Alice’s “murder wall” right now.
Hello friends, we back.
Welcome to the twelfth episode of THESISCRAZY 2018. We’re approaching the series finale of THESISCRAZY 2018, and I gotta say I’m feeling a little sad. These theses have been amazing, they’ve been the perfect way for me to procrastinate on my work, and they’ve given me a window into the lives of a ton of people I’ve never even met.
Go past the jump to read about Alice Markham-Cantor ‘18‘s be-witch-ing ancestry, Eli Sands ’18‘s time travel to 1925 Manhattan, Darci Collins ’18‘s journey with the isotropic helicoid (is it real or nah?), and Sarah Kang ’18 research into Ginseng (medicinal wonder, or magical health fruit?).
Alice Markham-Cantor ‘18 ANTH Major, Writing Certificate
Working Title: “So I’m currently torn between two. The two possibilities are: ‘A Witch in the Family: Story, Legacy, and Justice in the Salem Witch Trials,’ or ‘Raking the Devil from the Ground: Story, Legacy, and Justice in the Salem Witch Trials.”
On her topic: “My topic is a woman, Martha Allen Carrier, she was hanged for witchcraft in 1692 in Salem. She is also my 11-times-great-grandmother on my mother’s side. The thesis is, in anthro-speak, a person-centered ethnography of the particular, which means that by investigating her life, I’m investigating what happened in Salem as a whole. Sort of by looking at her specific time and body and place, I’m extrapolating different analyses of what happened in Salem and the different interplays and actors and social forces that combined to make the Salem witch trials happen. And then simultaneously, that’s just one strain of it, the other strain is a reflexive autoethnography, or memoir, of me as the descendant and searcher trying to piece her life together with an eye to both the fact that she was very much written out of my family history, sort of disappeared from that record, and also seeing how as I investigate her life, how it seeps into mine.”
On how she came up with her topic: “It was sorta dumped in my lap, I mean, she’s my relative. Yeah, I found out about her when I was about 13 years old, and I’ve been really interested ever since. A couple years ago, I started doing actual research.”
On her progress: “It was a ton of reading at first. I don’t have a big problem with producing material, I have a big problem with putting it in order and also cutting things that shouldn’t be there. So I did a lot of production of writing, starting in the fall, but really in the winter time, and then early spring. But then I reorganized the entire thing like 5 times.”
On her current mental state: “Haunted.”
On her most upsetting thesis experience: “The moment when I realized between draft four and draft five when I realized I had to reorganize it entirely one more time, and like combine two chapters and put another one in a different place. Yeah, that was pretty upsetting.”
On her favorite form of procrastination: “Visiting her husband’s grave, which is only 20 minutes away. And also, another upsetting thing, it’s hollow, and I don’t know why, and I can’t break it open, legally, but I want to know what’s inside.”
On her plans for April 17: “You know what my plans are…”
Her advice for future thesis writers: “If you are not invested in answering the question or figuring out the topic or really investigating whatever it is your topic is, if you’re not personally invested—not like have a personal connection to it—but if you don’t want to know, don’t do it. You’ll hate yourself by October. Maybe November. But like pretty soon, you’re gonna be like, ‘Shit.’”
On her favorite part of her thesis: “I think my favorite part of the process might still be evoking her actual words. Very little that she said came through in her actual words, but there’s a transcript of her preliminary hearing, and her words come through very clearly. I think reading them, and then having to rewrite that was really something.”
On if her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “So there are a ton of songs, movies, and TV shows about Salem, but mine would probably not be any of those… But since I can’t think of one, I’ll just tell you which ones to go look up if you’re interested. There’s a terrible TV show called Salem. I think it’s hilarious, but historically entirely incorrect. There’s a song by Brandon Flowers of The Killers, I think it’s called Can’t Deny My Love,” and it is based on a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called “Young Goodman Brown,” which is about Salem because Nathaniel Hawthorne was the great grandson of one of the leading witchcraft magistrates who was notorious for sending literally everyone who appeared in front of his bench to jail.”
Her most used word or phrase: “‘Witch.’ I searched recently and it’s in there like 500 times.”
Eli Sands ’18, he/him, majoring in Film Studies
Thesis title: Tenement: a TV series.
What’s your topic? 1925 is right at the very end of the largest period of Jewish immigration into America, and the vast majority of that is happening in New York City. The Lower East Side was the first hub of where Jews massed in New York City, but it’s not so much the center anymore; it’s become the Upper West Side in Brooklyn. My focus is still on the Lower East Side because who is left is just very, very poor Jews living in these slum-like conditions in these buildings called tenements. My TV series focuses on a Jewish family living in one of these tenements, so the main characters are first generation American Jews and the show is built around the ways in which they are going about attaining success.
How you thought of your topic? There are a couple ways to answer that. One way is that I was thinking about my favorite TV shows and how their pilots work– and how to rip them off. That shaped some of the structure of my pilot. I thought about Breaking Bad, in particular, as this sort of entry point into crime, but also in terms of how to make a pilot about an inciting incident that turns your world on its head even as you’re establishing the world that gets flipped. So something like that happens in my pilot.
In terms of content– once I decided I was going to do a TV pilot, I was sort of asking myself the question, “Okay, what will I do now?” But also, I was thinking about questions like ”What is the perspective of the show?” I wanted the perspective to be unique, and I also wanted it to be something I knew about. So, honestly, being Jewish in New York is what that comes down to.
There’s also this massive loss of history for a lot of American Jews going back to before we came to America, where the first Jews that came over from Eastern Europe just didn’t talk about the old country. So I know that my family is somewhere from the Poland/Russia area but I don’t know specifically where—I’ll never know specifically where—and the earliest point I can go to in my family’s history is in New York City in the early 1900s. So I was interested to learn more about that earliest point, and I’ve done a lot of research on that time and I’ve talked to my grandparents about that. So it’s been fun to just learn about that while combining it with a perspective that I can share and a type of TV storytelling which I admire.
What’s your progress like? All along, it’s just been a process that I’ve really enjoyed because it’s presented a lot of surprises and ways to learn about writing a story. My thesis adviser, Joe Cacaci, has seriously reworked and re-taught me how to go about telling a story and what elements to include and how to build them from the ground up. He’s been phenomenal. Over the first semester, it was about learning theoretically how to go about writing a TV pilot and sort of chipping away at the basics of my story. At the end of last semester and over winter break, I wrote the first draft of the pilot that I’ve been revising since. During this semester, the bigger thing I’ve been working on has been the series bible, which is the detailed, scene-by-scene outline for season one and sort of how it continues after the pilot… it’s sort of of ironic that I’ve been working on a bible. It’s such a Jewish series.
Current mental state? I’m fine! Are you convinced by that? I mean, yes, it’s a really work-heavy process but I knew it was going to be and anything less than a work-heavy process, I wouldn’t be satisfied by. I have to be busy or I get antsy, and I always have to have a creative project going on. So I love that I get to have so much time buried in a creative project, I love that it’s this type of creative project because I haven’t taken on this type of expansive, long-form, storytelling project before so it’s a formative new skill to learn. I’m appreciative of the people who are helping support it. That means my parents, and my girlfriend, and my thesis advisor, and the people who are reading my script and giving me feedback like Zenzele Price ‘18 and Will McGee ‘17—who helped convince me to write a TV pilot as my thesis (he wrote a pilot for his thesis last year)— and the support of my housemates, Max Cembalest ‘18, Adam DeSantes ‘18, and Will Moss ‘18. So— what keeps my mental state up is that I get to work so intensively on a project that I love, on a type of project I love, and that I’m supported by thoughtful people who are generous with their time in helping make my work as quality and healthy as possible.
Most upsetting thesis experience? The worst are the weeks that have been particularly busy, when I haven’t produced as much work— those have been moments of personal disappointment. I always want to be working more on the project at hand, but that’s just the way that life is, you have to split your focus. You can’t completely zero in on one thing even if you want to. But there are some times when some obligations are more of a demand than others, so the worst points of my thesis have been when I haven’t felt like I’ve done enough and I knew I could do more.
Fave form of procrastination? I think this is something in common with a lot of film majors, but just watching movie and TV clips and getting lost in a whirlpool of scenes I’ve already watched and love. I could probably tell myself that that’s helping get inspiration for what I’m writing, but like…not really. I just like watching things. Sue me.
Plans for April 17/after you hand thesis in? Right. So one week after my thesis is due, I’m directing a short film that I wrote. So like I said before, I kind of have to have a creative project going or I get antsy, and I wanted to have a focused writing project that I turn into a product to have under my belt going out of Wesleyan. Right now, I’m working on both at the same time, which is a little crazy, but it’s fun and some seriously talented collaborators are working on the short film. So it’s a similar situation where I feel thankful for the people around me in helping me milk the most out of the end bit of my time at Wesleyan.
Advice for future thesis writers: I’m going to target this specifically at film majors, but really give consideration to the creative writing theses. It’s such a rare opportunity to have an adviser spend a year with you on a massive writing project like this. It has tremendously improved my writing capabilities and Joe’s been so generous with his time. I’m very grateful to him and it’s been a really productive process that I think is going to help me out after I leave school and look for employment. Plus– you can’t have a good movie or show without a good script, it’s the foundation of your story. Practice writing.
Favorite part of your thesis? Really, it’s when I have the concentrated time to put on some music— usually a cocktail of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Thundercat, and Frank Ocean— and get completely lost in the writing, that’s probably my favorite part. What often happens in those stretches is that I’ll end up stumbling upon a new avenue down which to take my story. Those accidental discoveries are really enjoyable, and the extended periods of time to just completely focus on the writing and not worry about anything else enable them.
If your thesis was a song/movie/tv show: Well…funny, because it is a TV show! If it were a song, it’d probably be klezmer music, which is traditional Yiddish music, for obvious reasons—some more obvious than others—but I think there’s a wide type of variety and energy that can come with klezmer music and I’m trying to make my show more than one type of show in terms of genre. I think klezmer has the potential for a lot of genre mixing like that.
Questions you wish Wesleying asked: I worked this in, but I try to take every opportunity to thank people who’ve supported and helped me in my thesis process.
Most used word/phrase? It may honestly be “Jewish.” *shrugs*
Darci Collins ’18 (She/Her), Physics Major, Thesis in Physics.
Working title: Lord Kelvin’s Error: An investigation into the isotropic helicoid (but my advisor just told me that was too bold so maybe Does an Isotropic helicoid exist?)
On her topic: My thesis is on my research in Professor Voth’s fluid mechanics and soft matter experimental physics lab. I am looking at this particle Lord Kelvin theorized in 1871 called an isotropic helicoid, which is a particle that will rotate as it falls (or moves through fluid) but has no preferential direction for rotation. I have three sections: a video experiment showing a plastic model of the isotropic helicoid dropping, a computer simulation measuring the torque of the isotropic helicoid, and a mathematical model examining the rotation. Through my research we found that the isotropic helicoid likely does not exist so I am somewhat proving Lord Kelvin wrong in my senior thesis, which is exciting.
On how she thought of her topic: This was a project my advisor was interested in exploring, since a few of his collaborators did theoretical work on isotropic helicoid and wanted an experimentalist to build the particle. In my first semester of research, I performed the experiment where I 3D printed an isotropic helicoid and built a plastic model and there was no rotation in either case. This was a result we were not expecting whatsoever so I ran a computer simulation and did some theoretical work and all the sections were giving us the same result.
On her progress: My progress has been fairly good. I agreed to do my thesis after only one semester of research, so I knew it was going to be an ambitious project. The bulk of my research was during the fall semester and luckily I was able to get a lot done in order to start writing in the winter. Since I started writing, I’ve become a lot less productive, but I will have something to turn in on Tuesday so I’m happy.
On her current mental state: This past week I have been very stressed and tired but otherwise pretty good. I have definitely been enjoying senior year and not allowing my thesis to take over my life, which has made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: I haven’t had any terribly upsetting thesis experiences (yet). Some frustrating moments when the simulation wasn’t working, but all the research gave consistent, compelling results, which is not always the case in experimental physics.
On her favorite form of procrastination: I procrastinate by going on geoguessr and taking geography quizzes because it feels productive. Also, I have been extremely productive in my other classes and job searching because I have procrastinating my thesis. Otherwise, I am re-watching episodes of Lost or the Office.
On her plans for April 17th:The steps of course! And maybe finally finish the book that I started before my thesis?
Her advice for future thesis writers: Science theses seem very daunting, but it is worth it. I personally had almost no scientific writing experience so it has been a great opportunity to learn to write scientifically and explain complex scientific topics to people who are not experts in your field. Also it is possible to have fun and go out every weekend and still write a thesis!!! Don’t let your thesis take up all your time.
On her favorite part of thesis: Getting to work with a professor one-on-one with something we are both very passionate about! And learning a lot about fluid mechanics that I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to explain it in my thesis.
If your thesis was a song/movie/TV show: Hmmm, this is hard. I want to say the song “turbulence” because it is a fluid mechanics thesis (but I am looking at non-turbulent fluid so maybe this is not the best example).
Most used word/phrase: I probably say isotropic helicoid, rotation, propeller, and great circle over 100 times.
Sarah Kang ‘18, NS&B and SISP double major, CEAS minor; thesis in SISP
Working Title: “Right now it’s ‘Opening the Black Box of Ginseng’, but it’s almost 100% going to change.
On her topic: “I did field research in Korea over the summer to kind of explore how ginseng is discussed in South Korea and so that kind of led me down this, I guess, rabbit hole into finding how the perception of ginseng changed, because it used to be a mainly medicinal thing and now it’s definitely more of a health food… it kind of transitioned to a similar status of, like, a blueberry where it has antioxidants so you should eat it, and so ginseng sort of became something that was good for you but nobody talked about how it was good for you or why. And so I was interested in why people thought it was good for you, how the people selling it were telling how its good for you, and then what the actual scientific research was on ginseng.”
On how she came up with her topic: “Initially I wanted to actually do research on Korean medicine and how, cause I’m from LA, in LA a lot of Korean-Americans were using it as a beauty treatment. They’re using it to get clearer skin or try to grow taller or that kind of thing. And so I told this to my current advisor and he said that it was way too broad and that we should focus on something, and one thing that he thought was interesting is ginseng. He asked me if I’d heard of it. It’s really popular in Korea, so I had. So it was Professor Johnston and Profesor Tan, they’re both in the history dept. They helped me narrow it down. It was almost going to be about some kind of mushroom that only grows in war-ridden places but I’m kind of glad it didn’t go that route.”
On her progress: “So I have a draft that is technically submittable but it’s just… I feel like it should be longer because everyone I talk to says they’re at, like, 120 pages and i’m at a nice 80. I feel like it’s solid, like I’d be able to sleep well if I just stopped working on it. It’s fine, but I’m stressed.”
On her current mental state: “A lot of people have been coming up to me and telling me that I’ve been very prickly lately, and I think it’s all the caffeine that I’ve been drinking. I have a lot of energy but I’m also tired. But I think I’m at the point where I’m overthinking everything. Like, three hours ago I was walking up the stairs and my advisor was sitting in a chair right there and goes “oh, are you working?” I was like, “oh no why now, he’s probably thinking ‘why is she in a skirt she should just be wearing sweats and holed up’,” but he’s such a nice guy he wouldn’t be thinking any of this, so I think that’s where I’m at where everything seems harder than it should be but it’s probably easier than it actually is.”
On her most upsetting thesis experience: “I keep getting formatting kinda fucked up. I don’t like to edit in the same draft, so every time I copy it over I have to redo the formatting and Word is the biggest bitch in the world and won’t copy formatting over, so I have to change it one by one and I’ll send my advisor a draft and he’ll be like ‘Sarah we talked about this change the formatting!’ and I’ll be like I did it just didn’t copy! And then the second thing is probably that I’ve been yelling at a lot of people who Facetime outside of my carrel and my carrel doesn’t have a roof so I’ve gone out to say people are working in here and they kind of just glare and me and keeping talking and I’m like I may kill you. I just want to put that out there bc I want them all to go away.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “Probably writing my acknowledgements because it’s kind of a nice way to look back on your journey and then you feel really good and can watch a YouTube video. It’s nice because a lot of people helped me with my thesis a lot of family members in Korea, like, drove me around places and I’ll send them a picture to be like ‘look I included you and then instead of them saying ‘oh wow thanks’ it’s like ‘you spelled my name wrong’.”
Plans for April 17th: “I’m trying to get every single person I know to buy me a bottle of champagne. It’s probably not gonna happen right now. I have four people who’ve committed, including myself. So I’m planning to get really drunk and I actually have an Olin shift later that day so I’ll probably show up drunk and then I’m booking it to New York and I’m going to be there until Sunday.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “It’s a big deal I guess but at the end of the day it’s what you make of it. My advisor had this whole plan for me and I definitely didn’t stick to it and he totally could’ve dropped me. He has high expectations and I definitely get to like 75% of them but because he knows that I’m not doing it out of laziness I just write slowly I think more about the topic or schedule it’s about finding an advisor who you jive with.”
On her favorite part of her thesis: “Probably the acknowledgements. I’m trying to make it not as formal, sound more homey because my thesis in itself doesn’t feel that formal anyway so I don’t think the acknowledgements should be more formal than the thesis.”
If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I think it’s a song. Kind of like a sonata where it starts off really energetic and high and you’re like wow what’s gonna happen next and then it kind of peters out. It’s just so long.”
Anything else: “I guess the main thing that I really just wanted to say was I know that there is a table outside of the third floor music library but that does not mean you should talk at it!”