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A focal point for the humanities at Emory University.

Visiting the Leprosaria: My Invaluable Experience as a Fox Center Fellow

by Alexandra Llovet, 19C
Biology and Spanish and Portuguese

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I spent just one week in Minas Gerais, Brazil. In that brief time window, I found new data, perspectives, and objectives for a project I had started the year before on the stigma of leprosy. I was headed to Sao Paulo to continue my project over the summer on a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences. The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry and the Halle Institute for Global Research funded an additional week of research in Minas working alongside Dr. Jessica Fairley, a physician and epidemiologist specialized in leprosy research.  I spent most of my time in Minas shadowing at a specialized infectology hospital where I came to understand how the Brazilian healthcare system treats leprosy patients today. I witnessed the severe consequences of untreated leprosy, a disease that is completely curable with antibiotics, and I heard patients tell tragic stories of discrimination because of the stigma of leprosy. Despite leprosy’s curability since the 1940s, patients still face rejection because of their disease.

Compulsory isolation of leprosy patients in Brazil began in 1923 and was not outlawed until 1976 (although some research suggest that isolation went on for longer). I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Santa Isabel, a leprosaria that still houses hundreds of patients. Each patient mentioned the exact date the police had brought them to the leprosaria. Their lives took a drastic turn on that date because of a diagnosis. Outcasted from society, the leprosy patients were excited to meet me, a curious college student simply trying to understand. For them, it was a rare occurrence, someone cared to listen to their stories. I gathered as many of the narratives as I could, and my project took on new meaning. Even if it was just within the small Emory community, I was helping them retell their traumas and spread awareness of the longstanding consequences of discriminatory healthcare policy.

My project was an interdisciplinary analysis of the sources of the stigma of leprosy. I wondered why the perception of leprosy as a contagious, disfiguring, and fatal disease had not changed despite advances in clinical care and breakthroughs for patients’ rights. I found that the longevity of the stigma is related to a combination of factors: religion, pop culture references, and patient isolation to name a few. To establish this analysis, I used a large variety of sources: patient narratives, medical records, short stories, poems, novels, and paintings. The Fox Center was an incredible asset in the writing process. The network of professors, graduate students, and peers helped me strengthen my argument when I dealt with disciplines I had never explored before like Art History and Religion Studies. Furthermore, discussions at the Fox Center helped me realize holes in my writing that needed clarification. The environment challenged me to be a better researcher and writer, and the experiences I had both at the hospital and the leprosaria with their funding changed the way I see healthcare and my future role as a physician.

Alexandra Llovet is a senior on the Pre-Medicine track, double majoring in Biology and Spanish and Portuguese. Her research focuses on the stereotyping of Hansen’s disease (in derogatory terms, leprosy) patients in Brazil. Alexandra began her research on this topic during the summer of 2017 and continued the project the following summer. She visited two patient isolation colonies, shadowed doctors in a reference center hospital and gathered literary pieces to see the different faces of Hansen’s. Her thesis has an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates first-hand accounts of patients and artistic sources as representations of the disease in twentieth and twenty-first century Brazil.

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My Honors Thesis: A Collection of Poems

by Nathan Blansett, 19C
English and Creative Writing
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My honors thesis in creative writing is a collection of poems entitled Material. Material is primarily about sexuality and its interferences with artifice, knowledge, history, and the sensation of being differenced. Henri Cole has told us that the composition of poems comes out of the composition of lives. In the same way that Daniel Mendelsohn once described James Merrill as a poet who “became willing to grapple with things themselves, rather than the intellectualized or aestheticized symbols of things,” my book’s changing art reflects a changing life, as its youthful speaker moves from the abstract to the concrete, to the actual and real, the materiality of love and self-knowledge.

I am drawn to poems that are exercises in austerity and litheness; their conceit allows for my favorite potential feature of the lyric: secretiveness.

My time at the Fox Center has been germinal for the pruning, ordering, and completion of this project, particularly because it has prompted me to consider how my artistic—rather than critical—work can nonetheless engage with theory. Though my honors thesis is not a critical treatise, my body of work feels just as engaged with queer, literary, and art historical discourses. Art holds the ability not to confirm or ramify theory, but to revise, daringly modify, and expand it. Because the histories of my education and my more inward experience are inextricable from each other, it is important to me that I think critically about the book in terms of the history of gay art. I think that my work belongs to a highly sensitized, sublimated, and distant mode of gay art, registering the alienation that queerer behavior begets. My time at the Fox Center has also helped me work on newer, longer poems which I intend to include in a future permutation of the book.

Nathan Blansett is a senior at Emory majoring in English and Creative Writing. He is the recipient of a summer fellowship from the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell, a 2017-2018 Stipe Arts Fellowship, a Johnston Fellowship for Travel and Research in Austria, and an assistantship at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. His honors thesis in creative writing, a collection of poems provisionally titled Germinal, centers on sexuality, desire, artifice, and history.

Invaluable Honors Fellowship

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by Sam Rao, 19C
Spanish and Portuguese

Even though I’ve only been here at the Fox Center for a short time, the depth of discussion and exchange of ideas has been amazing for me to experience. It has forced me to think about the implications of my project and its significance beyond its context. I am writing my thesis on the diffusion of psychoanalysis in Argentina, and how a specific form of treatment, the multifamily group therapy session, impacts individuals. I spent 6 weeks in Buenos Aires, the capital city, attending these sessions as a participant-observer, gathering notes on the contributions of participants. My aim was to demonstrate a cultural view of mental health that is different from my own understanding coming from the United States, and also to provide real-world examples of treatment in action. The Fox Center has been instrumental to my understanding of not only my own project, but also to forming my point of view about the world around me.

In my project, I recount personal stories from participants about their struggles and experiences. As an ethnographic researcher, I had to accurately and unbiasedly portray these narratives in a thoughtful and nuanced way in which I could draw broader, more universal conclusions that could apply outside of the psychoanalytic or Argentine context. Some of them were heartbreaking stories of suffering, other more mundane feelings or emotions. However, sometimes it was difficult for me to make sense of them in a way that would be relevant and engaging to my thesis. The weekly lunches at the Fox Center really inspired me to form my own voice as a researcher. The amazing quality of presentations by the fellows showed me that research can be personal just as much as it is academic. In addition, the 2 roundtable discussions among the undergraduate honors fellows contributed a positive exchange of ideas that helped all of us better formulate our questions and frameworks for our projects. I will forever be grateful to be part of such an outstanding academic community!

Sam Rao is a senior on the pre-medical track majoring in Spanish and Portuguese. His senior thesis is a comparison of models of mental healthcare in Argentina and the United States. Argentine society, particularly in the capital of Buenos Aires, is heavily involved in the discipline of psychoanalysis and encourages individuals to share openly their mental health as a form of treatment. On the other hand, American treatment of mental health is more medicalized and relies primarily on prescription of medication. Sam traveled to Argentina in the summer of 2018 to observe psychoanalytic group therapy sessions in order to gather ethnographic data. He hopes to use this thesis to learn more about cultural understandings of health and how that could improve treatment outcomes as a prospective physician.

Interest in Brazilian Culture Leads to My Honors Thesis on Family Planning

by Daniella Gonzalez, 19C
Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, and Spanish and Portuguese
Fox Center Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

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I enrolled in my first Portuguese class during my first semester attending Emory given my interest in Brazilian culture. Little did I know at the time that Brazil and the Portuguese language would become incredibly important to me throughout the next four years. During my junior year, I was given the opportunity to conduct research in Brazil with Dr. Jeffrey Lesser and his research team. Upon my arrival, Dr. Lesser and fellow undergraduate researchers introduced me to the healthcare providers of a public primary healthcare clinic, called the UBS, located in the Bom Retiro neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil. This UBS is where I conducted my five weeks of research. I knew I wanted to focus on women’s health, but I did not have a specific research question in mind. I then began joining the physicians and nurses during their medical appointments with pregnant women to better understand gestational care in the clinic. This is when I noticed the medical files of these women specified whether their pregnancies were planned or unplanned. One of the physicians explained to me that the municipal government of São Paulo asked for this information in daily activity logs. However, I found it difficult to believe patients and their providers all shared the same conceptualizations of planned and unplanned pregnancies given the diversity of the Bom Retiro neighborhood. At this point, I knew understanding how women and their healthcare professionals thought about family planning was an important matter that I wanted to research.

I conducted my research as a two-part project using demographic data and oral histories from patients and their healthcare providers. Women shared their stories with me during medical appointments and elaborated on the factors that influence their own relationships with their pregnancies. Healthcare providers also shared their conceptualizations of family planning and described differences they perceived in prenatal care for women with planned pregnancies and women with unplanned pregnancies. Additionally, I gathered information from the prenatal medical files provided to me, including the age, marital status, nationality, monthly income and appointment attendance of the registered pregnant patients. I used this data to statistically test whether women with unplanned and planned pregnancies differed in any one of the points measured. I pulled these sources together and demonstrate in my thesis that providers and patients do indeed think about family planning in different ways. These varying conceptualizations produce a gap between providers and patients that does not allow for conversations that challenge stereotypes in current discourse. Two stereotypes that frequently came up in conversation were 1) immigrant women have more unplanned pregnancies and do not assume responsibility and 2) women that have unplanned pregnancies are more likely to have inadequate prenatal care during their pregnancies. My statistical data made evident that these claims were false, and providers and patients alike maintain negative stereotypes against unplanned pregnancies and immigrant women. Without conversations between patients and their healthcare professionals, these stereotypes fail to be addressed and challenged. This results in women not wanting to share their experiences with family planning or to describe their pregnancies as unplanned to begin with. Additionally, the categories of “planned” and “unplanned” do not provide to the municipal government adequate about the realities of the women of Bom Retiro. Thus, I argue documents created by the State should include questions that encourage conversations between patients and providers rather than attempting to dichotomize such complex experiences.

I am incredibly grateful for my time as a Fox Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow. The space and resources provided to me have been incredibly helpful throughout the challenging process of analyzing my data and writing my thesis. I have also been introduced to fellow undergraduate researchers that are supportive and eager to learn more about my work and future directions. The resources and friendships created will always be appreciated as I think about my undergraduate academic career.

Daniella Gonzalez is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, and Spanish and Portuguese. She is writing an honors thesis on family planning for both patients and healthcare providers within the public health care system of Brazil (SUS). She conducted research during the summer of 2018 in a clinic in Bom Retiro, São Paulo. Daniella’s thesis delves into prenatal and postnatal care in the UBS of Bom Retiro, a primary healthcare clinic. Her work also highlights the varying definitions of family planning for the various participants within gestational care, including patients, physicians, nurses, and community agents.  

My Experience as a Fox Fellow

by Isabel Goddard, 19C  Quantitative Sciences
Fox Center Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

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As an Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow at the Fox Center this semester, I wrapped up my thesis project, “Undergraduate friendships: emblems or subversions of gendered social reproduction.” I began this research project because, as an Emory student, I was curious about the ways that other students formed their friend networks in university. I was a sophomore at the time and had just joined a sorority. I was thus suddenly thrust into this situation of very intentional and-to my surprise- strategic friendship building and social network expansion. I became interested in the different goals students had when making their friends- what they looked for in their friendships, whether this differed based on gender, or Greek life affiliation and over the course of two years, I conducted forty in depth interviews and a survey with forty-nine respondents in search of understanding how students created their social networks.

As an Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow, I was able to attend weekly lunches in which graduate students and professors at Emory presented their current research in disciplines ranging from philosophy to anthropology. The opportunity to be a member of this community exposed me to what the next steps of an academic career look like as well as creating a space where I could enjoy participating in unusually interdisciplinary conversations with my fellow Fellows (pun intended). I am extremely grateful to have been able to be a member of this intellectual community for my last semester at Emory, it has helped me realized the kind of academic career I hope to pursue in the future and helped me take the first steps towards this goal!

Isabel Goddard is a senior majoring in Quantitative Sciences with a Cultural Anthropology emphasis. Her undergraduate honors thesis focuses on examining the construction of diverse friendships among undergraduates and the larger social, political, and economic implications that these relationships can have after graduation. In combining both quantitative and qualitative research methods, her interdisciplinary research is able to illuminate both the nuances of friendship among Emory undergraduates through ethnographic data as well as the larger trends and implications of these networks though survey data. Specifically, her results have centered around the dynamics of gender and habitus in shaping the friendships of students. Isabel hopes to continue this research through longitudinal studies in several universities as well as incorporating social network analysis with her survey and ethnographic data in her future graduate work.

Social Media Communications of Armed Groups: The Case Study of the MNLA

by Michael Keen, 19C  Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies and Arabic
Fox Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

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On January 17, 2012, armed rebels attacked Malian government posts and army barracks around the city of Ménaka, in the northeastern part of the country.  Within weeks, in many cities and towns throughout northern Mali, Mali’s flag had been torn down and replaced by a new one.  The fighters belonged to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and the flag they flew was that of Azawad, the nation-state they hoped to carve out of northern Mali.

The MNLA’s uprising initially met with spectacular success, and the Malian army suffered defeat after decisive defeat and was driven out of the entire northern region.  By early April, the MNLA’s leadership felt secure enough to proclaim the unilateral independence of the state of Azawad.  Today, though, Azawad does not feature on any international maps.  The MNLA’s national project failed to gain international recognition, and in June 2012, the MNLA was defeated by a coalition of jihadist Islamist groups also present in the area.  These groups threatened southern Mali, prompting a French-led international intervention in January 2013, which drove the jihadists back underground and gave rise to a peace process between the MNLA and its allies and the Malian government.  In 2015, the MNLA’s leadership signed a treaty formally renouncing their separatist ambitions in favor of a host of provisions intended to reform governance and development practices in Mali.

It was because of this treaty, the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, that I came across the MNLA as a subject for research.  The Agreement called for a neutral observer to monitor implementation of the treaty, and The Carter Center, an NGO founded by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, was tapped to serve as this observer.  I rather serendipitously ended up as one of the inaugural Carter Center interns to work with the Mali team.  As an intern, one of my primary duties was to monitor news in Mali, especially news relating to the north and the peace process.  I noticed that traditional Malian media sources often quoted social media statements put out by groups involved in the peace process, including the MNLA.  Some quick digging informed me that members and supporters of the MNLA were very active on social media, especially Facebook, and had been for years.  The seed for my research project was planted.

My project eventually came to focus on the Facebook postings of public-facing pro-MNLA accounts, including those that I could verify as belonging to MNLA officials tasked with communicating on behalf of the group, during the period of the civil war, 2012-2015.  I focused in particular on two questions.  First, what types of content were pro-MNLA Facebook accounts posting during this period, and how did posting trends respond to offline events relevant to the MNLA?  Second, what were the dominant themes of pro-MNLA Facebook discourse throughout this period?

The study of how social media is utilized in the public communications of armed groups remains in its infancy.  Until now, the overwhelming majority of scholarship has focused on Islamist jihadist groups, especially the Islamic State and its affiliates around the world.  The MNLA, as a secular secessionist group that seeks essentially to work within the nation-state paradigm, is fundamentally unlike the Islamic State, but the MNLA does have elements in common with many other groups around the world.  Furthermore, little scholarship has focused on groups operating on the African continent in particular.  However, these issues are important.  As the use of social media continues to rise, especially in regions of the world, including Africa, that have experienced statistically higher levels of conflict in recent years, it is likely that more armed groups of all stripes will utilize social media in the service of their goals.  As they do so, studying social media will provide an ever-better window onto the identity and aspirations of armed groups, an understanding of which is critical to any kind of conflict resolution process.  I hope that my work will contribute in some small way to these scholarly conversations.

Working at the Fox Center has been extremely helpful to me over the course of this project.  My research is inherently interdisciplinary in that it attempts to combine a nuanced understanding of the history behind the MNLA’s uprising with aspects of communications theory, discourse analysis, and social science quantitative methodologies.  Being able to hear scholars working in so many different fields at the Fox Center present their work, their ideas, and their methodologies certainly helped me think in more interdisciplinary and creative ways.  The project of Dr. Amín Pérez, in particular, with its focus on the development of ideas within a specific historical context bound by time and place, was inspirational to me.  As I prepare to leave Emory for the next stage of my career, I will look back with fondness on my time at the Fox Center.

Michael Keen is a senior double majoring in Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies and Arabic.  His thesis for the MESAS Department draws on history, communications theory, and discourse and image analysis to analyze the dominant narrative frames employed by Facebook users linked to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a secular northern Malian secessionist rebel group that launched an armed uprising against the Malian state in 2012, to define the MNLA’s identity and goals during the 2012-2015 conflict.  His project aims to contribute to a broader scholarly understanding of how non-jihadist insurgent groups formulate and propagate their identities and goals through social media. 

Brazilian Opera and the Precarities of National Identity

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by Chris Batterman, 19C Music
Fox Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

My thesis, at its core, discusses the music of Brazilian operatic composer Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836-1896) with respect to the Brazilian nation-building project of the late 19th century. In short, I examine the ways Gomes’ music engages with and reproduces Brazilian elite society’s ideologically-constructed notions of race, nation, and history, connecting Gomes’ musical productions to the elite debates regarding questions of “Brazilianness.” Specifically, my thesis argues that the notions of “Brazilianness” constructed in Gomes’ music are built upon a politics of exclusion, one that consistently privileges European identities while dismissing and occluding black or indigenous ones.

Indeed, his music came at a rather turbulent time in Brazilian history—the Empire had recently emerged victorious from the Paraguayan War, though at tremendous economic, social, and political costs. As prominent 19th-century intellectual Sílvio Romero noted, the war opened up not only an economic crisis for the country, but a crisis of identity as well. Debates to posit a defined national identity and a common national narrative, then, became central to elite intellectual discourses. The national narrative that the Brazilian elite settled on was—unsurprisingly—the same one that Gomes presented in his operas, one that idealized, trivialized, or even neglected any mention of African or indigenous contributions to Brazilian society.

While my thesis focused on Gomes and his music, arguing that he presents an exclusionary notion of “Brazilianness,” I see my research as engaging in larger questions regarding nation-building and nationalism. Gomes’ music, in its projection of imagined concepts of “Brazilianness,” highlights the inherently exclusionary nature of nation-building in 19th-century Brazil. The project of defining a national Brazilian identity involves deciding who is Brazilian and who is not. The exclusionary nature of Brazil’s nation-building is not limited to the 19th century. Rather, I contend that the continuous development of Brazil and the search for “Brazilianness” that extends well into today have also been characterized by a discourse of exclusion. Even beyond Brazil, notions of nationalism and nation-building have been characterized by a politic of exclusion. Indeed, nationalisms and nationbuilding projects all over the world, both in historical contexts and today, are based in practices of exclusion. In defining the “imaginary community”—to apply Benedict Anderson’s concept—that forms the base of national consciousness, in-groups and out-groups must be defined. In other words, boundaries between “Self” and “Other” must be established and drawn. This thesis, then, is only a case-study in a larger issue of nation-building, intending to demonstrate that any process that involves defining national identities is inherently plagued by an exclusionary element.

What I hope to convey with this study (and what is indeed my main argument in this research) is that national identities are not to be taken lightly. Rather, nationalisms and national consciousnesses are to be carefully scrutinized and examined as sites of tension. In defining oneself, one must also define the “Other.” As history has shown us, this categorizing of the “Other” has consistently led to policies of inequality, inequity, and division. What I suggest, then, is that we as scholars and citizens continue to deeply problematize our own national loyalties, affiliations, identities, and nationalisms. How have we, as North Americans, Mexicans, Brazilians, etc., unintendedly supported rhetoric of exclusion? How have we helped to construct ideological “Others”? This thesis, obviously, is not an answer. Rather, I hope to have contributed to the body of scholarship that highlights this concerning historical pattern of exclusion, marginalization, and difference.

Moving forward with my research into graduate school and beyond, I plan to continue this research agenda. I plan to further examine historical and contemporary intersections of race and nationalism, all the while problematizing music’s place in reifying (or at times contesting) dominant narratives and ideology. The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has provided me an invaluable intellectual space to explore these themes throughout this thesis research. Events in which I discussed my research with prolific senior fellows or with my peers—all dedicated and curious scholars themselves—have allowed me to deepen my understanding of the humanities and have pushed me to consider my project’s place within larger academic discussions.

Chris Batterman is a senior majoring in Music, with a focus on musicology/ethnomusicology, with additional concentrations in Latin American Studies and Portuguese. His senior honors thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach to the music of Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836-1896). Based in archival research conducted in Brazil, his thesis examines Gomes’ operatic works through the lens of race, nationalism, and indigeneity. Situating these operas within the Brazilian nation building project of the 19th century, Chris hopes to demonstrate the ways in which Gomes’ works are reflective of the dominant discourse on race and nation. Specifically, he argues that Gomes used his operas to present and disseminate certain notions of brasilidade (Brazilianess) and contribute to the popular construction of “a raça brasileira” (“the Brazilian race”).