THESISCRAZY 2018 (Part 10): The Residents of 43 Home

The tag on the outside of Gabe’s carrel in Olin

With this 10th installment of THESISCRAZY 2018, we bring you 3 out of the 4 residents of 43 Home. These three dudes are working hard (and playing hard?), and their theses look phenomenal. We’ve got some discussion of the Foucault/Chomsky debate (check it out, or at least thoroughly enjoy Gabriel Kachuck ‘18‘s hilarious description of it), of Hamburg (and hamburgers) by Jack Guenther ’18, and Joel Michael ’18s valiant attempts at resisting the hegemony of the colon in thesis titles.

Theses are after the jump!

Gabriel Kachuck ‘18, He/him, Thesis in College of Letters.

Working title: “:the Ship of Fools.” But that is very very tentative.

On his topic: So my topic is centered around an old book that we have in our Library of Special Collections. It’s a 1497 edition of Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools. It’s a Latin translation of that. It’s richly annotated. It’s colored in. It’s got a list of names that someone wanted to add to the Ship of Fools, and my thesis is about how we deal with this artifact. I ask questions of it like, “What kind of past did it witness?”, “what kind of past can we talk about when we talk about the past of an object?” I also ask questions like, “what does it mean for something that used to have everyday use to enter into a special collection to become something that was archived, that was regulated.” I also ask questions about what kind of uses can we make of books generally, and what kind of uses we can make of this book in particular, like, how do we read annotations, how do we read the content of the book, and what kind of intellectual products can we create through our approach to this old object. So like it’s kind of half seriously looking at the book and half theories of history. They kind of all are anchored in the Ship.

On how he chose his topic:  So, I’m really bad at choosing and that’s why I chose COL because I can’t choose disciplines, I can’t choose what kind of questions to ask, even my thesis is super broad. So the way I chose this was I had been to the special collections my first time junior year and this book was just phenomenal looking, ’cause it was just like so foreign with all these weird annotations and stuff. And no one had done anything serious with this particular artifact and the people over in the special collections were like, “if anyone wants to do their thesis about it they should do it.” And then as I was thinking about different ideas I had, I definitely had some other ideas that I still love a lot, but I just came down to it that all my questions about history were perfectly entangled with the kind of questions I had about the artifact. And so I just had to ask them. It came to the time when it was time to decide and I was like, “Alright, I’m just gonna do it.”

On his progress: “Well, I’m done with my thesis, I’ve been done since January.” *laughs* No, not at all. I have, like, a solid 70% of my thesis not only written, but it’s all been revised twice. So it’s in like what I would call the “leave behind” stage. That being said, I still have a chapter that I haven’t finished writing and which isn’t really scary so much as it just needs to get done and that’s to be done. And then after that my thesis is written. So I don’t feel nervous about it. My progress is that this thesis is going to get done, it just took me a little bit longer than expected. And of course, like, the deadline that I’m going to fulfill this Sunday was for a month ago, but I anticipated that as much as I could. When I feel like it’s insurmountable I go to the wall of theses in the COL library and read these pieces, and like some people have written crazy theses, or out of the way theses, and they always get it done, like hundreds of people.

On his current mental state: My current mental state is that I’m feeling pretty prepared. It’s definitely a run to Sunday, cause I’ve got to get into writing but I tend to take writing in like really intensive blocks, so I’m not feeling that stressed. I’m really trying to make the thesis not dominate my life. I feel like it’ll get done, like everyone gets it done and stressing about it, like fetishizing my own suffering, doesn’t help anyone, you know, it just puts me in a weird spot. I’m feeling happy, I think it’ll be interesting to read hopefully. I don’t plan on going into academia or pursuing this project further, which a lot of people doing theses do. For them, this becomes like a grounding for their future. I’ll never return to the subject again seriously. *laughs* I love these questions and thinking about them, but I don’t even love my topic that much, like, 15th century book history is not my thing. So that’s just like a privilege that I have, I guess.

On the most upsetting part of his thesis: Okay the translation of the book was in Latin, right, and all the annotations are in Latin, but they’re not like the Latin you imagine. I took Latin in high school, so I can read it fine. But these aren’t in regular Latin, they’re like paleography Latin, like 15th century Latin script. Early on in my thesis, I’d anticipated being able to read all of the content of this artifact, to figure out what the reader was saying in their annotations and at a certain point I just realized it wasn’t worth my time to do that. And it felt so upsetting because like I knew I was so close. I spent like a week and a half learning this stuff, and I could just barely do it. I just gave it up, I decided, you know what, it’s going to be like a void in my thesis that I’ll talk about seriously, but you just gotta leave things unfinished, and that always sucks. My theory in a philosophical sense would say that there’s always things you can’t read in books, because there’s something foreign and strange about something that was written before us, cause it was written in a context that is foreign to us and trying to put myself in the eyes and body of another person is problematic in certain senses. So I’m fine with that as long as I’m honest about it. I mean that’s what my thesis is about. It’s about like saying what I can and cannot do, and being entirely honest about it.

On his favorite form of procrastination: I read a lot of cocktail articles and cooking stuff. I also watch a lot of William Buckley debates from the Firing Line. And when I’m feeling at all stressed, I watch the Foucault/Chomsky debate which is a brilliant ride. *laughs* For anyone interested, it was put on Danish TV. And it’s Michel Foucault, very important theorist and historian of late 20th century France and Noam Chomsky, linguist, political theorist, provocateur certainly, also, and they’re sitting together in this huge room full of turtlenecked Danish people, that are looking kind of interested but not really. And Foucault can’t speak English that well, he can barely understand English that well. Chomsky speaks French and English. They’re not speaking the same language. But not only that, they’re not speaking the same conceptual language at all. They’re being asked questions about like the meaning of life, and Foucault’s like talking about this, and Chomsky’s talking about that, and they’re supposed to be debating, and it never happens! And the Danish guy in the middle in the turtleneck is so confused, he can’t do anything about it. It’s brilliant. For me it represents perfectly, like, the kind of things that I have to deal with all the time in my thesis, like trying to get people to speak about different things together and it just not working.

On his plans for April 17th: So I have class on April 17th until 4:10, which is weird. I’m not going to the rest of it. I told the professor I can’t do that for obvious reasons. So basically, I’m going away next week, from Wednesday to Friday to get off campus, got to a cabin in the woods with a friend, and get everything written so it’s feeling like it’s done, and then Saturday, Sunday, and Monday I’m gonna read my thesis in its entirety once each day. That’s gonna be the only thing I’m gonna do that day. And then I’m gonna wake up Tuesday, and I don’t think I’m gonna touch my thesis. I have poetry at the end, I might look at that a little closer. I’ll go to class, and I’m obviously bringing Champagne to class. I’m gonna leave class at 3:30, submit my thesis in CHUM, which is like across campus. And just do this walk of procession. Like, I’m thinking about playing trumpet music behind me as I walk toward Olin. I come to the steps and I’m imagining there’s people everywhere and it’s gonna be a beautiful sunny day. And then I hope that the time from Tuesday 4pm to Thursday 3pm is an entire blur. I have no plans.

Advice for future thesis writers: Planning early is helpful because it feels like afterward you’re filling in gaps instead of trying to produce more. I also think not letting it dominate your life. I mean nothing should really dominate your life, except for your life, and things that you love that make you find meaning. So far the people that I’ve seen take their theses seriously but are not chained by their theses are the people that are feeling best about it and are succeeding.

On if his thesis were a song or a tv show: I feel like I only have really boring answers to this. I feel like it would be a really schizophrenic tv show. I’s like almost Community because it’s so meta about itself. Or like the Grateful Dead has a song called the Ship of Fools which is important for me, because the Grateful Dead has played an impactful role in my life, so I would say that too. It’s a beautiful song.

Favorite part of his thesis: I mean there’s some cheeky parts of my thesis, because I’m doing some weird stuff. Like there’s one sentence that I wrote a long time ago, which I always remember, and I’m talking about the fact that we can’t write in this book anymore, even though people wrote back in it for like 400-500 years, and they messed around with it, they colored it, they tore stuff.  And I say this sentence like, “The only reason why I’m writing about the Ship of Fools is because I’m proscribed from writing against it.” And for me that’s, like, I don’t need a thesis if that sentence is understood in its in its entirety. So I like that part.

On his most frequently used term: *laughs* I mean, I think other than “book”, probably… this is gonna be a silly one, but I make up a term that I use a lot, and it’s called “archivization”. It’s the term that I define as like not just putting something in an archive but like putting something in an archive and then enchanting it with relic-like qualities. I call that whole process “archivization”, and over the course of a chapter, I use that, like, 40 times. I just kind of lay it on.

Any questions he wishes we asked: I do wanna say one thing which I think is fun. Whenever I get stressed with my thesis, and it’s also cause I’m a jumpy person and have a lot of pent up energy. I get and I print a new picture for my carrell, even though we’re not supposed to be posting stuff on it, but I find it really nice. I think a carrel should be like the place where calmness happens, cause like the library is kind of an insane place usually, so it’s nice to have a little hole of my own. So that’s been something fun in my thesis, thinking about the some of the most important pictures in my life that I want near me while I’m doing my thesis.

On his thesesfeces:I’m not really observing Passover, but it’s still kind of hit me, which is weird. Like I’ve had maybe a piece of matzoh a day maybe. Like yesterday we were out of bread so I made a matzoh sandwich out of necessity, and it’s amazing what this thing does. Other than that, poop is fine. I like to poop at home, that’s the problem. I’m like a home pooper. *laughs* So you know. It’s good.


Jack Guenther ’18He/him/his, History, COL, & German Studies

Working Title: “‘Gateway to the World’” Hamburg and the Global German Empire 1881-1914″. Gateway to the world is a nickname for Hamburg. I think that looks ugly, but I have to put it there.”

What’s your topic? German economic history before WWI, specifically Hamburg’s overseas commerce. Hamburg has always been Germany’s most active port. It’s the biggest port city in Europe right now. So Hamburg’s overseas commerce and how that has influenced German imperial policies before WWI. So, my thesis basically is a decisive factor in Germany’s geopolitical maneuverings was actually responding to these merchants going all over the world and making a lot of money and spreading German-ness but also had their own private interests and that’s one of the tensions I’m looking at.

How they thought of topic? I studied in Hamburg spring of my sophomore year. I didn’t think of the topic then, but I wrote a term paper for one of my history classes there on the Hanseatic League, which is a 14th Century trading group in northern Europe and is kinda far from my topic. But I came back and I knew I wanted to work on my thesis with Professor Grimmer-Solem, he’s been my professor since freshman year. So I like went to him and said, ‘So, what would you think about a thesis on the Hanseatic League?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, so clearly you’ve been influenced by your time in Hamburg. Problem is, they wrote everything in Latin, not German so you couldn’t read it.’” And so he suggested that I move my time frame up substantially, to the 1880s. What I didn’t know at the time was that he said that because he was just finishing up a book on a very similar topic. So he really guided my thesis for the first 75% of it. But now, I just feel so influenced by him, I just need to get out from under that. I recently turned in a chapter draft and there was a paragraph in the chapter where he was like, ‘Jack, this is just you telling me what I argued to you in one of our tutorials. You gotta change it a little bit.’ And I was like ugh, I really wanna get it right. And that was when I was like, not everyone who does a thesis is that close to what their tutor does.   

Current mental state? Very in the zone

Most upsetting thesis experience: “I left a party at 1:30 once to work on my thesis. The COL library is open 24/7, so that’s really convenient. It was a horrible decision, it was a drunk decision. I was like, ‘Oh a cup of coffee? I can work on the thesis.’”

Fave form of procrastination? Soccer

Plans for April 17/after you hand thesis in? Relax, champagne, honors decision

Advice for future thesis writers? Be ambitious because you’re allowed to. It’s way more fun.

If your thesis was a song/movie/tv show? No idea, something long with lots of German words

Most used word/phrase? Hamburger (get it? Like hamburger)

Feces? Normal. The thesis has not affected it at all.


Joel Michaels ’18, he/him, CSS major

Working title: Global Welfare States in Comparative Perspective. But it’s still in flux. I’m trying to avoid the hegemony of the colon.

On his topic: The topic is basically responding to this wealth of literature that exists looking at different social policy regimes in different countries. Things like unemployment insurance, old age pensions, worker’s compensation, health insurance, etc. Though I don’t focus on all of those. There are lots of different people attempting to put different welfare states into typologies which explain their distinct historical development, elucidating why they exist everywhere but have diverging characteristics. Basically, I’m arguing that welfare states are converging across lots of different countries, essentially along a model of less generous benefits and reduced eligibility. The technical term is retrenchment, and it’s a much more widespread phenomenon than has previously been described.

On coming up with his topic: I wanted to write something about the welfare state. My horizons are clearly far too broad, and I can’t focus myself, so I said ‘Why don’t we look at all welfare states in existence, and compare them, I guess.’ So I didn’t have to narrow it down.

On his progress: I have a full draft. I’m editing it now. The pages are in a combined document which I often scroll through for motivation.

On his current mental state: I would say it’s sort of like a hum. Seemingly fine. I think I know what I’m doing. But then I hear this high frequency noise in the background that I feel like is going to come overwhelm me at any point. It looms over me like a specter.

On his most upsetting thesis experience: Probably when I was in Delaware doing research at this archive in Wilmington. About an hour after I got to the archive, the librarians came up to me and told me that there was an ice storm approaching imminently and that they were closing early and I had to get out of there. I had to rush to the Wilmington train station, where I spent several hours waiting for a train to Philadelphia. It was not pleasant.

On his favorite form of procrastination: Definitely Bon Appetit cooking videos, of which I watch many. Also a lot of Japanese bartending videos, which are extremely elaborate.

On post-thesis plans: Champagne—no, champagne cocktail, actually. Rinse and repeat.

Advice for future thesis writers: At the beginning, use it as an excuse to do a lot of reading that you already want to do around a concerted topic. Then, try to let the argument develop around that so you enjoy the initial stages. Though maybe that didn’t work out for me cause now I have tons of reading to deal with and I don’t know how to do it. So maybe that’s not my advice at all, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Most used word or phrase: Definitely ‘welfare state.’ Also, a word that appears hundreds of times in my thesis without any good definition is ‘institution.’

Any questions you wish I had asked?: I wish you had asked me what font my thesis is in. It’s currently in Adobe Caslon Pro, which is a new version of Caslon—which was like an English 18th century font modeled after the Dutch Romantic Humanists or something, and it was used in the first typeset printing of the Declaration of Independence.

On theses feces: Nothing abnormal to report.



Interviews by saadia, thao, and josh.




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