Almost two months ago, The Argus sat down with eight seniors to discuss their burgeoning theses. Now, as dreams of Thanksgiving dance through students’ heads and the first semester rapidly draws to a close, we caught up with some of those same seniors to check in on the progress of their theses.
Nina Gurak ’16
Majors: Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies (FGSS) and Government
To recap: Gurak ’16 is doing her thesis for the FGSS major. Over the course of the year, she plans to examine comedy as a tactic or tool of resistance in anti-violence movements, specifically sexual violence. The last time we interviewed her she summed her project simply as “how to tell an empowering rape joke.”
Currently, Gurak is working on the first chapter of her thesis, which examines comedy theory more broadly.
“It’s what makes people laugh and why, and the role of the comedian and also the audience in determining that,” she said.
She went on to emphasize that this chapter will be a more in-depth analysis of comedic speech, and hopes to look at how we take something lightly, but also seriously at the same time. She hopes to use the Daniel Tosh rape joke incident as a starting point to talk about comedic speech.
“[The chapter is about] joking versus threats versus something in-between there, and the problems with legal intervention from listeners,” she said.
When asked to explain why she chose to start with this particular aspect of her thesis, Gurak emphasized the fact that the nuances of comedy are often overlooked.
“Many feminist scholars who talk about comedy don’t really look at it that seriously,” she said.
Gurak believes it’s important that she understand the basics of comedy and the psychology of comedy before she critiques comedic speech and applies it through feminist theory. She hopes that research and understanding of comedy will set her up for her second chapter, which will address rape jokes.
“What sucks about them and why,” she explained. “Why they’re funny, and why they’re important to look at. And how they fit into a larger context of rape in America, and what that means.”
Gurak’s last chapter will address what she calls “the anti-rape joke”: how we can joke about rape in a way that unveils a larger truth to society. When asked to give an example of a good “anti-rape joke,” she points to Amy Schumer’s sketch, “Football Night Lights.” Within the video, Schumer makes a larger statement on rape culture within football in America by parodying the television show Friday Night Lights.
Helen Handelman ’16
Majors: Religious Studies and Theater
When we last sat down with Handelman, she discussed her passion for the moon and her plans to examine how lunar conquest and ideas of accessing the moon have played large roles in human culture. She had also discussed her plans of a performance piece that would work in conjunction with her thesis, exploring the moon in a more embodied way, rather than an intellectual one.
Handelman maintained that her concept has stayed largely the same. Like Gurak, Handelman is currently working on the first chapter of her thesis, which is about 17th-century France and looks at the work of French philosopher, Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle.
“Fontenelle wrote a book in the 1600s about a conversation between these two people who are discussing the potential existence of the plurality of worlds,” Handelman said.
Handelman noted that Fontenelle’s work brings up conquest.
“[It’s about] the possibility of getting to the moon, [and] if there are people who will live on the moon,” she said.
Fontenelle strongly relies on colonial language, and Handelman hopes to tackle this topic in a draft before Thanksgiving.
Handelman discussed the performance aspect of her piece, which occurred November 13-15th in the Van Vleck Observatory. The piece, entitled “(moon),” explored many of the aspects of Handelman’s thesis, as well as other lunar literature, the moon in other popular forms, and tackled myths about the moon.
“We created a thing… I didn’t give a lot of information about it [to the general public],” Handelman stated, in describing the performance. “We created the whole thing in rehearsal, we didn’t use any pre-existing text or story as a narrative, [and] we shaped our own thing.”
Flora Donovan ’16
Major: Art History
Flora Donovan began the thesis process with an interest in what compels curators to choose the exhibitions they do, and why they choose to display artwork that could be seen as polarizing. Building off of that, she hoped to explore the exhibition history of the Whitney Museum from about 1985 to 1995, by focusing on two exhibitions specifically, the 1993 Biennial Exhibition and the 1994-1995 show entitled “Black Male.”
When asked to fill us in on the progress of thesis, Donovan laughed.
“My thesis is going fine,” she said. “I think I’m behind on writing… but I think its okay. I have a schedule, so I’m going to get there.”
Now done with the first part of her research, Donovan has begun to work on her introduction and developing her ideas.
“Before I was thinking of a certain time period, and now I’m thinking more about the intellectual discourse during the 1980s and 1990s, and how that is relevant to art and how it is exhibited,” she said.
After interviewing one of the curators of the exhibits she is focusing on, Donovan became increasingly aware of the importance of the intellectual discourse of the name, specifically intersectionality and essentialism.
Nick Murphy ’16
Majors: Government and College of the Environment
“Since we last met, I’ve been getting all the groundwork in,” Murphy said. “A lot of outlining happens in the fall, and I think it’s finally at a point where it’s what it’s going to be.”
Murphy’s thesis concerns carbon pricing in the United States.
“I’m engaging more heavily in an anti-carbon trading rhetoric and distinguishing a carbon tax as a price signal, as opposed to a market-based instrument,” he said.
Currently, Murphy is trying to condense his thesis, and the various political and environmental ideas surrounding its subject, into why it’s important to argue for a carbon tax as the best and most viable chance of de-centering “cap and trade” from the international climate discussion.
“I’ve tried to engage more with the critique of those conversations from the outside, and finding the balance of this pragmatism of what’s really best for environmental, social, economic—the three pillars of sustainability in the end, and by whose definition,” he said. “While at the same time, checking myself along the why, or checking a carbon tax as why it should remain a desired policy, why doing it right is so important and what it could change.”
Finally, Murphy made sure to emphasize that thesis is not about a carbon tax as the perfect solution. Instead, he notes that there is more to be done, and hopes to end with a section that concerns what comes next.
Zacko Brint ’16
Majors: History and French Studies
Brint’s thesis, tentatively titled “Assessing the Memory of Foreign Jews in France who Fought in the French Army during WWII,” examines the experiences of this group in the war. Brint’s interest in the subject began when he was studying abroad and taking a contemporary Jewish history class. During a class visit to a cemetery, Brint noticed a monument to Jewish veterans who died for France.
“I looked it up online, and found this association—the children of French Jews who enlisted in the military,” he said. “I was interested from a history perspective, looked for stuff, there was nothing.”
The importance in Brint’s thesis lies in the fact that the historiography has been mainly focused on the resistors or Holocaust survivors. No one talks about the engagement.
Now, however, Brint will be focusing on the periods of time before and after war, and how those communities transitioned and changed. The main question: How did the war affect Communist Jews?
Brint does admit that there is little material to work with, as this subject has never really been researched in the past. This has led him to cross-match sources.
“So, in one case I was looking at lists of people who died, and then I was seeing if they were at all remembered in post-war groups,” he said.
Essentially, Brint has been analyzing the group name by name. The next step is to place his research within literature that has been written on related subjects. This related literature includes French-Communist literature, international-Communist literature, literature on Jewish-French relations, and literature on the relationship between immigrant Jews and French Jews.
“There are a lot of players here, and that speaks to the Communist Jew identity,” he said.
Zachary Kaufman ’16
Majors: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Kaufman currently works in the lab of Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell, who studies geologic climate change in the Antarctic.
Since we last talked, Kaufman’s project has changed in two ways. He was originally planning to do the BA/MA program, which would allow him to spend a longer time on his project. Now, he is planning to spend a few extra months on campus and get a paper out of it instead. He has also attended a geology conference, at which he heard “inspiring talks” and received data.
“I have most of my data,” he said. “There’s a lab at Columbia that needs to process some of my samples… so I’m just waiting to hear back from them. Just have to do the writing and analyze my results when I get them.”