THESISCRAZY 2016 (Part 6): Decapitated Remains

  Plans for April 12th: “I’m supposed to actually run a TA session that night, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”


Welcome back haha. This is Part 6 of THESISCRAZY 2016, our annual charade of entering small cubby-like rooms with lots of books and asking thesis writers cool questions about their cool theses. See parts 1 through 5 here, here, here, here, and here wooo! See our THESISCRAZY archives too.

Now, read about grave robberies, climate change, and syphilis:

mrothbergMarina Rothberg ’16, ANTH/ARCP (thesis in both), carrel #412

Working title: “Grave Concerns: Agency Theory and Post-Burial Manipulation of the Corpse”

On her topic: “I did excavations in Israel in a burial ground, and we discovered piles of bones and figured that it was the work of grave robbers who had come into the burial site and 6 months after burial ripped apart the corpses to take valuables. I was really interested in specifically what these people must have been thinking when they opened the tomb and saw these gory remains and chose to steal from them. So, my thesis is 3 case studies of various openings of burials and touching and manipulating the corpse. The first one is grounded in Anglo-Saxon cases in which they opened the tombs that they believed were haunting the villages and decapitated the corpses, or crushed them with stones, or broke their bones. My second one is in Mayan culture; people dug up the remains of this aristocratic woman and used her remains to emphasize this political relationship. Any my third is grave robbing in ancient Egypt. So in each I’m thinking about if these people are working within structures, or against them.”

Favorite part of thesis: “Constructing the case studies. It’s been really fun to look at the pictures, particularly the ones of destroyed mummies because it’s so shocking and like, what on Earth were these people thinking destroying them like this? You can imagine being inside a tomb at night, really dark and creepy and hot, in a sarcophagus…It’s really scary!”

On her progress: “I have a really hard-ass advisor, so there was a point where I was writing 30 pages per week and now I’m just editing, so I’m in a good place.”

On her current mental state: “Exhilarated. I don’t want to be obnoxious, but I’ve been going to bed at like 10PM. I’m not really stressed out. I am really stressed out, but I have everything.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “My thesis was actually gonna be based in my field work and then in December I was told that I couldn’t use my field work for a variety of reasons. So the rug was pulled out from under me and I had to construct this whole other argument, and I wasn’t sure how to go about that. It wasn’t really until February that I decided this is the angle I wanted to take.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “Drinking. I would have my thesis chapters due on Tuesday, so I would drink heavily all weekend and then Sunday write like 30 pages.”

If her thesis were a song/movie/TV show: “It would be Bones, if it was a TV show. If it was a song, I think it would be “Feed My Frankenstein” by Alice Cooper. That’s what I want people to listen to.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “The beginning stages of writing is really hard because you’re not sure what voice to find and you’re not sure how to write, you’re not sure how to tackle it and it seems so immense. All advisors will tell you just to start writing and you can tweak it later and that seems so trivial, and you don’t really even wanna do that, but it’s the most important thing. You just have to dive in.”

Plans for April 12th: “I’m gonna get so drunk. I already bought two bottles of champagne. I’m gonna try and get out of class early. Oh I’m gonna shave my legs! The Olin steps. I’m supposed to actually run a TA session that night, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

michelle liMichelle Li ’16, majoring in ENVS, ECON and MATH (thesis in ECON, counting for ENVS capstone), QAC carrel

Working title: “Sort of. I think officially it’s gonna be something like ‘Climate Change and Migration: Two Case Studies on Mexico.’ I did have my heart set on something more creative. It was gonna be ‘A Healing Net Across Borders: Climate Change and Migration, Evidence from Mexico,’ but I was told that it would remind people of hospitals or something.”

On her topic: “I’m writing about the impact of climate change on human migration. This is something that’s been observed all over the world where when you have climate change or a lot of environmental stressors in one place, people might find it necessary to move somewhere else. So, specifically what I’m doing is I’m looking at the impact of strivers that could be related to climate change on migration in Mexico both internally within Mexico but also to the United States.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I knew I wanted to do a thesis in Environmental Studies and Economics and I was always interested in more human aspects and dimensions of economics. So, I was looking at what research has been done in that intersection recently and migration is a huge thing now because of everything that happened in 2015. It sounded really interesting, so I thought I’d look into it.”

On her progress: “It was interesting because, basically, during fall semester I thought I was going to do something a lot more qualitative, so I imagined that I was gonna look at more places around the world and not have my thesis be very data-intensive. So I got some feedback from the department and spring semester started and the whole direction changed. I almost felt like I was starting over, but it was also good. It’s been cool to do a lot of empirical stuff, which I haven’t done in a long time.”

Most used word/phrase: “Beyond migration and climate change a lot, I talk a lot about vulnerability and risk. I’m just staring at words right now so…like…yeah.”

On her current mental state: “I have a complete draft and it’s pretty crappy. So I know I need to do so much to edit it to make it the way that I want it to be, but it’s also like after I had a complete draft, the motivation went up but it also went down a little bit.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “The weekend before spring break, I came down with this really really bad fever that I’d never had before at school. It was weird because I felt okay in the morning and I came to my thesis carrel on…I think it was Saturday…and I completely passed out. I woke up and was like ‘Oh, five hours have passed.’ So that was kind of traumatic, but I also don’t remember too much of it.”

Favorite forms of procrastination: “I’ve been looking at a lot of vegan food blogs. They’re just really pretty. I’ve been keeping up with the election primary news.”

Favorite part of thesis process: “The idea of ownership. I didn’t think I would be able to write 90, 100 pages in a short span of time. Just seeing that happen was kind of cool.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “In terms of the thesis, it helps…it’s probably cliché…to really enjoy your topic, because if I didn’t find myself so fascinated by learning about migration and the history of Mexican migration, this would not have been an enjoyable process at all. In terms of balancing the thesis with other stuff, you just really have to think through what you want to do senior year. I originally contemplated applying to grad school and then I started writing a thesis and was like ‘nope, not happening.’”

Plans for April 12th: “Definitely Olin steps with everyone. I’ll get to actually be reunited with all my friends who aren’t doing theses. Maybe not April 12th, but after, I feel like there was something really beautiful, when I was a freshman, about doing spontaneous things randomly that I haven’t been able to do all year because of thesis stuff. So I just want to be spontaneously exploring events for the rest of my senior year.”

valandbeccaVal Demuynck ’16 (HIST, FIST, and a certificate in Middle Eastern Studies; thesis in HIST and FIST) and Becca Waxman ’16 (HIST), both in carrel #D449

Val’s working title: “No I don’t have a working title…no, not yet. I’m hoping that the title comes to me in a moment of inspiration before I have to hand this in.”

Becca’s working title: “I have one, it’s ‘Event, Response, and Avenues toward Justice: Historicizing the Delhi Gang Rape of 2012’ so it’s really long now that I say it out loud.”

On Val’s topic: “Mine is about the stigma of syphilis in colonial Algeria, and there are 2 parts. The first is looking at it as a historical phenomenon and the historical process that lead to that stigma, and then how that stigma became the foundation for the public health infrastructure throughout the colonial period and how that influences perceptions of sexuality, the body, and health among the Algerian populations. I’m looking at how certain social groups can be blamed for the spread of the disease because of subjective understandings of the way diseases are spread.”

On Becca’s topic: “You can kind of tell from the title, hopefully. Mine is about a gang rape that happened in Delhi in 2012. It became really famous and everyone was talking about it, not only in India but also in the rest of the world. And so, I’m looking at how this particular instance of sexual violence became an event that everyone knew about, why that happened, and what it means for history, because it happened really recently.”

On how they thought of their topics:

Val: “I started thinking about it in this class that all history majors have to take called ‘historiography’ my junior fall. One of the purposes of the class is to do this overarching project that is supposed to help you think about what you might do for your thesis. I was thinking of something on the history of public health in colonial Algeria. Then, that summer I went to some archives in France and I started looking through the material and I saw that there was a lot about syphilis in the history of public health and then the social groups that were blamed for the spread of syphilis.”

Becca: “I never thought about writing a thesis until junior spring, and then everyone was talking about it so it was like ‘I guess I’ll just try to find something I wanna do.’ And so, I knew I wanted to do something on India and probably something to do with gender, and something in contemporary history, because those are the things that I’m generally interested in. So I sat down with my adviser and we went back and forth with ideas about different events that I could write about. Mostly it was just him saying them and then me saying if I liked them or not, and I just landed on this event that happened really recently. I felt like I had a lot I could do with it since no one has written about it historically yet.”

On their progress: 

V: “Progress? I think I’m on track and where I should be, which essentially means like I need to spend every moment I can doing this in like a crazy brawl to the finish but I think that’s where everyone is so I don’t feel behind. I just feel…crazy.”

B: “I think we’ve both been progressing at a similar rate the whole way, which has been nice. I ran through my thesis for the first time, which was kinda scary, but it’s not that bad. I don’t know, I wouldn’t turn it in now. I have a lot to do, but I don’t think I’m screwed, so that’s good.”

On their current mental states:

B: “Not screwed, but not great. I keep telling people I’m not horrible but not great and people are like ‘that’s good.’”

V: “I have not slept enough, but I’m so used to it by now that I’m just like alright, go go go. I think my target bedtime right now is 3am, but that’s usually between 3am and 5am.”

On their most traumatic thesis experiences:

B: “Well, I think mine literally happened yesterday. I sent my adviser my draft and I accidentally included the acknowledgements, which is just so awkward. They’re not supposed to see the acknowledgements yet, and they’re also not done. So I’m hoping that he just didn’t see them. It was super embarrassing.”

V: “I don’t know about a moment, but from this past Wednesday and the week before, I had to write 3 papers, do a project, and take a midterm and do this thesis and I was like…what is happening? I just, I just don’t know what’s happening. It was so much work…whatever. But I made it.”

B: “I think the first time I got bad edits back was traumatic.”

V: “Also, maybe the third time the light in our carrel went out and we realized that was a thing that was gonna keep happening.”

B: “There were 2 months where we just couldn’t use our carrel cause the light went out every time.”

V: “And it was our special place, you know? And now, it’s dark.”

B: “That was a metaphor.”

Val’s most used word/phrase: “I probably have 3. Syphilis, prostitution, stigma.”

Becca’s most used word/phrase: “Rape, India, and maybe event.”

Their favorite parts of their theses:

V: “It was really cool going through primary sources, making connections about all of it, and realizing that no one has made the connections that you’ve made before. You’re like, wow, I’m the first person to use this evidence to come up with this conclusion. And that’s a really cool feeling.”

B: “This isn’t actually my favorite part, but in the fall I went to a film screening of a movie that was made about my event in New York and Susan Sarandon introduced it, so that was cool!”

Their favorite forms of procrastination:

B: “I’ve watched A LOT of YouTube videos. There was one day where I watched a whole hour of Bollywood music videos. Val was there. I used to procrastinate by doing other work. That was my first semester thing. Going to Weshop.”

V: “Yeah, I take walks.”

Advice for future thesis writers:

V: “Do your footnotes as you go!”

B: “Oh my God, yeah.”

V: “On a more philosophical level, do something that you love and that you’re passionate about because this is a very difficult experience, but it’s really great if you’re passionate.”

B: “A good advisor helps a lot too. Someone who knows what you’re talking about academically and someone you work really well with as a person, because you’re gonna spend a lot of one-on-one time with them every week for a year. It helps to have a good relationship with them and for them to be someone whose judgment you trust.”

Plans for April 12th: 

B: “Well, Olin steps with champagne. I actually work at Swings and I have a dinner shift that night so I’m gonna get super drunk and then go work. So everyone should come to Swings.”

V: “Yeah, Olin steps. Champagne. And then just to be swept up in the flow of the day.”

B: “And then sleep a lot.”

Questions they wished we asked:

V: “Ask us how we know each other!”

B: “Yeah we want to talk about our friendship!”

V: “We’ve been friends since the beginning of freshman year!”

B: “I think you should tell the story about our carrel.”

V: “Yeah, let’s tell it.”

B: “Basically, there’s like the lottery for carrels and Val got this carrel, a shared carrel with someone else, and I was up really high on the waitlist. I was obviously really sad that I didn’t get a carrel, and it turned out that the person Val was supposed to share with got a carrel in Exley too, so they took that carrel and I got the carrel with Val.”

V: “It was beautiful.”

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