Locating Lynching: Digital Humanities and Undergraduate Research

Written by Elijah Gaddis, GRC and graduate student in the Department of American Studies

One hundred and twenty three years ago this month, Carter Burnett was abducted from his jail cell in Oxford, North Carolina and hanged from a nearby tree. The men responsible for his murder were never caught. His death was a lynching–one instance of the extralegal mob violence that plagued North Carolina for decades, especially in the years during North Carolina’s gradual transition into the 20th century. Carter Burnett’s story is one of the roughly one hundred and fifty stories featured in Locating Lynching. This digital humanities project was born out of a collaboration between myself, Dr. Seth Kotch, and a class of first year students. It maps every reported lynching that took place in North Carolina between 1865-1941 in an attempt to show how widespread this form of racial terror was and how close our connection to many of these landscapes still is.

While serving as a Graduate Research Consultant for Seth Kotch’s first year class, Digital Humanities: The Rural South, I came to class initially to help the students with digital research tools and strategies. Early on in the class, the Equal Justice Initiative and its project to place historical markers on the sites of every lynching in the South was profiled in a New York Times article. Dr. Kotch brought this article and an accompanying map to the students and discussed its implications for the study of the rural South and for the digital humanities methods that the students were learning. Afterward, when he polled the students, they unanimously agreed to forego their individual projects in favor of working on a larger scale digital map that would show the lynchings in North Carolina and reveal details of the lives of some of its victims.

The ability to change direction here was important. It allowed the students to be invested in a project that they’d help outline and that they wanted to learn more about. It suggested to them the possibilities of digital research and digital humanities tools which would allow them to collaborate with one another. And most importantly, it showed them that research–original research that they conducted–could be responsive, important, and timely.lynching capture

To start the project, we paired students up and assigned them lynchings to research. They used digitized newspapers, city directories, and census data to find out about each lynching and each victim. Their data went into a database that I had designed in consultation with Dr. Kotch. As the students continued research, fuller stories of these events and the people at their center started to emerge. We saw, in what those of us working in digital humanities often think of simply as “data,” sketches of the lives of people made marginal by their race or social class and whose lives each ended amid the indignity and terror of a communal practice that left great wounds on the history and landscape of North Carolina. For the students, this was a lesson both in how to do research and why research matters. Like me, many of them were struck to discover how close many of these lynching sites were to places they’d been many times before. They helped uncover and make visible hidden histories that we all live with and among.

We published a version of Locating Lynching in October, 2015. We hope to continue and expand the project in the future, but you can see our interactive map of North Carolina Lynchings, as well as explanations of our process and further details at lynching.web.unc.edu

OUR seeks Graduate Assistant

Title of the position: Graduate Assistant: OUR Outreach Coordinator
Department: Office for Undergraduate Research
Reports to: Associate Dean, Office for Undergraduate Research

The Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR) was established in 1999 to expand the opportunities for undergraduates at UNC-Chapel Hill to engage in innovative research, mentored scholarship, and creative performance. Accordingly, we have a variety of resources, including financial support, to help research become a distinctive feature of the undergraduate experience. See http://our.unc.edu for more information.

Key areas of responsibility:
We are seeking a Graduate Assistant who can advise undergraduate students interested in research, who will serve as the OUR’s outreach coordinator to students, and who will assist with the maintenance and analysis of data on OUR’s programs. The Graduate Assistant will manage the OUR student ambassador program, write and publish the OUR bi-weekly e-newsletter, and solicit and publish posts for the GRC and OUR blogs. In addition, the Graduate Assistant will maintain an active Facebook presence for OUR, maintain an active Twitter presence for OUR, and assists with the coordination of other events sponsored by the OUR. During the Spring semester, the graduate assistance has a major role in coordinating the Celebration of Undergraduate Research. During the summer, the Graduate Assistant assists with the OUR’s participation in orientation for incoming students and their families. As needed, the Graduate Assistant will also assist with general office duties, develop publicity materials, and help oversee work-study students assisting with web development and event planning.

Key Qualifications:
Qualified candidates should have a strong interest in promoting undergraduate research, the ability to work well in a team, and the ability to design and manage e-newsletters, Facebook, and twitter accounts. Qualified candidates should also be skilled users of WordPress, Photo Editing software such as Photoshop, and other standard software such as MS Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint. Qualified candidates will be expected to work independently, attend weekly staff meetings, and demonstrate strong writing, presentation, and organizational skills. The ability to manage large databases and analyze data using statistical software such as STATA is a plus.

Terms of employment and Compensation:
The Graduate Assistant will be expected to work 15-20 hours per work during both the academic year as well as the summer and will be reappointed on an annual basis. The Graduate Assistant will be paid $20/hour. In-state tuition benefits are not available.

To apply: Submit a cover letter and resume to Monica Richard at mrichard@email.unc.edu. The cover letter should explain why you are interested in the position and undergraduate research.

Start Date: We will begin reviewing applications by November 1.

Closing Date: Applications will be reviewed continuously until the position is filled.

Transnational Romanticism and Undergraduate Research

Written by Rachael Isom, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

During the Spring 2015 semester, I joined Dr. Jan Koelb’s Comparative Literature 460 class as the Graduate Research Consultant (GRC). This course on “Transnational Romanticism” included readings from canonical writers such as William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman, but it also encouraged students to view Romanticism more expansively by interrogating the theoretical aesthetic frameworks essential to Romantic ideologies and by incorporating a broader range of texts. Focusing on “Romantic Imagination and the Modern World,” the course proved not only transnational but also interdisciplinary, exposing students to a variety of art forms on UNC’s campus, including works at the Ackland Art Museum and a production of Arthur Miller’s An Enemy of the People at Playmakers Theater. Many students pursued their interests in projects that traversed continental boundaries and incorporated topics as various as social protest in Romantic drama and realist fiction, the intertextual understandings of the window in nineteenth-century visual art, J. M. W. Turner’s paintings of sublimity, and the legacy of Jose Marti in modern Cuban politics. Tackling these topics and more, they formulated research questions, compared primary texts, and probed extant criticism in search of answers to their evolving inquiries.

My chief responsibility as the GRC was to be an additional resource, a helper and mentor along the journey from curiosity to composition. Throughout the course of the semester, I met with students in pairs for hour-long tutorials in which we discussed their progress at various stages of the research process, from developing a question to formulating a storyboard, as well as through two complete drafts of the papers that emerged as answers to nearly semester-long queries. One of the most challenging tasks in these tutorials was to help students find the proper scope while still attending to their interests. Using the Turabian research model, we worked toward specific, targeted questions that could lead to fruitful investigations of the Romantic writers and painters students had chosen. As these topics became narrower, it was fascinating to see how each student’s interests shaped the comparisons and issues that emerged. For instance, two students wrote on Wordsworth’s Prelude in conjunction with more recent texts; however, one student compared Wordsworth’s “spots of time” to the experiences of twentieth-century psychedelic writers, while the other used Wordsworth’s conception of childhood to inform her reading of the Kenneth Grahame’s popular children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. Two other students wrote on Whitman, but one examined critical links to Blake while the other connected Whitman to Chinese poet Guo Moruo. As students moved from question to hypothesis to supported reasoning, their arguments took shape, and our later tutorials supplemented Dr. Koelb’s instruction by examining each piece of evidence as it related to the larger claim. Using scholarly models and a systematic approach, students were able to move from storyboard outline to rough draft, from rough draft to their finished products.

In the fourth and final set of tutorials, I reviewed students’ final drafts. As gratifying as it was to hear students’ thanks for the suggestions and affirmations of these sessions, what was far more rewarding was to see them directing their own revisions and advising those of their peers. Though they still solicited my advice, even the types of questions they asked evinced a much stronger sense of what good research demands. They’re still learning, as are we all, but their collaborative efforts are certainly steps in the right direction. While the students of CMPL 460 didn’t quite spend fifty years building and revising their targeted research projects as Wordsworth did with his Prelude, their “honourable toil” of sixteen weeks represents a set of fascinating papers by remarkable undergraduate students. Challenged and guided along the way by Dr. Koelb, they infused the research and writing process with their own interests, skills, and expertise. I am grateful for their trust, for their confidence, and for the chance to be a part of their growth as researchers and writers.

Note: You can read this related post from Morgan Welch, one of the students in the class.

Pedagogy, Digital Tools, and Undergraduate Research: Librarians as Co-Educators

Written by Donna M. Bickford, Associate Director of OUR

The Multimodal Librarians initiative is approaching the end of a summer-long workshop series. In the second workshop I was able to attend (read about the first one here), Jonathan McMichael, UNC’s undergraduate experience librarian, discussed some pedagogical considerations in using the digital tools available to help support undergraduate researchers and faculty embedding undergraduate research in their classes. He noted that the most effective projects/assignments are a careful balance between order and chaos, a concept that I love.

Jonathan posed a number of interesting questions to reflect on as you consider your pedagogical choices and classroom practices.

  • How do you figure out what tool works best for what kinds of data sets?
  • Can the tool you are using answer the question that you’re asking?
  • Can the data that you’re using generate an answer to the question that you’re asking?
  • What are the learning benefits in using this tool and/or this digital assignment?
  • Does it help teach a concept/fact/skill better than you currently teach it?
  • Does it provide a learning environment for a unique skill that can’t be taught any other way?

Jonathan suggested two specific questions to ask when you are designing an assignment or implementing a particular tool:

  • What will students be able to do at the end of this learning experience?
  • How often will they use this new capability in their future?

Sometimes there are costs to consider in using a designing a digital assignment – and Jonathan didn’t mean only financial ones:

  • Does it create anxiety or boredom for students? (From my own perspective, student anxiety is not necessarily bad and can provoke a teaching/learning moment. But I agree that it needs to be managed effectively.)
  • How are you going to grade the assignment?
  • What, if any, are the extra organizational or administrative needs for the assignment?

We discussed the Association of College & Research Libraries framework for information literacy, which is based on a set of threshold concepts. Two that resonated for me were “research as inquiry” and “scholarship as conversation.” Undergraduate research is often described as one approach to inquiry-based learning. At OUR, we are frequently guiding students to think about how, as researchers, they are entering an intellectual conversation. How does their research question interact with what’s going on in their field and with what others have done and are doing?

This approach to scholarship as conversation also helps with the tendency many undergraduates exhibit when they’re thinking about a research paper for a course. They will share that they are writing about X (Jane Eyre, the Civil War, poverty in India, whatever their chosen or assigned topic may be). But selecting a topic is not the same thing as designing a research question. In my own teaching, I try to help students reframe their project by asking them to tell me what question they are asking – or trying to answer – about their topic.

Jonathan also mentioned the concept of visible learning, discussed in a book of the same title by John Hattie. According to the Visible Learning website, “Visible Teaching and Learning occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.” This is the kind of empowered learner undergraduate researchers generally become as they move from being consumers of knowledge to knowledge producers.

I encourage faculty to think of our librarian colleagues as partners and co-educators. There is a plethora of expertise available as we think about how to innovate our pedagogy and support undergraduate research in and out of the classroom.


Librarians Support Undergraduate Research

Written by Donna M. Bickford, Associate Director of OUR

There is an exciting new initiative at UNC Libraries. Multimodal Librarians “is an initiative at UNC to cross-train the research and instruction staff on digital tools and techniques that can easily be incorporated into undergraduate class assignments. This is a natural extension of the traditional role librarians play in research instruction and it supports the library’s strategic goals of engaging both the entire research lifecycle as well as transformative teaching and learning.”

NGram UGRAs part of this initiative, librarians are invited to training sessions to learn how to use digital scholarship tools to support undergraduate research. I had the opportunity recently to attend a session facilitated by Dr. Stewart Varner which focused on using data visualization tools for text analysis. Stewart demonstrated for us Google’s Ngram Viewer, Voyant, and Google’s Fusion Tables.

Ngram pulls information from the Google Books corpus to create its visualizations. You can search in several different languages and you can use words or phrases. I used “undergraduate research” and “inquiry-based learning” for my example.

The Voyant tool creates visualizations based on the text you input. In our session, Stewart uploaded a digVoyant GRC pageitized book from the Project Gutenberg catalog for our demonstration example. Voyant only works with single words, not phrases. You can see the number of unique words in your text. Or, you can use the “keyword in context” tool to see where in your document any particular word appears. There is also a “stop words” function if you want to exclude common words like “the” or “it” — or the title character in the book you’re analyzing. I used the GRC page from our website to generate my word cloud.

Spring 2015 GRC Courses

Spring 2015 GRC Courses

Fusion Tables works with data you provide in spreadsheet form. You can also use Google spreadsheets or public data tables. Then you can display the data in several different formats — scatter charts, line or bar graphs, pie charts. etc. I used network analysis format to map the connections between course prefixes and course numbers for our Spring 2015 GRC courses.

While we were experimenting with these tools, Stewart was careful to remind us that at this point we were just generating data points, not making an argument. It’s easy to see, though, how these visualizations might “inspire a research question,” in Stewart’s words. In one project Stewart described, the researcher compared unique words in the texts of two different authors to examine the range of vocabulary one author used in comparison to the other. Stewart also emphasized the need to select the tool that can answer the question you are asking. As a result of the Multimodal Librarians initiative, many of the librarians will be prepared to help students and faculty think through what kinds of research questions and projects will benefit from the use of digital tools.




ENGL 376: Undergraduate Research in the Archives

Written by Gale Greenlee, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

Do you ever enter Wilson Library? Or do you just hang out on the front steps? This year, I frequented the library as a Graduate Research Consultant for ENGL 376: Depictions of Children in Literature and the Visual Arts. I have been a TA for Dr. Laurie Langbauer’s children’s literature course, so I eagerly accepted the offer to work with her Spring and Maymester courses.

Whether taught over sixteen weeks or only three, the goal is the same: to give students hands-on experience producing original research. The assignments certainly included readings, discussions, papers, and exams. But students spent a great deal of time – in and outside class – delving into Wilson’s archives. They unearthed letters and diaries, photographs, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and rare textbooks. And they used these texts to curate mini exhibitions that explored changing cultural assumptions and experiences of childhood.

For most students, this kind of research is new. One Maymester student said, “I’ve never done anything like this before.” I believe the novelty is part of the attraction, but it can produce some anxiety. So, early on, students headed to Wilson’s Grand Reading Room for an introduction to archival research. Thanks to librarians Jason Tomberlin and Matt Turi, students saw a smidgen of Wilson’s extensive holdings from the Rare Book Collection, the North Carolina Collection, and the Southern Historical and the Southern Folklife Collections. More importantly, they handled documents instead of observing them through a glass pane. Students also went to the Ackland Art Museum for a crash course on visual analysis, and they visited the Tobe exhibition, which provided a model for their own work.

My role was truly that of a consultant, since student research shaped the courses. I helped students brainstorm and narrow their topics and guided them as they navigated online finding aids and located archival materials. I also recommended relevant secondary sources and offered feedback on their written work and in-class presentations.

In the Spring, I worked with ten students charged with creating a group exhibition, which they titled The Unknown Child. I selected an initial reading on children and American citizenship that served as a springboard for our first meeting and their group project. On workshop days, they shared images and drafts of their exhibition object labels and placards. Some students seemed nervous about producing a creative project rather than a research paper. But it helped when I framed the exhibition as presenting a visual argument that their panels would then support.

Meeting as a group was one of the most rewarding aspects. I read student drafts and examined their selected images before our sessions. When we gathered, I offered feedback, critiques, and posed questions including “What’s the argument here? How do your images relate to the overall exhibition? What does this image tell us about childhood?” I also opened the floor so that students could respond to one another. In doing so, they sharpened their analytical chops and pushed one another to think critically about their images and interpretations.

The Maymester was a roller coaster ride: short and intense, but fun. Students met daily for three hours, spending half the time in class, and the other half in the archives. They tailored their projects to their individual interests. One student, a dance major, stumbled upon photos from Teen Frolics, a locally produced African American dance show and forerunner of the nationally syndicated Soul Train. Another student, interested in art, examined children’s finger paintings. Our resident Boy Scout explored the connection between scouting images and nationalist campaigns. Two other students immersed themselves in women’s diaries: one from the 1860’s and one written a hundred years later. I am sure they found the work fascinating and frustrating, with promising leads and occasional dead-ends. But through trial and error, everyone discovered hidden gems.

I am fortunate to have been a part of this process since Dr. Langbauer piloted the course two years ago. I have learned about course development, collaborated with other University departments, and worked with archival material and digital collections. Most importantly, I’ve ushered undergraduates through Wilson Library’s doors and helped them gain first-hand experience as emerging researchers.

A GRC Perspective: Religion and the Problem of Violence

Written by Matthew Dougherty, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies

This semester, I had the pleasure of serving as a Graduate Research Consultant again, this time for a First Year Seminar RELI 077: “Martyrs and Warriors: Religion and the Problem of Violence” with Professor Bayne. A class on violence and religion is difficult at the best of times, but this semester was particularly so given the events both in our own community and abroad this year. I was happy to see that most of the students in RELI 077 approached the topic of religion and violence with a sense of immediacy and moral purpose.

My main role in the course was to help the students develop their final projects, which could take the form of papers, multimedia productions, or websites. The purpose of the final project was to help students think through the implications of the topics covered in the course for contemporary events, so many students chose to create websites to reflect their sense that a digital final product would better reflect the fluid state of affairs around many of their chosen topics.

Professor Bayne and I encouraged the students to base their websites around one incident or figure. About half of the students doing websites chose to look at issues in other countries, such as the religious motivation for Russia’s laws against “gay propaganda,” the role of Buddhist monks in encouraging violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority, and the events surrounding the death of an American missionary in Ecuador. The other half chose to turn the analytic lenses they had learned to use on events in the United States, such as violence against abortion providers by extremist members of the Pro-Life movement, the August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and vandalism at a Muslim school in Rhode Island in response to the shootings in Chapel Hill that wounded our community so deeply.

In working with the students on their projects, a few themes emerged. First, most of them wanted to consider the role that the traditional news media and social media played in the presentation of violence. The vandalism in Rhode Island, for example, was explicitly meant to respond to national debates over whether and how the shootings in Chapel Hill constituted a hate crime. Web sites, because they allow for the integration of videos, sounds, and social media like Twitter feeds, were ideal for tackling that topic. Second, although many of the students wanted to begin their analysis of violent events from the scriptures central to the religions involved, as they thought more deeply about their projects they found that familial, local, economic and political causes were often as influential as religious beliefs on the way that events played out.

My main challenge was to get the students to narrow and deepen their analysis of their chosen topics. From the perspective of a first-year student, it can be difficult to see how one might deal with a given incident without discussing all the possible texts and histories that might have led up to it. Showing them how to pick and choose in order to craft a story that they could reasonably complete—and which would be more comprehensible to their audiences—became a major part of almost all the meetings I had with students. It was a pleasure to watch as students began to understand why I was asking them to cut down what they expected to discuss, and began to make their own editorial decisions.

To see Professor Bayne’s reflection on this class, click here.

RELI 77: Marytrs and Warriors: Religion and the Problem of Violence

Written by Brandon Bayne, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies

Marytrs and Warriors: Religion and the Problem of Violence (RELI 77) was an experiment for everybody. It was my first time offering the course and my initial experience with a First Year Seminar (FYS). The breadth and sensitivity of the topic daunted us all, even as its pressing urgency and relevance became increasingly clear throughout the semester. For all of these reasons, I was thankful to have the support of an excellent GRC, Matthew Dougherty.

Before the semester began, Matt helped me strategize the most effective assignments as well as pedagogical techniques that would provide important context to the students and prepare them for original research. The course was structured in discrete units that were meant to scaffold together as components of their final project. By engaging contemporary accusations, scriptural citations, scholarly explanations and historical instantiations of religion and violence, I hoped to provide the broader context and intellectual resources for the students so that they could take on their own projects in the last third of the semester. Matt supported the initial instruction by organizing a “scavenger hunt” at Davis Library. Together with library specialists, Matt exposed students to the digital and material resources that would be crucial for their success, including specialized search engines, databases, technology, and yes, even books.

We then guided them through short papers based on close readings of a so-called “texts of terror,” scriptural passages that are typically cited as inspiring violent action. As they interpreted these textual representations of stories like the “Akedah,” Abraham’s binding and potential sacrifice of his son (Isaac or Ishmael, depending on the tradition), we encouraged students to move beyond mastery of content and to an investigation of context and possible consequences for the original audiences. Matt proved especially crucial in pushing them beyond the twin errors of simple summary or rushed anachronism and into critical evaluations that engaged these texts on their own terms.

Their growing skill at combing empathetic understanding with critical inquiry served them well as they took on their final projects. We asked them to pick a contemporary moment of conflict or violence in which religion may have played a dominant role. Instead of taking the category of religion for granted as a discrete sphere of cultural production and direct cause, we encouraged students to imbed their research in local, historical, and social fields. They were asked to also evaluate how other factors contributed to the hostilities. As Matt pointed out in his blog, they found that these other elements proved crucial in understanding what is too often dismissed as “religious fanaticism.” He aided this process significantly as he met with students personally and helped them find the connections between our study and their own research.

Several students gravitated to moments when religion seemed to inspire conflict. At the same time, others charted hatred and fear against religious practitioners as its own source of violence. This reality hit particularly close to home in mid-February, when our class grappled with the brutal murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha. Having chosen a topic almost ripped from the headlines, our class conversations had regularly circled around reports of terrorism – from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, to the saints of the Mexican drug cartels, to the increasingly brutal theatrics of ISIS. However, none of us expected how our topic would touch our city and our campus in such a tragic and heartrending way. In the days after the deaths of Deah, Yusor and Razan, we simply created space to talk about both the murders as well as the campus response. Some knew the victims or were connected through the Muslim student community. They expressed how their faith sustained them as they grappled with its meaning.

As weeks went by, several other students were able to connect our academic study of martyrdom and persecution to the murders and trace the ripples of response that extended from our very campus to other parts of the country and the world in cycles of memorialization and recrimination. Two students, for instance linked vandalism at a New England school to the wider problem of Islamaphobia that may have contributed to murders, but certainly was one of the unfortunate reactions. Other students noted in their research that while Muslims are often presented as the principal perpetrators of terrorism in the media and popular imagination, they often find themselves the primary victims of ideological violence in Africa, Pakistan, Myanmar, and unfortunately even Chapel Hill.


The GRC Experience in Psyc 500: Developmental Psychopathology

Written by Tate Halverson, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Psychology

This semester I served as the Graduate Research Consultant for Professor Eric Youngstrom’s Psyc 500: Developmental Psychopathology class. Psyc 500 is an advanced level undergraduate course that provides an overview of behavioral and emotional disorders of childhood and adolescence. The course is geared towards students interested in attending graduate school in a psychology-related field. Undergraduate students in the class spend the semester writing a special topics paper focused on a behavioral or emotional disorder of their choice as well as a final presentation. My role as GRC this semester allowed students the additional opportunity to extend their interest in a specific disorder to a secondary data analysis project for presentation at an annual professional psychology conference.

I met with students on a weekly basis to discuss what they were learning in class as well as their specific research interests in order to develop hypotheses we were then able to test through secondary data analysis of a multimillion-dollar federally funded National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study. Professor Youngstrom (instructor and principal investigator of aforementioned study), and other graduate students in my lab also attended the weekly meetings to collaborate on the analyses. At the end of the semester, the students integrated everything they learned (e.g., literature review, statistical analyses, R syntax to generate graphics) into posters for presentation at a professional conference. Topics included: (a) the relationship between sleep disturbance and diagnosis of bipolar disorder, (b) sensitivity to reward and inhibition in conduct disorder, and (c) an examination of the behavioral approach/behavioral inhibition system as a state vs. trait system. Students were able to present their posters to their fellow classmates in Psyc 500, the annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research, and the annual North Carolina Psychological Association Conference to masters and doctoral-level clinicians. Additionally, students have submitted their posters for presentation to the annual Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Conference to be held in Chicago this fall, a national-level conference for both clinicians and researchers.

I firmly believe the GRC program is a great experience for everyone involved. I gained hands-on mentorship experience working with undergraduate students while concurrently seeking advice on mentorship from my current advisor, Professor Youngstrom. The students did an excellent job on their posters and, apart from this being a great learning experience for them, the opportunity to present at professional conferences will add considerable merit to the CVs of these students as they prepare to apply for post-baccalaureate research positions and graduate school.

Come to the Table: Undergraduate Research on Food and Feasting

Written by Sarah Morris, GRC and graduate student at the School of Information and Library Science

By fate or by fortune, this semester I served as the Graduate Research Consultant for CMPL255H: The Feast in Philosophy, Film, and Fiction. The class is beautiful: the students read, research, and write on the ways food and feasting intersect with identity, custom, ethics, and relationships. They examine what facets of the feast speak to cultural priorities, which ones probe at essential humanity.

I am a graduate student in the department of library sciences. Working with Dr. Inger Brodey as a GRC was a dream, because we were able to scaffold original research into the class, each assignment building on the prior one. The first was primarily a close reading, using supporting texts from the class; the second included research on visual media and artistry along with thematic research in the fields of literature and philosophy; the final assignment was an in-depth, comparative research paper of the student’s choice, where the student linked concepts and texts from the course. As a librarian, I have a vested interest in ensuring that students know where and how to find resources that support their ideas, but as a GRC I was able to also help students see that research should always support and shape one’s argument, not be supplementary or tangential. Original research is where students can contribute to the conversation on ideas that interest them, on texts that inspire them.

Study Gallery at the Ackland

Study Gallery at the Ackland

To emphasize their creative and critical contributions, Dr. Brodey and I created several public platforms for the students to publish their work. We created a virtual site, virtualfeast.net, to publish the student work from all of the sections of this course. Not only do the students see that their work lives in a beautiful place, but they can see how their work contributes to the larger body of ideas from students of this class past and future. We also collaborated with the Ackland Art Museum to create a student-gallery with student-led explanations of the artwork that is on public display. And lastly, the students are urged and prepped to submit their papers to the food issue of the literary journal of Transverse.

Final Feast

Final Feast

My favorite part of class, the aspect that set it apart for me, is that each class was hosted by a student, who did background research for the reading, prepared questions, and brought in food. The term “hosting” assumes an offering, a welcoming, a relationship. It establishes a generosity of spirit that was carried throughout discussion and reflection. Moreover, students exercised important skills that are often left out of academic spheres: how to value and acknowledge the contributions of others (offering gifts to speakers), and how to connect the world of ideas with the world of the living (feeding others with questions and breakfast). Good research not only supports a paper, but strengthens the arguments and ideas as they move beyond the classroom into the lives of the researchers. Through these elements, the class not only researched the feast, but embodied it.

I am grateful to have been the GRC for this course; I am happy to have had a seat at the table.