Arnhold Undergraduate Research Fellows Showcase @UCSB English

As the quarter is wrapping up, there are so many showcases and capstone events happening all over campus. I had the good fortune to attend the Arnhold Undergraduate Research Fellows Program’s research showcase in the Department of English on May 31st, and found a great deal of exciting undergraduate research in the works. This showcase comes on the tail of a similar Feminist Studies event which I was unprepared to document but which impressed me nonetheless, and right before my own class’s showcase of their gaming projects, which I will write up in-depth very soon.

The Arnhold Undergraduate Research Fellows Program, founded by an endowment made by John (BA ’75) and Jody Arnhold to the Department of English, offers undergraduate English majors the opportunity to carry out a two-year research project under the supervision of a graduate fellow and faculty mentor. The graduate fellow, equivalent to a TA in terms of funding and work load, organizes professional development workshops for the Research Fellows and supervises both its first-year students’ research showcase and the second-year open access journal, Emergence. This year’s graduate fellow is Dana Solomon.

Professor Jeremy Douglass of the Department of English speaks with Arnhold Fellow Joshua Fischer about his project.
Professor Jeremy Douglass of the Department of English speaks with Arnhold Fellow Joshua Fischer about his project.

The geek in me was quite entertained to see not one but two literary projects on wizards. Tori Yonker analyzed love as magic in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. What I found most compelling about this project was the way Yonker recognized love not just as an emotional or metaphorical abstract concept that functions in the novel (which is one of its major themes, if you are at all familiar with the Potter universe), but as concrete activities performed by fans of the series: the money they spend, the time they invest in activities related to the media, the works they produce outside of it. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been interested in thinking through love as a set of actions within academic praxis as well, so it was great to see an undergraduate in our department looking beyond its purely affective instantiations.

Anthony Downing, the second budding wizard studies (sorry – couldn’t resist) scholar in the group, produced a genealogy of the figure of the wizard or wise man across cultures. Dumbledore, naturally, made an appearance in his list. In chatting with Downing, he seemed to be most intrigued by the existence of wizards, in recognizable forms, in a variety of world mythologies. We also talked about the gendering of the witch/wizard divide and how that plays out even in the contemporary context. While Downing seems to feel that Rowling’s preservation of witch/wizard is a more positive reclamation of the feminized term, I am still on the fence.

Another project that caught my eye (quite literally, as it was hooked up to a large LCD television in the room) was Robert Bisko’s investigation of how literature and online social media represent the increase in HIV/AIDS cases amongst men who have sex with men and are also drug users. Acknowledging that his current frame restricts analysis largely to white gay male culture, Bisko is curious about how cultural narratives about HIV/AIDS in both print and digital spaces might contribute to rising rates of infection, such as in the case of online dating sites that do not require disclosure of HIV status.

I wish I had time to detail all of the fantastic projects on display, including a textual analysis of religious rhetoric in presidential speeches, an analysis of illuminations in the Book of Kells, contemporary connections between eroticism and spirituality, and physiognomy in Victorian literature. I will list the names of the Fellows in attendance and brief description of each project after this post.

The importance of the Arnhold Program is evident in the innovative work, both in research and presentation design, that I saw at this exhibition, and in my conversations with Fellows both in the context of this showcase and at workshops during the year. I went through a similar program as an undergraduate at Rice University, and the experience was invaluable in preparing me for a career in grad school. Even for students not intending to continue in academia, having experience in creating research posters and giving conference presentations can be applied widely across a variety of careers.

My congratulations to Dana Solomon and Professor James Kearney, who has been building this program for several years. My thanks to Dana for providing images of the event and the participants’ names and abstracts to include here.

First-Year Arnhold Fellows Showcase Projects (summaries excerpted from provided abstracts):

  • Robert Bitsko: HIV/AIDS narratives in contemporary literature, specifically dealing with increasing infection rates and drug use.
  • Elaine Chong: Humanity’s fascination with Apocalypse
  • Katey Dager: How did the ideas of physiognomy influence the ways Victorian authors portrayed their characters? How has this pseudoscience persisted through literature despite being proven false in the scientific community?
  • Anthony Downing: A comprehensive study of mythical, magical, and allegorical understandings as they are described in the literary texts of various civilizations. I am interested in studying the archetypes of the wizard, alchemist, and/or hermetic man.
  • Joshua Fischer: This project uses concordance software to analyze presidential speeches from the last century to study the use of religious language and interrogate the relationship between church and state.
  • Sam Humy: My topic explores the character development in Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go with repect to W.E.B. Du Bois’ theory of double-consciousness.
  • Matthew Malamund: My research will be on the paradigm of structuralism, and how Miguel Cervantez’ epic novel Don Quixote enforces its tenets. How is structuralism represented differently through Don Quixote and his foil, Sancho Panza?
  • Briana McCluskey: Examines the relationship between chivalry and religion.
  • Kelly Nassour: Looks at the mythology surrounding the American dream, especially as it is “blacked out” in the “Wasted Generation.” Studies cultures of excess, consumerism, partying, etc.
  • Jubilee Nordwall: Sexuality and the rise of secularism in between the Victorian era and Postmodernism, looking at eroticism as the modern replacement for spirituality.
  • Thomas Skahill: The role of illustrations/images in texts, particularly illuminated manuscripts (The Book of Kells).
  • Leoda Valenzuela: Violence in medieval literature. Could existing, physical crowds benefit from a cycle/plays emulating the violent traditions that ensue in a college town, such as couch burning?
  • Tori Yonker: Examined the the concept of “love as the most powerful magic” in the Harry Potter series. Interested in the universality of love, or how it’s something almost all of us are capable of practicing.
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