Humanities Honors Program
Humanities Honors Theses 2017 (5)
When Things Fall Apart: Understanding (in) the Postcolonial Situation
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) published his major novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), in postcolonial Nigeria. In it he presents a colonial narrative using English as its primary mode of communication. However, his use of native Igbo words and the world they invoke problematizes a eurocentric assumption of the totality and universality of a given language, in this case, English. He employs acts of translation and introduces hybrid languages in order to engender dialogue that subverts the dominance of any one language and the world that it creates for its speakers. In a parallel fashion, this thesis uses two different theoretical approaches that have not typically been placed in dialogue with each other — postcolonial theory and hermeneutics — to view and interpret the nuances present in Achebe’s text that neither could illuminate on its own. This dialogical approach reveals insufficiencies in the independent theories and allows them to mutually supplement each other. Together these theories show how the novel subverts the presumed authority of the English language and universalizing discourses in order to identify the confrontation of lived linguistic worlds and horizons in the postcolonial context. The novel reorients those structures of understanding and interpretation around a subject that has historically been denied a voice.
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Blood, Guns, and Plenty of Explosions: The Evolution of American Television Violence
American television, as a mass medium of storytelling, often gets scrutiny over its content, facing industry standards, censorship, and audience pushback. While sex and obscenity have been intensely studied, TV violence has had most scholarship aimed at the effects of viewing violence. This study is focused in a different direction, seeking to analyze the evolving presentation of violence on American airwaves. TV violence is composed of two parts: The first is the graphic portrayal of violence through fights, gunshots, and death. The second is the role violence serves within TV narratives, which has morphed from acts of justice and self-defense to plotlines intertwining moral indifference with pointless killing and righteous vengeance. Three case studies utilizing close reading and image analysis of various shows are used to analyze both aspects of TV violence. The first case study centers on Bonanza, a TV western that presents violence within strict moral boundaries. The second looks at The Day After, a TV movie that employed special effects, dialogue, and set design to portray the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon. The third case study analyzes The Walking Dead, a culmination of the changing TV landscape of the 2000s that led to a hyperreal level of graphic violence and storylines that emphasized moral ambiguity, villains that escaped punishment, and endless death. The portrayal of violence on American television has changed drastically in the last 80 years, and this study hopes to reflect the reciprocal relationship between a changing TV industry and a shifting American society.
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The Gospel of Mary: Reclaiming Feminine Narratives Within Books Excluded from the Bible
Religious history is often preserved by the winners of ideological debates. The twenty-seven books composing the New Testament canon were selected by prevailing players in the battle for ideological supremacy within the early Christian movement and the emerging Catholic Church. The struggle culminated with an accepted definition of orthodoxy and a tradition of apostolic succession for legitimizing religious texts. The Gospel of Mary is an early Christian text deemed unorthodox by the men who shaped the nascent Catholic church, was excluded from the canon, and was subsequently erased from the history of Christianity along with most narratives that demonstrated women’s contributions to the early Christian movement. My thesis explores the intricacies of early canon formation within the context of the controversy surrounding women’s participation in authoritative roles within early Christianity and how the Gospel of Mary was labeled as an unorthodox text due to its pro-feminine narrative. I maintain that the motive for excluding the Gospel of Mary was not the text’s lack of conformity to the requirements of apostolic succession or orthodoxy, but was grounded within the struggle to suppress the agency and participation of women from the patriarchal hierarchy that defined the developing structure of the Catholic Church. I claim the exclusion of the gynocentric narrative of the Gospel of Mary facilitated the androcentric interpretation of religious doctrine and history that has predominated Christian scholarship for almost two millennia.
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Humanities Honors Theses 2018 (2)
Apparitions of You and Me
Identity is depths beyond what human beings perceive when they look into a mirror-- rather, it is the rich history of time, people, environment, and matters of the heart that afflict and influence them from their earliest memories to their present moment. This collection of poetry, composed of three sections representative of significant periods of one's personhood, is meant to explore the nuances and complications of one's being both a product of their experiences and carrier of memories from those experiences. The first section is composed of poetry concerned with identity formation in the early memories of childhood, with familial influence rooted at its core. The second section is focused on the movement from innocence of childhood to the infatuations, love, and heartbreak that come with young adulthood. The third section is comprised of poetry that looks introspectively at the former two in order to inform an identity that does not abandon those experiences, but builds independently from them. This collection strives to clarify the immense influence memories and human connection have on the development of one's sense of self. It is in hope that this exploration of identity and one's relationship to its ever-transforming essence will provide better understanding of the significance in claiming one's own identity while, at the same time, valuing even the experiences which may haunt them.
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The Thought of Him I Love: Mystical Drifts in Whitman's Leaves of Grass
In 1860, Walt Whitman released what he called the “new American Bible.” This claim scandalized American readers of the day though, since then, much more than the small circle of intellectuals has recognized its importance. The 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass was also the first edition (of seven) in which he claimed to inaugurate a new religion. The centerpiece of this new religion was the mystical experience in which poet and reader embarked together. Through printed text, poet and reader, individual and cosmos, citizen and the democratic would unify. Or, at least, the poet would lead the reader through a mystical journey that may or may not have a destination. The character of this journey changes, like Leaves of Grass itself, from edition to edition. This thesis traces the unstable and multifaceted character of this mysticism with a special emphasis on its blossoming as a mysticism of death.
In doing so, it will hopefully complicate an often overlooked facet of Leaves of Grass and vindicate Whitman’s status as a mystic which has been a subject of both debate and embarrassment for Whitman scholars. Many have shied away from applying the “mystic” label. A brief outline of the appearances of mysticism of Leaves of Grass followed by a tracing of its roots constitutes the introduction. Then, a chapter on Whitman’s more egotistical mysticism focuses on the dynamics within the self. Following this is a chapter on Whitman’s expansive mystical role and the final chapter identifies death as the ultimate mystical transfer and explains the reasoning behind this bold claim.
Humanities Honors Theses 2019 (3)
Weights of the World: An Examination of the Evolutionary Histories of the Atlas Stone and Gada, and the Philosophy of Resistance Training
In an age when everyday life demands less and less of the human body, it often feels as if we are growing further divorced from our nature as moving creatures. As the gym becomes the only sphere of life in which real physical exertion is experienced, our understanding and performance of exercise grows all the more distant—we get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, using machines that isolate the muscles and limit the body’s movement. Our blood, sweat, and labor are transformed into numbers, cold steel, and increments of time. In this thesis I call upon the wisdom of both ancient and nascent strength communities to offer a perspective on exercise that is more human but does not lose sight of the importance of empirical data and quantitative values. In doing so, I give a brief account of the evolutionary histories of two not-so-typical exercise implements—the Atlas Stone and gada—as well as the myths and peoples to which they are tethered by history, legend, and science. Following my examination of the implements, I outline a three-phase exercise routine that synthesizes exercises performed using them with contemporary training principles and methodologies. Thus, in drawing upon the wisdom of the Indian wrestling and European stone lifting communities, I propose the need to cultivate a fitness culture that marries ancient techniques and attitudes with empirical findings and innovative technologies to produce trainees that are smarter, fitter, and greater in number.
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“Dance a Clean Dream”: Agency In Language In Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons
In the words of Gertrude Stein: "Composition is the difference." Tender Buttons, her poetry collection published in 1914, is one of the most compositionally daring and misunderstood works within the modernist canon. Stein's composition brings into existence a way of seeing words: she forms her own use of language, both interpreting the rules of grammar and showing clear linguistic choices. In Tender Buttons, the word becomes the microcosm for larger philosophical issues embedded within language: identity, the body, being and knowing, and power. My thesis will closely observe how Stein's poems lend themselves to productive dialogs and/or cross fertilization with the linguistic theories of 20th century language philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, and Valentin Voloshinov. In placing Stein in conversation with these philosophers, I hope to draw Stein in closer proximity to popular language theory and introduce new lenses to help perceive her work. More importantly, I hope to show how uniquely Stein challenges and pushes the boundaries of language, demonstrating to her readers the practice of choice and intent in the language of the everyday.
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The View from an Open Window: Soviet Censorship Policy from a Musician’s Perspective
Under the leadership of Joseph Stalin from 1924 to 1953, censorship notoriously became a central aspect of Soviet society. As citizens were rewarded for exposing any possible opposition to the government’s policies, no sector was left unmarked by what scholars now call the “Great Purge.” While music was not an obvious victim of this movement, the Soviet music scene nonetheless found itself at the forefront of government criticism and reform. In this thesis, I conduct case-studies of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and his Fifth Symphony, as well as Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky film soundtrack and his cantata Zdravitsa. Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District brought its composer, and Soviet music as a whole, to the disapproving eye of Soviet censorship policy, while Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony saved him from further consequences. Alexander Nevsky and Zdravitsa played instrumental roles in Prokofiev’s reintegration into Soviet society after spending years abroad. I examine the Zhdanov Affair of 1948, in which both prominent and upcoming composers were called into a government conference concerning the unsavory music production in the Soviet Union, as a central event in the history of censorship. Music magnifies the inherent futility of censorship, and as such, I use this investigation in conjunction with the case-studies to evaluate censorship practices within society: past, present, Soviet, and beyond.
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Humanities Honors Theses 2020 (1)
Fang de Siècle: The Literary Vampire’s Destruction of Western Patriarchy
Although vampire lore has existed in various communities, countries, and times, the stereotypical creature that makes us cover our necks or, perhaps, feel a longing desire to be bitten, originates in the Victorian era. Examining texts from the eighteenth into the twenty-first centuries, I argue that vampire literature reveals and challenges the throughline of Victorian patriarchal binary in western society. Often, the authors of these stories, Bram Stoker among them, placed the vampire in a simple binary of good and evil, using the monster to prove patriarchy's morality and validity. As the typical demonic character, the vampire has maintained elements that Victorianism imbued it with--such as piercing fangs, fear of the light, association with the devil, and sexual promiscuity. And, although stories like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (2005) transform the vampire from evil monster to romantic lover, these characteristics remain. Ironically, however, despite the best efforts of some vampire authors to make the creature unfavorable, the vampire always disproves the efficacy of patriarchal structures. As a subversive figure, the vampire inherently attacks the offensive stereotypes thrown upon it by embracing viciousness. Through sexual promiscuity, for example, the vampire exhibits to women the power in bodily autonomy. As a creature that infiltrates the home, the vampire displays the home and nuclear family as sinister patriarchal institutions that trap women. The vampire’s true potential, then, is not as evil foil but active revealer--showing patriarchy’s illegitimacy and desperate need to formulate lies to maintain its existence. I also examine intentionally subversive vampire tales, such as Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (1991) and Octavia Butler’s Fledgling (2005), to demonstrate the vampire’s social power in its fullest extent. In these cases, the authors intend the vampire to disprove patriarchy in its various forms, allowing the creature to attack patriarchy directly. I propose that vampire media, which centers in Victorian social and literary tradition, reflects patriarchal lies and offers truth through targeted resistance.
Humanities Honors Theses 2021 (1)
Identity Negotiation and Resistance in Dungeons & Dragons Liveshow Critical Role
Over the last two decades, Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG), transformed from a niche subculture to a mainstream aspect of popular culture. Tabletop gamers now utilize new media to create “actual play” experiences, in which a group of people play TTRPGs for an audience. In traditional tabletop, Dennis Waskul and Matt Lust propose that role-playing engenders three unique roles within one person, that of the person, the player, and the persona. In this thesis, I propose that actual play TTRPGs necessitate the addition of a fourth role: the performer. Because of the nature of live television and theatre, both the actors and the audience experience the effects of this fourth role, in recorded actual play and live actual play. I will explore how the division of self into four tangible roles reveals in and out of game identity negotiation. Through a case study of one of the most popular actual play shows, Critical Role, this thesis aims to uncover the ways in which a new type of media—the D&D liveshow—both performs and inspires new conceptions of personhood for players and viewers alike. My close reading and case study thus far suggest that play, the medium of D&D itself, engenders social recreation at the table, and therefore outside of the table, due to how closely the game mimics life and how the roles necessitated to play the game reflect real-life social roles. CR, and at large the new genre of the D&D liveshow, gives players, naïve and experienced, not only the permission and example, but also the opportunity, to take rules and break them.
Humanities Honors Theses 2022 (6)
Dead Air: A History of NPR’s Creation & Exclusion of Marginalized Communities
This thesis examines the ways NPR failed to serve marginalized communities by analyzing the history and creation of the National Public Radio network. NPR was created on the founding mission statement that promised to represent the diversity of America and to provide programming that would supplement a lack of representation or opportunities on American airwaves, such as adult education programs. This mission statement was to also uphold the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) requirement of serving the public interest in order to justify NPR’s programming being on air. However, using the research study, Audience 88, conducted by NPR’s lead Research Analyst, David Giovannoni. NPR’s main audience was revealed to be educated, middle to upper class, older White people. This thesis asks the question, how did a radio network built with a focus on inclusivity fail to capture and serve a diverse audience?
Comfort Women: A Tragedy Posed as a Controversy
Comfort women were sex slaves forcibly taken and used by the Japanese imperial army during WW2. These women were often poor and uneducated. These women were taken from many places across Asia, however, I specifically will focus on Korean comfort women. Comfort women were women who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese army. This is where the controversy starts. Japan refuses to state they were sex slaves but rather prostitutes. This is the controversy when engaging in discussion about comfort women. I am studying why it is considered a controversy versus a tragedy. Other works focus on the tragedy of comfort women, why it happened or what allowed it to happen. However, it does not focus on why on an international-scale we allowed people and a whole nation, Japan, to deny that these women were sex slaves. Finding translations, government documents, and first hand testimonies were important in understanding the reason why this tragedy is posed as a controversy. After researching, it was discovered that due to colonization, sexism, language, racism, and the historical circumstances around Korea after the second world war ended is what allowed these women’s lives to be contested. The hope is to broaden the understanding of these women’s experiences and how Japan was not the only offender in failing them and hurting them.
The Sacred Revolution: The Art of Propaganda in North Korea
Thirty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and while most former and current communist states have integrated themselves into the global economy, North Korea is still largely, and fiercely, resistant to it. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with millions living without electricity and suffering from malnutrition. It is also one of the most repressive regimes in contemporary times, with hundreds of thousands imprisoned and tortured without probable cause, compelled to perform forced labor in a vast network of concentration camps. Typically, widespread destitution and oppression inspire liberal reforms or democratic revolutions, but neither have happened in North Korea. This raises the question of how the regime has maintained internal control so effectively for so long. One explanation for its survival is the pervasive security apparatus, but mass surveillance and state-sanctioned violence cannot be the exclusive explanations. One of the key ways cultures maintain stability without coercion is religion, which can be defined as a belief system adhered to by a community and supported through behaviors that result in a desired psychological state. This article argues that the ruling-Kim dynasty’s personality cult functions as a state religion that regulates the daily lives of North Koreans and contributes to the regime’s survival. Using Émile Durkheim’s religious framework and Clifford Geertz’s thick description I will examine propaganda works, social institutions, and defector testimonies to understand and explain the efficacy of the myths and rituals of the state.