by Hannah Rose Blakeley 15C
I’ve met the woman I share a desk with at the Fox Center only once, at the introductory meeting of the undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellows. Somehow, despite all the hours I’ve worked there, I’ve never seen her again—we continue to operate, as if by agreement, on perfectly complementary schedules. But I know she’s been there working, too, because her stuff moves. The yellow legal pad scribbled with notes and the black Moleskine swap places on the desk; the pink highlighter, ballpoint pen, and #2 pencil rotate in their blue glass “CHI”-stamped mug.
Researching and writing an honors thesis can get lonely. The intensity of focus required for such a project demands quiet, which easily tips into isolation. Last semester the distractions and temptations of social interaction that are inevitable in library studying often pushed me to retreat to my apartment to read and write, and although I enjoy time by myself, the routine began to feel monotonous. (And how soon I discovered the extent to which monotony threatens creativity.)
The shared undergraduate office in the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry offers the ideal middle ground. I find myself with 24/7 access to a quiet space to work, in which I am also surrounded by people. I greet another Fellow while I refill my (complimentary!) coffee, or I exchange a few words with Mr. Anthony or Ms. Barlow on my way to collect my (equally complimentary!) printing, after which I might visit the fridge to pick up a leftover Alon’s sandwich—evidence of the Center’s larger, thriving community and events schedule, as well as its graciousness to hungry undergraduates. Most importantly, though, I work in a room with two other students in my exact situation: grappling with the task of creating a coherent—because let’s be honest, coherency is arguably the main concern at this point in the semester—honors thesis.
Sometimes when I’m in the office and in need of a short break, I glance over the other students’ stacks of books on the shelves. The variety in subject matter unfailingly amazes me: I find collections of short stories, volumes of letters, books on photography, race, dance. In that diverse mix I recognize the specificity of my own project, which compares a six-sheet print cycle, A Weavers’ Rebellion by German draftsman and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), to the play that inspired it, drawing on critical analyses by Bertolt Brecht and Peter Szondi to help elucidate Kollwitz’s artistic strategies and the ways her cycle functions politically. In reflecting on my own interests, I also imagine the individualized depth and precision of knowledge in the other Fellows’ work.
The office and general support system provided by the Fox Center transforms the experience of writing an honors thesis from a solitary endeavor to a companionable and inspiring effort among other driven scholars, encouraging me to proceed with my own project with renewed optimism and energy.