by Sophie Hilker ’20
One of the many end of the year events we in the English department most look forward to is watching the culmination of an extensive, year-long study in literature or creative writing in a presentation from our Honors students. Although we were not able to host Honors defenses in person this year, three senior English majors, Julia Joy, Sophia Schlesinger, and Xavier Xin, bravely ventured into the unknown and defended their Honors Projects virtually via Zoom in April 2020.
Julia Joy, a Creative Writing major, devoted her Honors Project to creating a collection of poetry, titled Red Letter Day with instruction and mentorship from her advisor, Professor Marlon James, as well as from a member of her defense committee, Professor Michael Prior.
Sophia Schlesinger, an English Literature major, created a thesis titled “Bodies in the Margins: Refiguring the Rebetika as Literature” with the help of her advisor, Department Chair and Professor, Andrea Kaston Tange. The abstract for Sophia’s paper is as follows:
“This thesis engages a literary analysis of a corpus of songs and recordings known as the rebetika (sing. rebetiko), which prospered in the port districts of major cities throughout the Aegean in the early 20th century. Engaging the rebetika as literary texts, I argue, helps us understand how they have functioned as a kind of pressure point on the borders between nation and Other. Without making unproveable biographical claims about the motives of the music progenitors, I examine why so many have reached for the rebetika as texts with which to articulate various political and cultural desires. Using a multidisciplinary theoretical framework that includes Elaine Scarry, Stuart Hall, Edward Said, Mark C. Jerng, and Judith Butler, I track the ways the rebetika are implicated in the social marking and rendering of different kinds of bodies. I argue that through the devices of metaphor and metonymy, the songs, recordings, and lyrics of the rebetika preserve the memory of state violence and the experience of bodies in exile and, in doing so, clashed with contemporaneous processes of negotiating Greek national identity and policing the geosocial borders of “Europe.” I also examine the kinds of meanings and body formations that secondary materials about the rebetika discursively produce. I ultimately argue that the rebetika provide a useful narrative vocabulary for talking about different kinds of marginality.”
Jiawen “Xavier” Xin, an English Literature major, crafted his thesis “Parsing a Victorian Sensation: The Literary Mechanics of Evolutionary Science in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation” with his advisor, Professor Sierra Lomuto. Xavier described his project in the abstract featured below:
“In popular understanding, the history of evolutionary theory knows one name—Charles Darwin—and one date—1859. Late in the second week of October, 1844, however, the publication of an anonymous work titled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation would alter the course of evolutionary theory in Victorian society. Reaching more than a hundred thousand readers across social classes and politics, Vestiges overtook Origin of Species in popularity, brought evolution—a taboo topic at the time—into mainstream discussion, and became one of the greatest sensations of its time. In this thesis, I argue that a literary analysis of this book of science is central to helping us understand how Vestiges accomplished its contemporary status as one of the definitive sensations of the Victorian era. My analysis, beyond showing how the literary mechanics of Vestiges is central to its mass appeal, further highlights that science is made as much through observation and logic as through the literary mechanics of the prose that expresses it. Directing the lens of literary analysis to Victorian scientific prose reveals the ways in which literary strategies are central to knowledge production and dissemination. Such method therefore affords us a more complete and complicated understanding of the history of evolutionary theory in particular, and science in general. In Chapter 1, I show how Robert Chambers’ (the posthumously revealed author) narratorial voice creates a “democratic” process of knowledge production; and in Chapter 2, I explore the rhetorical strategies Chambers employs to reconcile the growing religious and political anxieties surrounding the emerging disciplines of science. I conclude by situating Vestiges in its broader context of the British empire and tracing its troubling legacies in Darwin’s Origin and modern-day racism. This project demonstrates the importance of Humanities in a STEM-focused world. Literary analysis not only helps us understand how scientific ideas are able to gain cultural authority, but also reveals how science itself is produced through literary strategies.”
Congratulations to Julia, Sophia, and Xavier, not only for your outstanding devotion to your studies culminating in your wonderful projects and passing your defenses, but for succeeding under such extenuating and uncertain circumstances. You have made the English Department proud, and we commend you all on your hard work.