One thing that you should never ask a senior is how their thesis is going. While at times they might be super excited to talk about it, they may also be perplexed by a lack of direction and drowning in research material. This week, The Argus spared you the possibility of an awkward interaction by asking some distinguished seniors about their summer thesis research. Read below to learn more about how the University’s brightest minds are applying their skills in the realm of academia.
Unlike most majors at the University, the Studio Art Department obliges its students to complete theses. Spencer Klink ’24 spoke to The Argus about his experience with various art methods, the process of exploration, and trusting himself in preparation for his thesis.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about [my] topic, and I think my goal is to create artwork that’s representative of myself,” Klink said. “[So that involves] figuring out what it means to be Spencer Klink as an artist—specifically, trusting my brain to make whatever conceptual connections it can make.”
Klink explains how his background in printmaking has helped him conceptualize what art means.
“I think the interesting thing for me about printmaking is that it’s repetitive and reproductive,” Klink said. “That for me is really interesting because that’s where my creative voice comes through in the recreation of this image multiple times…. I realized that there’s the potential to both create meaning out of the fact that a certain image or representation is repeated, or you can destroy meaning by doing that [too]. What my printmaking concentration has taught me is to think about what repetitively doing something means for the art I’m making.”
Klink stresses the significance of the research process, advising others to be confident in their abilities and unafraid to explore artistic mediums.
“My goal for this year is to experiment with process,” Klink said. “I was trying to think of a more specific idea or concept, but every time I tried limiting the scope of my artwork, I found that it felt like a creative limitation rather than a gateway into a new investigation.”
To fulfill his goal, Klink explored a plethora of artistic methods and techniques this summer. Klink has also ventured into new mediums beyond printmaking.
“I started by teaching myself how to paint, which is really interesting because I’ve never had academic training with painting,” Klink said. “I think what I realized is that there’s no correct understanding of what an artist should do. At one point during the summer, I was working on canvas and I was trying to paint with acrylic on canvas…. But what I realized is that I’m not really drawn to canvas as a material, so I ripped it off and started working with something new. And that decision to use my own fabric and to try collaging rather than just making a typical painting showed me that I should both lean into my emotions more with art and trust how I’m feeling when creating.”
Pivoting to the realm of libraries and archives, The Argus spoke to some students pursuing social science and humanities theses, some of whom even got the chance to live abroad. With remarkable attention to detail, these patient minds completed vast reviews of archives and fieldwork research.
Hazel Allison-Way ’24 spent their summer living in Amsterdam, investigating the experiences of asylees.
“I’m looking at the process of claiming asylum in the Netherlands on the basis of persecution for your sexual orientation or gender identity in your home country,” Allison-Way said. “I was trying to figure out a way to synthesize my interest in the College of Social Studies [(CSS)] and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I’ve been doing research about [this topic] in various countries, including Canada, the U.S., and the Netherlands since my sophomore year, but the Netherlands was one of the first countries that had this asylum track.”
Allison-Way also had the opportunity to study abroad in Amsterdam earlier that year, helping them prepare for their research process and transition to living in Amsterdam over the summer.
“I was working with a professor from the University of Amsterdam and using my own network a little bit as well,” Allison-Way said. “I spent the first week of my research time basically door knocking, in-person or over the phone, to different resource centers until a couple were like, ‘Yeah, you can hang out here and do participant observation research.’”
Starting out with a theoretical framework, Allison-Way’s time in Amsterdam allowed their thesis to evolve and include firsthand perspectives.
“It’s going to be really grounded in the stories of the people who I met when I was there, so there’s that real-life component to the theory now,” Allison-Way said.
Similarly, Ethan Geiger ’24—also a CSS major—traveled to London for his thesis research.
“In short, I am looking at this piece of legislation from the UK that was enacted in 1988—Section 28 of the Local Government [Act]—which bans the promotion of homosexuality in public institutions,” Geiger said. “I’m looking at how the public view of the British Conservative Party evolved during the lifespan of that bill, and just talking about the instrumental use of queerness in politics, especially when it comes to the new right wing.”
In preparation for his departure from the States, Geiger dedicated time to reading about his topic. However, it was not until his arrival in London that he was able to find a concrete topic.
“I started reading a lot of pre-existing literature—Melinda Cooper, Amia Srinivasan—a lot of gender and political and economic studies people,” Geiger said. “At some point, I just realized that I needed to narrow [my topic] down so I could really dive into the archives. There was a really interesting exhibition at the Barbican Center [in London] about Section 28 that was put on by the Bishopsgate Institute, and I [became] really interested by that exhibition.”
Geiger expanded on the challenging nature of working with massive archives and primary source materials.
“I started working at the [London School of Economics] archives,” Geiger said. “The archive I was looking at is massive. A lot of [my work involved] just combing through stuff and knowing that probably 90% of what I find is not going to be very applicable to what I [need]. There’s this kind of tendency that you want to dive into every document that you see, but you just don’t have time for that.”
In addition to the time that students dedicated to their theses this summer, they got to enjoy other recreational activities during their time away from the University.
“On most days, I would do my research in the morning, and then in the afternoons I would go and I would write my field notes and journal and read in one of Amsterdam’s many parks, which was really nice,” Allison-Way said.
Geiger reflected on how London’s culture compares to that of his hometown, embracing everything that the British capital has to offer.
“London is wonderful,” Geiger said. “The London queer scene is really cool, it’s a very accepting community. I’m from suburban Denver, so it was kind of a big difference being somewhere where I was so well connected. My boyfriend lives in London, so it was really good to spend time with him and just kind of see what the British academia spheres are like.”
Olivia Andrews ’24, who is an art history major and Film Studies minor at the University, spent her summer reconnecting with her familial roots in Cape Verde through the College of the Environment (COE) Summer Research Fellowship, the Khachig Tölölyan Fund, and the Art History John T. Paoletti Travel Research Fellowship.
“My dad’s side of the family is Cape Verdean, so I’m three or four generations removed from [family who lived in] Cape Verde,” Andrews said. “Through the College of the Environment Fellowship, I did research on my family’s farm in Cape Cod, started by my great-grandfather when he first arrived in the U.S. And I went back to the island of Fogo, where he is from, and [reconnected] with my long lost family.”
Through funding from the COE, Andrews analyzed agricultural differences between smaller villages and larger plantations, comparing and contrasting the practices of farming plots on the island of Santiago with those of her great-grandfather’s farm on Cape Cod. Through funding from the Art History Department, she also sought to understand the artistic traditions of Cape Verdean culture.
“It’s very important to me that what I do is actually contributing something new to society,” Andrews said. “I feel like there’s so much written about German-Christian art and not a lot written about African art, especially art from the places where my family comes from.”
While her art history project initially aimed to explore the emergence of Cape Verdean visual culture following the nation’s independence in 1975, Andrews soon discovered that the country’s artistic and visual practices were much more deeply rooted.
“As I was starting to read more about [West African art] I was like there obviously was visual culture before [colonization] which actually influenced a lot of mainstream Western art,” Andrews said. “After independence, there was kind of a push to use the artisanal crafts that were made before independence and kind of rework them into a more modern art landscape.”
Recognizing the interaction between traditional artistic practices and post-colonial efforts to cultivate creative and national identity, Andrews spoke with local curators and artists to trace the development of the country’s contemporary visual and artistic style.
“You really see this romanticized longing for Cape Verde in [Morabeza] traditional images,” Andrews said. “They are often very nostalgic, even though maybe that’s not what it’s like there. The [government tends to] fund that type of art because it’s showing a positive image of Cape Verde. But once I actually spoke with artists, I learned that there’s also a more contemporary [movement] which is more honest about the violence and racism in Cape Verde, [one that is] very critical of the government and trying to reckon with this social history…and the confusion of the identity of a Cape Verdean to being pulled between West Africa and Europe.”
In preparation for her trip to Cape Verde, Andrews studied Creole and Portuguese so she could communicate with locals on the islands of Santiago and Fogo.
“I started [taking lessons] during the winter before I left in late June,” Andrews said. “I wanted to make sure I could have an in-depth conversation [with my family].”
Working with a native person to bridge more difficult language divides, Andrews was able to track down her family and speak to them about their shared history.
“My family is a part of the Baháʼí religion, so I connected with [local] Baháʼís there [who] knew people in Fogo,” Andrews said. “I told them the names of my great-grandfather and his brother, and they were able to identify them.”
Back on campus, Andrews is working with Assistant Professor of Art History Okechukwu Charles Nwafor to convert her summer research into a senior thesis. Grateful for her time in Cape Verde, she urges students at the University to take advantage of all funding opportunities to pursue their passions.
Like Andrews, Hispanic Literatures and Cultures and African American Studies major Eva Weintraub ’24 took advantage of funding from the Davenport Study Grant to pursue her summer research focusing on redevelopment in Middletown.
“Initially I was very interested in local Middletown history after taking [Assistant Professor of the Practice in African American Studies] Jesse Nasta’s first-year seminar on the Beman Triangle and Black and indigenous history,” Weintraub said. “[After] researching current events in Middletown I saw that there was this new project proposed for redeveloping the entire river bend…[and then I became interested in] how the patterns of displacement and housing cycles that come with economic redevelopment in Middletown are ongoing and current.”
After reaching out to Nasta, Weintraub looked through images and documents at the Middlesex County Historical Society depicting redevelopment in Middletown during the mid-20th century. However, she soon realized that sticking to the archive would not be enough to understand the complex history of redevelopment.
“Now my research is much more focused on acquiring sources that are not in the archive yet,” Weintraub said. “[I am super interested in] writing against the archive that exists for redevelopment, which is highly exclusionary and racist in its construction. You get barely half the story.”
Looking toward the upcoming semester, Weintraub hopes to use interviews and images to contribute to the scholarship surrounding Middletown’s history and help uncover the hidden stories of people from Middletown.
Overall, seniors who are writing theses look forward to delving deeper into their respective projects and collaborating with faculty advisors and classmates to round off their education at the University. Just don’t ask them how it’s going.
Eugenia Shakhnovskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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