Winter Research…More Work in Progress

In my last blog I wrote about several senior thesis projects on which Wes students have been working. Here are some others:

In art history, Erika Siegel is writing a history of Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscaping plan for the Capitol grounds in Washington, a plan much influenced by the Civil War.  Anne deBoer‘s thesis combines her majors in art history and environmental studies.  It is on the use of water technology in recent major works of Sir Norman Foster, with an emphasis on how Foster’s architectural designs deal with questions of sustainability.

The CSS seniors have, as is often the case, an eclectic crop of senior projects. A couple of years ago I read Chan-young Yang’s excellent CSS thesis on Francis Fukuyama’s understanding of civilization and history, and now Nick Quah is examining Fukuyama on the idea of a transhuman future. While Nick is pointed toward the future, Han Hsien Liew is doing a thesis (with history) on medieval Islamic political thought. Kathlyn Pattillo is writing on the role of the South African teachers’ union in educational reform, while Charmaine Chen is studying blogging and political change in China. And I was surprised to find a CSSer writing a film, but that’s what Mac Schneider is doing. His screenplay is about the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver.

In history, Rachel Tretter is working on Judeo-Christian ascetic traditions and fasting in early modern Europe. BJ Lillis is writing on native American identity in New England, while Aaron Forbath is working on settlers on the Plains. Moving much closer to the present, Jisan Zaman‘s thesis looks at  contradictions in US foreign policy during the Bangladesh War, focusing on the relation of the State Dept and the White House/NSC.

And here are three English department theses that could easily fall under the rubric of history or American studies – with two  looking at recent Wesleyan history. Harry Bartle is working on the connection between Ralph Ellison and Lewis Mumford and their comparable reactions to the transformation of New York City in the 1940s. Bridget Read is using the archive of Wesleyan Professor Fred Millett, who taught here from 1937-1958, to examine larger trends in American history and questions about what it means to tell a true story about the past. Caroline Fox is writing on Race and Student Radicalism: Wesleyan, 1989-1990. Her essay is based on numerous interviews and archival research, and it is sure to produce a fresh understanding of that turbulent time.

In economics, Gil Skilman reports that there is a “bumper crop” of a dozen honors theses writers this year. More than anybody in the department can remember! Here are just two from that stellar group: Ali Chaudhry is doing an econometric analysis of something that governments often don’t willingly reveal:  whether they are following a fixed or freely floating or managed floating exchange rate policy. Zachary Nguyen is studying the financial economics puzzle of why mergers and acquisitions leading to greater corporate diversification persist despite the fact that such diversification typically leads to lower stock values.

Of course, I’ve only mentioned a smattering of the projects being done as capstones this year. There are dozens more students preparing performances, working in labs, writing poems, stories and plays and many are helping each other out. In film, for example, most seniors are part of a crew on at least one film other than their own, and collaboration is a feature of much of the best work we see each year. I am hopeful that team capstones will be featured more prominently in future years.

A few nights ago, walking Mathilde around the Center for the Arts, I stumbled across some students taking a break. Sculptors, painters, printmakers and photographers are already working late into the night to prepare for their senior shows. And faculty artists, too, are burning the midnight oil. David Schorr has a show opening at the Davison Gallery in February, a show that will then open at Mary Ryan Gallery in Chelsea. Kari and I ran into David last night at the opening of Tula Telfair’s amazing painting exhibition, Out of Sight: Imaginary Landscapes at Forum Gallery in New York. We saw many colleagues at the gallery, and several students were there to celebrate the work of a great teacher and extraordinary artist!




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