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.

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