Undergraduate Research Colloquium

The AMCS Undergraduate Research Colloquia, held at the end of the semester in both December and April, are an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students to share their Fieldwork, Junior Methods Seminar research, Capstone and Honors Thesis research with the broader AMCS community.

Undergraduate Research Colloquium Spring 2017

Updated page with 2017 presenters coming soon.

Below is a list of a few of the presenters along with abstracts for their research projects.

For the full schedule, please see the event page here.

Joshua Aiken

How Jimmy Lee Jackson Died: The Erasure Of Black Injury From Narrative, Memory, and The Voting Rights Act Of 1965

This project explores the relationship between the stories of grassroots activists, dominant white hegemonic narratives of race, and American collective memory as it applies to the civil rights movement. Focusing on the shooting of Jimmy Lee Jackson, a twenty-six year old woodcutter killed by an Alabama State Trooper in 1965 during a peaceful protest march as a case study, I demonstrate how stories like his represent a broader state-sponsored project of quieting perspectives of dissent. This thesis uses oral histories, such as the Eyes on the Prize collection, and interviews from FBI files to shed light on the happenings of February 26th, 1965. The night march gained national attention not only because of law enforcement's involvement in killing Jackson but also because of the widespread police brutality. The state was heavily invested in hiding this abuse regardless of whether it was performed by state or non-state actors. For the abuses that could not be hidden, the state criminalized many of those injured for their activism and dissent. This project examines how the disposability of black bodies is maintained by the state through both physical and legal injury. This includes the systematic disenfranchisement of black folks in the Jim Crow South that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to fix. While the Act was successful for several decades in preventing discriminatory voting procedures from being enacted, it was understood in the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder (2013) as no longer necessary in contemporary America. Jackson, who sparked the activism that led to the legislation's original passage, and his erasure reflect the insidious silencing of marginalized stories. The intensified use of new methods of systematic disenfranchisement, such as Voter ID laws that target people of color, is indicative of America's deep investment in maintaining an oppressive racial order.

Rachel Chung

Representing Rights: Advocating Religious Liberty in the Context of Affordable Care Act Contraceptive Coverage

In a provision commonly known as the "contraceptive mandate," the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that employers include contraceptive coverage in all health insurance plans, with exemptions for objecting religious and religiously affiliated employers. Though the Obama Administration has twice altered the scope of these exemptions in an effort to protect both religious liberty and reproductive rights, debate persists in cultural, political and legal discourse. This project analyzes perspectives in the sphere of policy advocacy, focusing on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. These faith organizations have actively engaged in policy debates over contraceptive coverage, and their respective religious traditions lead them to quite different interpretations of the religious liberty tensions that ACA coverage creates. In their advocacy, both organizations engage simultaneously with multiple levels of discourse; they work to educate and mobilize constituents through an easily accessible analysis of legal and policy questions, and to advance technical arguments in the legal sphere based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which outlines the standard of judicial review for religious liberty claims. Through close analysis of each organization's advocacy literature, examining blogs, press releases and public campaign materials in the constituent sphere and amicus curiae briefs in the legal sphere, this study analyzes differences between the focus of each group's constituent advocacy and its legal argument. I argue that because complex legal analysis would not resonate outside a legal framework, these organizations argue in their constituent advocacy not for a certain legal understanding of religious liberty or of reproductive rights, but rather for the idea of those rights and for the values that inform them. By exploring how the Bishops Conference and the Religious Action Center have reshaped, emphasized, minimized and simplified ideas and arguments in the process of translation between legal and constituent advocacy, I strive to reveal how the gaps between these discourses shape understandings of rights at various levels of cultural discourse.

Evan Linden

The Hypothetical Presidency: The Social and Political Reflections of The West Wing on the Presidencies of Clinton and Bush

The West Wing was a staple of late 1990s and early 2000s television programming. While it was certainly an entertaining program, it was a multiple season case study of the American government, dissecting the Presidencies of both Clinton and Bush. The show existed aired at a time filled with political tumult (domestically and internationally), nationally tragedy and technological improvements. From the show's conception in 1999 to the end of its reign in 2006, it existed on a parallel timeline to the events going on in actual American politics and popular culture while serving as a third party narration for many of these events.

The reason it is so important to explore The West Wing as a cultural text is because it was the first show of its kind directly reenacting the Presidency in a predominantly accurate manner. It was revealing of the time period that occurred it aired as well as presenting creator, Aaron Sorkin's liberal fantasy of what American could potentially look like under slightly different circumstances, decisions and most importantly a different leader. His construction of the character, President Josiah Bartlet is indicative of the qualities, background and leadership style Sorkin deemed most crucial for a leader of America to have. It appears the show was successful because viewers enjoyed having a parallel political universe where American triumphs is magnified and consequences failures are minimized.

In this paper, I will explore the "false reality" Sorkin has created and debate whether or not this ideal image on the country was beneficial or harmful to the state of the country in that time. I will also discuss the parallels between the Presidencies of Clinton/Bush and Bartlet as well as their significance in this period of time.

Avital Mintz-Morgenthau

Philip Roth and the Feast of Assimilation

This capstone project is a critical analysis of Philip Roth's novella, Goodbye Columbus. The Jewish-American community furiously criticized Roth's novella for negatively portraying the new upwardly mobile Jewish-American community, going as far as to call Roth an Anti-Semite. In order to understand what Roth was truly trying to accomplish in writing Goodbye Columbus I read personal interviews with Roth and books written about his work, but my main source was the text itself. The novella portrays the complex demographic and cultural shifts within the Jewish population, and Roth demonstrates how the development of a Jewish-American identity is both painful and comically paradoxical because Jewish traditions often intersect with the American ideals of upward mobility.

Roth represents the divided identities of Jewish-American through the consumption of food; he uses food as an index and signifier of the degree to which different groups within the Jewish community are assimilated. Differences in food practices illuminate the huge gap between the new, upwardly mobile Jewish-American community and the old traditional community. Roth questions whether a combined Jewish-American identity, one that fully retains the American and the Jewish, is possible. Although there is no concrete resolution to the Jewish-American identity crisis in Goodbye Columbus, Roth accomplishes the important task of heightening awareness about the growing gap between the traditional urban Jews and the assimilated suburban Jews of America.

Alison Neuwirth

Medicalizing Fantasy: Silas Weir Mitchell, Neurasthenia and 19th Century Nation Building

Late nineteenth century America was sick, and Silas Weir Mitchell could cure it. In response to growing national fears surrounding the cost of modernity in the wake of the Civil War, particularly on mental health, Mitchell built on the work of George Beard and popularized the diagnosis of "neurasthenia" or "nerve weakness." Neurasthenia, a blanket explanation that implied medical understanding of a person's sickness, encompassed a range of psychological and physiological conditions. Mitchell developed tailored treatments for elite neurasthenic Americans, the Camp Cure and the Rest Cure, both of which brought him international acclaim. Through his work with wounded soldiers during the Civil War, Mitchell saw that even the most masculine of men could suffer from nervous breakdown, and he argued that such suffering was not a weakness but rather an opportunity for self-mastery. Mitchell's reframing of American's mental struggles as yet another frontier for conquest assuaged national concern regarding the apparent rise in mental illness. Using unpublished archival materials, this thesis examines the linkages between Mitchell's literary and medical writing and reveals how Mitchell's medical treatments, far from empirically derived, extended from his personal project of self-construction. Mitchell's personal fantasies, as evidenced by his literary writings, letters, and speeches, gained particular power as he medicalized and popularized them through his clinical work. Successful Camp Cure participants, such as Owen Wister, author of the pioneering Western The Virginian, partook fully in Mitchell's vision of ideal masculinity and faith in the redemptive power self construction. From a fantastical self-project Mitchell made a medical cure, a cure whose intimate foundation accounts for its decisive popularity. In the process of exploring his own mind, needs and emotions, Mitchell created a fantasy that resonated with a self-conscious nation.

Madison Perry

Collecting Comfort: Exploring Disney's Mickey Mouse and the Firefighter Lapel Pin

This project offers an analysis of an object, the Mickey Mouse and the Firefighter lapel pin, produced by Disney. The pin belongs to a category of kitsch and collecting culture from the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. After September 11th, 2001, Americans sought comfort and security from a variety of sources. One of these sources of comfort was found in consumerism. Americans were encouraged to buy, and to do so was increasingly viewed as an act of patriotism. One of the central questions that this project addresses is whether collecting culture is a legitimate form of therapy, patriotism, and participation in consumer culture. I seek to understand the implications of purchasing and collecting such an item as the pin, and offer a few forecasted implications that these kinds of acts may have on American culture.

Máire Murphy

Academic Coordinator, AMCS