuals with Disability Education Act” have made strides in petitioning for a more equal education for students with disabilities, these policies fail to humanize disabled students and include their perspective in the classroom.

My Summer Fellows Project bridges the gap between disabilities and the classroom. I draw upon Disabilities Studies in order to contextualize our current situation, focusing on the history of disabilities, their treatments, and how they are viewed today, especially in education. Current education practices tend to render disabled students invisible, voiceless, and “other” in the classroom. To address this problem, schools need to go beyond just providing access to education for disabled students, as the law requires, but fully recognize them as students so that they gain a voice in the classroom and curriculum as well as have other students develop empathy for disabilities. In order for schools to bridge the gaps between disabled and non-disabled students, my project argues that schools should utilize graphic novels in the classroom, particularly because they are best suited for approaching issues related to difference and “other”. Through a disability studies/comic book theory analysis of four different graphic novels, I will examine how these texts depict disabilities as well as analyze moments where the comics provide teaching moments for educators and students about disabilities. Although many schools today use graphic novels in the classroom, they teach them in unexciting ways. Furthermore, rarely, if ever, are disabilities talked about as part of the subject matter of the curriculum.

I ultimately argue through my research that schools need to disrupt the dichotomies of graphic novels/books, normal/abnormal, and able/disable in order to effectively address, discuss, and teach about disabilities in the classroom.

À la recherche de la belle fidèle: Translation Theory and The Second Sex

English and Modern Languages
Student: Ellyn Rolleston
Mentor: Meredith Goldsmith

French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 treatise Le Deuxième Sexe is frequently described as a germinal text in feminist literature. Yet despite its significance as an invaluable contribution to the canon of feminist works, the original 1953 English translation of the French text is considered very poor. Significantly abridged with conspicuously inaccurate translations of Beauvoir’s vocabulary, this translation was clearly insufficient for English speakers. However, a new translation of the text did not appear until 2009, and this second translation has also been met with protest and discordance among critics and academics. In this project, I examine the cultural climate that influenced the reception of Beauvoir’s book in France and the United States, particularly commenting on the context in which the work was translated into English. I also provide a summary of how the second translation took form, and from this basis, I look at segments of the French original and the two translations side-by-side, endeavoring to discern why this work has proved to be both culturally and linguistically difficult to translate. Drawing upon translation theory, I use these three texts to pose and attempt to answer one fundamental question: What makes a translation “good” or “bad” and can a “perfect” translation exist?

Philosophy and Religious Studies

All in the Family: Understanding Filial Piety as Debt, Duty, or Desire

Student: Karen Levandoski
Mentor: Kelly Sorensen

“You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back.”-William D. Tammeus

Consider the following: two parents lovingly raise a child, fulfilling all her needs and more. After she attends college, which they have paid for, she begins her career and decides that her parents are now too low-class to be associated with. She cuts off all communication with them, despite their desperate pleadings, and ignores them as they grow old and require assistance. Nearly all who read this will, as I do, think that the daughter has done something terribly wrong. But why? If children have moral obligations towards their parents, as most think that they do, where do these obligations spring from? Is it because parents have given their children the gift of life, an infinite debt, as ethicist Chenyang Li believes? Or does Jeffrey Blustein provide a more accurate explanation when he suggests it is because parents, often going above and beyond the duties of parenthood, provide their children with unique opportunities to feel gratitude which must be returned? And how do these and other views handle the advent new reproductive technology, creating more complicated family trees than ever before--is anything more owed to rearing parents than genetic contributors or surrogate mothers? If so, why? My Summer Fellows project has worked to place different theories about filial piety in more direct dialogue with one another and modern situations, as well as to offer critiques and my own viewpoint.

Finding Subject in Object: Perceptual Anti-Individualism and the Nature of Perspective

Student: Alex Niedmann
Mentor: Roger Florka

It is almost trite to conceive of objectivity as a kind of “view from nowhere,” to borrow Thomas Nagel’s phrase; a unique sort of higher-order perspective achieved (perhaps never wholly) by transcending an inherently limited first-order perspective on the world. This construal of objectivity holds it as necessary that perspectives, in virtue of being “views from somewhere,” are originally and constitutively subjective. On this view, therefore, objectivity is always something achieved by the modification of a prior subjectivity, firmly excluding it from any account of the nature and origins of perspective. Tyler Burge’s recent work, Origins of Objectivity (OUP 2010), elaborates a rich and interdisciplinary explanatory framework, called perceptual anti-individualism, through which fundamentally rethinking the place of objectivity in the nature and origins of perspective becomes possible. Brought to bear directly upon the question (only obliquely addressed by Burge himself) of what it is to be a perspective, perceptual anti-individualism lends credence to a striking possibility: Though traditionally opposed, objectivity and subjectivity achieve a functional unity as interdependent aspects of the nature of a single phenomenon: perspective.

Hallucination and the Veil of Perception

Student: Ross Whitehurst
Mentor: Roger Florka

Within the philosophy of perception, one is faced with two very difficult and pressing questions: the first being how does a human being perceive the world around him and what is his relation to that perceived world? The second question, once one has answered the first, asks what are the epistemological consequences of the first answer? What does the way in which man perceives the world say about what we can and cannot ever truly know and what is his relationship with the external world? The purpose of this analysis is to examining the various theories on the function of sensory perception. Once these theories have been examined and the most accurate have been chosen, I will attempt to answer the latter question stated above, showing that the two most capable theories of sensory perception have unforeseen consequences about man’s relation to the external reality.

Modern Languages

Trauma and Hope in Recent Argentine Cinema: Los pasos perdidos (2001) and Cautiva (2003)

Student: Cara DiNicola
Mentor: Juan Ramón de Arana

During The Dirty War in Argentina (1976-1983), as many as 30,000 Argentineans were illegally detained, tortured, or secretly killed in clandestine detention centers ran by the governing military junta. The effects that these human rights abuses have had on Argentine society suggest that the events of The Dirty War constitute a massive cultural trauma. Since the onset of democracy in Argentina, Argentineans have been attempting to overcome this trauma through various venues. Film provides a safe space in which themes pertaining to The Dirty War and Argentina’s cultural trauma can be confronted head-on.

This project examines theories of trauma by critics like Cathy Caruth and Dominick LaCapra in order to determine their relevance to the case of cultural trauma caused by The Dirty War and, more specifically, cinematic representations of this trauma. This paper explores the way two recent Argentine films, Los pasos perdidos (Manane Rodríguez, 2001) and Cautiva (Gastón Biraben, 2003), fictionalize cases of The Dirty War’s “stolen babies” and attempt to present a discourse of hope as the characters struggle with their personal trauma and identity. This research will ultimately discuss the implications these two films may have for the ongoing debate on Argentina's cultural trauma.

Santeria: From Criminality to Cubanidad

Student: Erin Doby
Mentor: Theresa Ko

Beginning in the 18th century Afro Cuban religions, such as Santería, were characterized by the ruling class and intellectuals as anti-modern and directly connected to criminality, making them and their practitioners a “threat” to the safety and well being of Cuban society. This conception of Afro Cuban religions appeared to change for a brief period during the war for independence in Cuba; this period is referred to as the Afrocubanismo movement. The progress that the movement fostered was quickly undone shortly after Cuba secured its independence from Spain. The scrutiny that surrounded the various Afro Cuban religions before the Cuban War of Independence continued to plague Cuba for almost 100 years after Cuban struggle for independence. Today many Cubans practice various Afro Cuban religions, most notably Santería. These religions are not only practiced by a considerable portion of the population, but they are also recognized by the government as an important part of Cubanidad, the essence or identity of Cuba, along with racial diversity and the culture of the African slaves whose descendents now make up about 60% of the population. The purpose of this project is to investigate how Afro Cuban religions, such as Santeria, that were once considered to be criminal activities become accepted? What role did changing racial politics play in the rejection or acceptance of Afro Cuban religions? And what role if any does race play in present day Cuba where Afro Cuban religions are now embraced?

Second Language Acquisition in the Brain: How and Where a Language is Learned

Student: Kirsten King
Mentor: Robin Clouser

Learning another language can be a rewarding and advantageous skill in a society where multilingualism is crucial for communication. The ultimate goal of many is to achieve fluency in their language of interest, but others wish only to learn enough to get by in a new culture. Still others are raised in multilingual households, where language learning is a natural process, and fluency is not a struggle but a given. What differentiates these people in terms of their language-learning skills, and what is happening in their brains in the process of acquiring those languages? Some of the answers can be found via Second Language Acquisition (SLA), the study of the way in which individuals learn a language other than their mother tongue, inside or outside of the classroom. Several common theories which seek to identify the ways in which a second language is learned are addressed in this review, as well as the neurological underpinnings of where this language is found in the brain. Using this knowledge, a potential personal research endeavor is also described. This experiment may be carried out in the coming year of study at Ursinus College.

Evangelism in New Guinea: A Translation with Commentary of Johann Flierl's Gedenkblatt der Neuendettelsauer Heidenmission in Queensland und Neu-Guinea

Student: Ethan Kuhn
Mentor: Robin Clouser

By the end of the 19th century, European colonialism had been in full swing for centuries. As a fractured and divided people, the Germans did not enter the broader world stage until after the unification of the German states in 1871. At the beginning of the First World War, the German colonial empire had several colonies throughout Africa and the Pacific and German New Guinea was the first of these territories. Immigrants seeking to fulfill economic and spiritual aims traveled to these newly acquired areas. One of these people was Johann Flierl, a Lutheran missionary.

Flierl stayed in New Guinea from 1886 to 1930, founding a number of mission churches leading to the establishment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea which now constitutes approximately 20% of the total population of that nation. Despite the influence of his work there, very few of Flierl’s writings have been translated. Taking both his religious and historical context into account, my translation attempts to stay as close to Flierl’s original German as possible while still making it accessible to the English reader.