Redefining Humanities Research

by Carissa Martin, 21C Classics and Chemistry

My honors thesis argues that the chastity test scenes which end two Ancient Greek novels – Leucippe and Cleitophon and the Aithiopika – are spaces for performance. I explore how these scenes use deception and manipulation to resolve the novels’ narrative and metanarrative anxieties about chastity and endings. I knew the questions of gender, sexuality, genre, and narrative theory in my project would need answers from disciplines beyond my own, but as the pandemic deepened the natural isolation of independent humanities research, I knew that I, too, would need a community to make it through this project. Working alongside other senior honors students at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, I thought, would at the very least be a welcome change from working alone, or one-on-one with my advisor.

Over the course of the spring semester, however, my experiences at the Fox Center transformed my idea of what interdisciplinary humanities research could (and should) look like. Our monthly meetings and weekly works-in-progress events introduced me to disciplines and methodologies I was only tangentially aware of, and our regular reflections on the process of research pushed me to think more carefully about how and why I was making the arguments I made in my thesis. The intersections I saw between my work and the work of the other FCHI Undergraduate Fellows grew with each monthly meeting, despite the very different natures of our projects. The graduate and post-graduate Fox Center Fellows were incredibly generous with their insights and advice, and they offered inspiring examples of how to integrate interdisciplinary approaches throughout a long-term project. Dr. Walter Melion, Keith Anthony, Colette Barlow, and all the Fox Center Fellows cultivated an atmosphere of excitement, humility, and encouragement which allowed me to feel comfortable as I explored new ways of thinking, researching, presenting, and giving and receiving feedback.

I have deeply appreciated the Fox Center’s financial and professional support this semester, but I think I am most grateful that the FCHI community practices such humility, joy, and collaboration in their work. As I enter graduate school this fall, I go with an excellent model for the type of research community I hope to find and the type of researcher I want to be.

Carissa Martin is a senior double majoring in Classics and Chemistry. In their thesis, they explore how tests of sophrosyne (chastity or self-control) create the false sense of closure necessary for ending two ancient Greek novels, Leucippe and Cleitophon and the Aithiopika. Through close reading at the narrative and metanarrative levels, Carissa’s thesis aims to show that these tests of sophrosyne use deception and performativity to resolve two problems: the difficulty of ending a polyphonic novel and the anxiety about the hero/ine’s chastity in the face of rape, violence, and captivity. Their project calls into question assumptions about the ‘happy’ and ‘simple’ endings of the ancient Greek novel, and therefore promotes a fuller understanding of the drama, the subtlety, and – most importantly – the humanity of this genre.

Academic Enrichment Through the Fox Center Community

by Colin Hutton, 21C History

My experience as an Undergraduate Fellow at the Fox Center this year has been an intellectually fulfilling capstone to my undergraduate experience at Emory University.

Pursuing, researching, and writing an honors thesis in History was a challenging and rewarding task over the course of this academic year. My honors thesis tells the stories, struggles, victories, and defeats of those made to live in West Virginia Coal Company towns in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. At its core, it argues that the economic transformation of the region in the same period– from an economy primarily organized around subsistence agriculture to one organized around extractive industry– brought lingering poverty and a profound change in the daily lives, survival strategies, labor practices, and cultures of West Virginian households. Receiving feedback, questions, and critique from my peer Fellows and the Fox Center directors about my project has challenged me to situate my research in conversation with other academic fields to present a thorough, well-argued piece of work.

It has been my great pleasure to also think critically about the amazing and ambitious work of my peer Fellows and ask questions of their projects. I have greatly appreciated this opportunity to engage with the work of scholars outside of my academic field. Hearing other Fellows present in the fields of anthropology, literature, sociology, and gender studies has been intriguing and rewarding for me. It has expanded my field of academic interest and motivated me to think about different perspectives and methodologies of research, as well as the great value of approaching a research question from an interdisciplinary angle. These experiences of inquiring, critiquing, and sharing a love of learning with my peers as a Fox Center Fellow has produced a sense of intellectual community this year that I will look back upon with fondness.

Colin Hutton is a senior majoring in History. He is working on an honors thesis that investigates the roles of vegetable gardens in West Virginian coal company towns beginning in the late-nineteenth century as Northeastern industrialists brought capitalist transformation to the Appalachian landscape. His project will explore how coal miners and their families came to undertake strategic subsistence labor alongside coal work and use garden produce as a strategy of maintaining independence from wages and town authority. It will use gardens as a lens into the social and cultural effects of company town living.

Tourism and a Telenovela: Magic and Money in Representations of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

Nayive Sarahi Gaytán, 21C Spanish and History

My honors thesis explores how ideas of the “magical” are used to magnify the existing cultural appeal of tourist destinations in Mexico. I use the Pueblo Mágico, or “magical town” of Tequila in the state of Jalisco as the primary site of my case study. My research questions center on the commodification of the culture and landscape of Tequila the town and its primary cultural product, the beverage tequila. I am particularly interested in how the discourses conveyed through state-sponsored tourism initiatives and privately funded broadcast media promote symbols associated with Mexican national identity. Concepts from film theory and tourism theory inform my analysis. I argue that messaging about Tequila and messaging about Mexican national identity both work to privilege affect and emotion while camouflaging the role of neoliberal financial transactions. Despite highlighting the local and the traditional, I find that these discourses ultimately affirm global capitalism.

In the first chapter, I focus on the history of the Mexican Ministry of Tourism’s Pueblos Mágicos program. In the second chapter, I explain the town of Tequila’s transformation into a tourist destination following its acceptance to the nationwide Pueblos Mágicos program. In the third chapter, I analyze the popular telenovela “Destilando Amor,” which is set in Tequila and is centered around a family-owned tequila corporation, within the context of melodrama. Throughout this project, my goal has been to show how a national strategy for fomenting tourism, by focusing on the local and the regional, on cultural traditions and landscapes, and on the magical and the emotional, is continually revealed to be following the money across the globe.

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has offered me a productive virtual space to interact with brilliant scholars at different stages in their academic careers. It has been wonderful to learn more about my colleagues’ research this semester as we refined our research goals and worked on presenting our research in a cogent and engaging manner to an interdisciplinary audience. The constructive feedback I received throughout this process was tremendously helpful as I worked on (and recently completed!) my thesis. I am grateful for the support because writing this thesis was by far the most challenging academic endeavor I encountered as an undergraduate. I am a first-generation, low-income student and feel confident in my ability to navigate academic spaces without feeling like I have to pretend to be someone I am not. I look forward to continuing with researching and writing in graduate school and hope to join more engaging and supportive communities along the way.

Nayive Gaytán is a senior double-majoring in Spanish and History. She is currently writing an honors thesis on the representations of landscapes and iconic market products associated with Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico in tourism promotional materials and digital broadcast media. Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism named Tequila a pueblo mágico, or magical town in 2003 as part of a nationwide initiative to attract domestic and international tourists to small towns with rich history and culture. She hopes to learn more about how ideas of the “magical” that are used to market these tourist destinations are connected to the creation and promotion of a mythical version of culture in a process we might think of as auto-folklorization. 

Shared Scholarship During the Pandemic

by Cameron Katz, 21C History and English Creative Writing
Fox Center Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

Being an undergraduate humanities fellow at the Fox Center has enhanced my experience in the Emory’s honors program. In the fall semester, I felt isolated from other honors students due to the pandemic. While in normal times, I might have run into other students on campus where we could discuss our projects, such encounters were not possible in the era of coronavirus. The spring semester at the Fox Center, however, allowed me to connect with other honors students, not just in the history department, but in other disciplines as well. I loved hearing about my peers’ research, especially in fields that I knew little about. Although we only met once a month, connecting with other undergraduate fellows as well as other members of the Fox Center helped me to feel like I was part of a larger scholarly community even though my entire thesis was written inside my apartment.

The opportunity to present my research to a group of scholars was also very beneficial. My history honors thesis examines the racial implications of Florida’s felony disenfranchisement law – the rule which revokes a person’s right to vote on account of a felony conviction – which was on the books from 1838 to 2018. Because my temporal framework is so large, working to condense it to a short presentation for an audience less familiar with the history really helped me to streamline my main argument, which I think is one of the most challenging aspects of large projects. Hearing feedback about my presentation allowed me to narrow my presentation even further so that I could convey my work in an accessible and informative manner. Later this month, I will be presenting my research at the Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Symposium so the additional practice at the Fox Center has helped me to prepare. 

I am grateful to the Fox Center for the opportunities it provided to engage with scholarship beyond my discipline, hone my work, and sharpen my presentation skills. As I begin to consider graduate school, I feel lucky to have had a glimpse into the world of the humanistic scholarly inquiry and its community. Thank you very much to Dr. Walter Melion, Keith Anthony, Colette Barlow, and all of the fellows at the Fox Center for their invaluable insight, enthusiasm, and support throughout my fellowship experience.

Cameron Katz is a senior double majoring in History and English Creative Writing. She is currently working on an honors thesis about the history of felony disenfranchisement in Florida, a provision that has prevented incarcerated individuals from exercising their right to vote since 1868. While the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement eventually dismantled other Reconstruction-era voter suppression tactics targeting Black political power, felony disenfranchisement remained. Today, it continues to influence Florida’s electoral process. Cameron’s thesis argues that the reason for this provision’s persistence is its link to criminality, which allowed legislators to adjust their justifications of felony disenfranchisement to fit the racial climate and national crime discourse of the time.