by William Jordan Williamson
The English MA students who opted to write their theses in the fall presented their work at the MA Thesis Jamboree on Friday, December 1. Nine students gave talks of about ten minutes each, offering condensed versions of their theses, reflections on the process of researching, developing, and writing, and thoughts on future areas of inquiry that their work might suggest, as well as expressing appreciation for their advisors, for the help of their classmates, and for Dr. Elizabeth McHenry, who directed the thesis workshop this semester and, along with Lisette Florez, organized the Jamboree. Each student also fielded questions from the audience, which was generally composed of friendly interlocutors. All in all, the event was, according to Joe Hogan, one of the students to present, “exhilarating and cathartic,” highlighted by the “challenging, probing, helpful” questions from the audience.
The nine students were grouped into three panels, each, as one audience member said, at least as strong as something you might see at the MLA. The panels were organized roughly by chronology, with the first panel focused on medieval and Renaissance literature. Melanie Grieder presented her work on “Feminine Prophesy in Revolutionary England,” which focused on the use of prophetic speech to participate in religious and political arenas by Anna Trapnel and others in revolutionary England, and was directed by Dr. Ernest Gilman. Nora Rowland, who also worked with Dr. Gilman, was next. Her thesis, “A Rogue Press ‘if your horse be not too weak’: Martin Marprelate, Subversion, and the Subject of Omniscience,” explored a subversive press published under the name Martin Marprelate that became a character itself. EG Asher closed the panel with a study of a trope depcting Jewish people in medieval England, “Se Baleful Ant Se Bitter: Reading the Hermeneutical Jew in Medieval Virginity Literature,” directed by Dr. Martha Rust.
The second panel focused on modernism, and was characterized too by interdisciplinary approaches. Sophie Dess, who worked with Dr. Kelly Sullivan, spoke first. Her thesis, “Molly, Winnie, Mouth: Exploring a Systematic Reckoning with the Insufficiencies of Language through the Women of Beckett and Joyce” traced the use of and resistance against rhetorical tropes of femininity in modernist literature. Then Emily Isayev presented “Object or Agent? Victorian Femininity and Shakespeare’s Miranda,” on depictions of Miranda in the paintings of John William Waterhouse, directed by Dr. Greg Vargo. Joe Hogan then presented “‘An imaginary art that we are still waiting’: Ulysses before Film Theory,” an exploration of Joyce’s techniques as prefiguring developments in film, directed by Dr. John Waters. Finally, Devon Clifton presented her thesis on the depiction of the truamas of the modernist period in the novel Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, “‘Those Who Seek with Lamentation’: Nightwood, Affect, and the Bodily Calamities of Modernity,” directed by Dr. Patrick Deer.
The third panel was slightly less chronologically distinct. Ben Hulett, who worked with Dr. Jennifer Baker, presented first. His thesis chronicled Thoreau’s evolving views of other species called “Receiving Other Animals: Henry David Thoreau’s Poetic Reception of His ‘Brute Neighbors.’” Samuel Teets gave the final presentation, “Embodying Archive: Asian American History, Memory, and ‘Dance,’” which examined I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita and the possibility of recording history through non-textual means, and was directed by Dr. Pacharee Sudhinaraset.
Dr. Thomas Augst, chair of the English Department, concluded the ceremony with praise for the way all nine students made “intellectual projects their own” and created, amongst themselves, a “community of scholars”—a context in which scholarship becomes more than just individual, and occasionally lonely, research and writing. Then Dr. Juliet Fleming, director of the MA program until the end of the year, described “how changed” the cohort is since she first met everyone last fall, invoking Satan’s words to Beelzebub after the fall in Paradise Lost. The group, she said, looked “haggard” following sustained scholarly labor, but had also bonded into a group capable of producing individually impressive work while illuminating each other’s scholarship. Cami Ryder, a Graduate English Organization representative who herself will be writing a thesis soon, closed the ceremony by congratulating her classmates, and wishing them good luck with the rest of the semester, before shifting the Jamboree to its inevitable conclusion, a champagne toast and the distribution of commemorative tokens.