Ilana telling us about the linkage between what we eat and how free we are.
In this post we have the lovely ladies Ilana Newman ’18, Hai Lun Tan ’18, and Katie Barnes ’18. They’ve done some amazing thesising about topics both domestic and international, and there was some more travel involved! To Cuba too! You can also do some literary traveling to Crete in 1200 B.C.E. (sadly Katie couldn’t actually travel there. bc 1200 B.C.E.)
Check out their thesising after the jump!
Ilana Newman ’18, HIST Major, Environmental Studies Major
Working Title: You Are What You Eat: The Grimke-Weld Family and The Graham Diet
On her topic: My topic sort of shifted yesterday actually. I always knew what I was writing about, but the main thesis argument basically changed yesterday. It hasn’t been too difficult, just a slight amount of redirecting. So what I’m doing is I’m looking at Sylvester Graham, who is this dietitian in America who was mainly active in the 1830s and 40s. I’m looking at his diet and how it was practiced by this family of abolitionists: the Grimke-Welds which includes Angelina Grimke, Sarah Grimke and Angelina’s husband Theodore Weld. I’m looking at how the diet was used as a way to visualize a more just, free, and democratic America.
On how she thought of her topic: I always knew I wanted to write about food and food movements, so as I was doing research I came across the Graham Diet which is kind of wild. It’s really restrictive, there’s not meat, no dairy, no alcohol, tea, coffee, spices, or condiments. Basically, it’s all focused on this homemade brown bread. Graham was very focused on the making of bread in the home. And then also lots of fruits and vegetables. It was kind of weird and fascinating and I wanted to learn more and I haven’t been able to step away from it.
On her progress: I basically have been rewriting one of my chapters. I have my full draft, but it needs a lot of rewriting because of that redirection that I mentioned earlier. I think it’s going to happen, but it’ll definitely involve some very late nights.
On her current mental state: It’s tenuous. I’m feeling good, but I feel like with one small push I’ll be over the edge.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: There are two. So I got a Davenport Grant to go to the Clements Library at the University of Michigan which is a special collections library and I got to do research there. So as I was looking at Theodore Weld’s letters I realized his handwriting is terrible. It’s so, so, bad, it’s actually chicken scratch. I was looking at it in this archive and I was like I cannot read this, I don’t know what to do, so I spent my time just taking pictures of all the letters and brought them home and there were many late night where I was just trying to decode them letter by letter. The funny thing is that it’s actually pretty well known that Theodore Weld has terrible handwriting. There’s actually this letter from Sylvester Graham to Theodore where Graham is trying to convince Theodore to go out of retirement to give a speech and he says something like “You don’t even have to give it, just write it and we’ll have someone else read it, if anyone can actually read your hand writing.” The second one was when I had to give this talk for the College of the Environment because I’m also an Environmental Studies major and it’s a joint thesis. So I was giving that talk and for some reason the audience, for the question and answer portion really focused on an aspect of the thesis that I had not started researching or writing yet, because the way I went about this thesis was I researched a topic and then wrote the chapter right after. So I had an idea, but I didn’t really have the facts and reach to back it up at that point and I tried to B.S. it, but I really couldn’t and then I just told them “Let me give it to you guys, I haven’t started researching this yet” and they were like okay, let us know when you figure it out. One of the professors asked me what my “Theoretical framework” was and I just didn’t know how to answer that because I still don’t even know what a theoretical framework is. But I went home that night and was like what am I doing.
On her favorite form of procrastination: I like to stress bake a lot. I also like to make soups because they sort of take a nice long time and you can add things to them as you go so it’s a very drawn out process. I also really like this game on my phone, it’s called Mario Run. It’s such a fun game and it’s addicting and there have definitely been people who have come up behind me and looked it and I’m like oh no I swear I am actually working. I find it kind of embarrassing I play it as much as I actually do.
On her plans for April 17th: I am going to be on the steps drinking a lot of champagne and then probably make a giant cake to celebrate and also sleep a lot.
Her advice for future thesis writers: Make sure it’s something you really, really love. I’m sure it’s something that a lot of people say, but it’s true. You’re basically devoting you’re entire senior year to this project plus your summer maybe if you’re doing a grant as well so you got to make sure you like or you’ll just be miserable.
On her favorite part of thesis: I’d have to say the side adventures it takes me on. I learned a lot about some really random things like the founding of Oberlin for example. Theodore Weld and his activism was really instrumental to the founding of Oberlin. Also one of the people who originally organized their dining service was a Grahamite so it’s a really nice place where they all converge. I was thinking that if I had gone to Oberlin this sort of thesis would have happened but it would have been look at this school’s history. I’ve also learned about a history of vegetarianism on another sidetrack that I went into.
If your thesis was a song/movie/TV show: I’ve been thinking about this for about a week. I know it would be on the Food Network because it’s about food, but beyond that I really don’t know. I keep thinking of all the things that it could be, like is it Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives? No, it’s not that. Is it Chopped? No. So I’ve crossed everything out, so TBD. Still in development.
On questions she wished she had asked: Things about the workload and managing classes while doing thesis. I think it was smart that I did only two other academic classes, which gives me three credits in total. I wish I had partially enrolled as well though because I would have liked to have had an entire semester just to devote to thesis. So I guess finding a work, academic balance is essential.
Most used word/phrase: “Grahamite” is probably my most used word, but in terms of phrasing I love using words like “Indeed” or “Of course” to kind of embellish the writing. I probably use them too often, but it makes it feel fancy.
Working title: Monuments of a Forgotten Past: Deconstructing the Historical Narratives of the Chinese in Cuba. I might change the “Forgotten” to something else.
On her topic: It’s about the Chinese in Cuba. A lot of people ask me, “Oh cool, Chinese in Cuba, what about?” I talk a lot about the historical narrative that the Chinese in Cuba. The story of the Chinese in Cuba started in the 1840s when they went to Cuba as indentured servants under contract. The story goes that they worked off their contracts and joined revolutionary forces and participated in the Cuban revolution and the 10 Years War and through that they transcended this image of indentured servants and in a way transcended their suffering, so eventually they integrated into Cuban society. It’s this whole narrative that I’m trying to lay out.
On how she came up with the topic: Initially I really wanted to do a creative thesis in just the COL because I had taken a bunch of creative writing classes and I really wanted to explore creative non-fiction. However when I took the comment to the history department they were like no you can’t do that, we won’t accept this. So I went to a talk by a professor at Brown who came to Wesleyan, her name is Evalyn Hu-DeHart, and it was about slavery and indentured servitude so I decided I had to talk to this professor and I bombarded her before her talk and was like you have to talk to me, I have this great idea but don’t know where to start. So she spoke with me and I got started there. Then through the history departments I got some grants that allowed me to go to Cuba during the summer to do a lot of field work. From there my topic changed a whole ton. Initially I wanted to do something about ethnographic history of the Chinese in Cuba, but that didn’t work out because it wasn’t history-y enough.
On her progress: Progress has been good. My thesis advisor initially wanted a first full draft by October and I was like that’s not going to happen. So yeah, I got though it slowly. Progress has been okay.
On her current mental state: I’m actually really happy right now. I’m trying not to get into this bubble of anxiety that everyone is in, and I’m trying not to tell everyone that I think I’m close to being finished or that I think I’m finished. I’m trying to be optimistic and offer help to people and friends and do whatever I can. Right now I’m just doing footnotes and that’s been a bugger but it’s going.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: I actually had quite a few. The first was thinking that my thesis advisor absolutely hated me. I went to lunch with him and was showing him what I had so far and asking for his help and he was like “It turns out you don’t have that much so I’m not sure if I want to work with you”, but I was like, “Ahh, you’re the only person in the history department who does anything related to Chinese history, you have to work with me”. So then he told me if I wanted him to be my thesis advisor I had to fulfill all these conditions like taking certain classes and having two chapters by thanksgiving which was way too much. But it worked out and we get along great now. The second thing was when my computer crashed in November and I cried and went to ITS and they were very helpful.
On her favorite form of procrastination: I don’t do this often, but I like to go to Weshop and heat up chicken nuggets. If you calculate it, it takes about 5 minutes to walk over, sorry this is going really into detail, but on the instructions it says you can heat up about 4 to 6 on one plate, and so technically if there are 20 chicken nuggets in the bag it takes a while to heat them up for two minutes on each side. And then you have to flip them and so it could take, if you really drag it out, up to 20 minutes. So I do that sometimes.
On her plans for April 17th: I’m definitely going to be on the steps with everyone else. I’m going to sleep. I’m going to finish my re-watch of gossip girl on Netflix. And then probably just spend time with my housemates because that’s what we’ve been saying. Oh! And also play HQ so we can get rich and famous. All of those things.
Her advice for future thesis writers: I feel like any advice I give will be redundant to anyone else’s advice, so I’ll keep this short. Make sure you get along well with your thesis advisor. Find someone who enjoys working with you, and you enjoy working with them. As well as someone who likes your ideas, but also challenges your ideas. Also find a group you work well with. I feel like the thesis process can be a lonely process if you make it to be one, so definitely find friends you can work well with.
Most used word/phrase: Probably “Historical narrative”, “Chinese in Cuba”, “Deconstruct”, and maybe “Propagation”.
Katie Barnes ’18, she/her Archaeology and CCIV
Working Title: It’s kind of an archaeology joke—no one’s going to get it except for my advisor—it’s going to be called “The Not So Wild Country East of Dikte: Multivariate Analysis of Bronze Age East Cretan tomb Assemblages. It’s a play on a bunch of titles that other scholars have used in the past.
On her topic: So there’s an island called Crete in the Mediterranean, and around 1200 B.C.E. there is a major collapse, everything goes to shit. There’s this one part of Crete—Eastern Crete—everyone assumes that Eastern Crete also went to shit, because they assume it was kind of shit before the collapse also. So I’m looking at what people were putting in tombs before the collapse and after the collapse to prove that Eastern Crete is actually not shit, and had a bunch of really cool stuff going on after the collapse.
On how she came up with her topic: Pretty much my advisor, I have always really liked Crete, they have some cool art and architecture and stuff, but I didn’t know I was going to write a thesis until like the week that the proposal was due. And I had some ideas, and she was like “that idea doesn’t work, do you want to do Crete?” and I was like okay!
On her progress: It’s okay actually! I’m in the editing progress, but I really hate editing—I’ve never been one to edit. I usually just turn in my first draft of whatever, so I’m struggling. I also never did anything on my bibliography, so I have upwards of 70 or 80 sources, all of which are not in bibliography format yet. I’m gonna have a great weekend.
On her current mental state: Pretty panicked. I have had to start taking melatonin to fall asleep, because every night my brain is like “oh what if we wrote about this type of pottery? Have you considered perfume in these vessels?” like I just can’t stop thinking about Eastern Crete all the time always.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: So one of the tombs that I’m looking at is a tomb that my advisor has done a lot of research on, and so she shared some spreadsheets with me. I have been using these for months now, and they have a lot of really lovely pictures, and some basic information about the fabric, types of clay, types of swords/metals/whatever in the tomb. So I kept telling her that there are no measurements on there, I kept saying that I didn’t have the weights of any of these objects, I don’t have any of the sizes. And she was like “what! That’s so weird and mysterious, I’ll have to look into this,” and I was like “it’s just not there!” So after days of this communication and after months of me spending time on these spreadsheets, she sends me an email that is like “have you tried clicking on the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet?” It was there ALL ALONG! I have never been so embarrassed in my life. So I’m still recovering from that, and it happened like a month and a half ago.
On her favorite form of procrastination: Making to do lists, pretending I’m going to do the things on the list, and then staring out a window for hours on end.
On her plans for April 17th: I’m gonna get really drunk, and then my birthday is on the 19th, so I’m going to continue getting really drunk. I’m really excited!
Advice for future thesis writers: I’m like going back and forth between don’t do it!! It’s the worst!! And you should totally do it because it’s really cool to feel like you’re an expert on something. But, use your spring break wisely, and don’t procrastinate all of winter break, because I did very little over both of those breaks and am regretting it right now.
On her favorite part of her thesis: I have a chapter that is 186 pages—it’s a really really nice list of pottery and swords with these beautiful images. And I describe all of the sites and it took my so long and the formatting is gorgeous. My thesis is going to be stupid expensive to print, but it’s really lovely. I like to scroll through whenever I’m panicking, and just look at all of the work that I put in first semester to remind myself that I can keep going.
If your thesis was a song/movie/tv show what would it be? One of my friends told me that this question was going to be asked, and I like panicked about this; I was like “oh my god a song, what?” so I have no idea, I was too stressed to think about one. This was the thing that pushed me over the edge two days ago.
Most used word/phrase: It’s probably “Eastern Crete” or “Narrative of Collapse” or “Pottery” would probably be up there. I have like 400 pieces of pottery in my thesis.
interviews by wilk and fern.