In a poll here, Spectator asked the Class of 2014 to share their experiences writing theses: what they wrote about, what they learned, and most importantly, suggestions for future theses. Because after you've spent almost two semesters writing a couple ten thousand words, you deserve to share it with the world. Thank you to those of you who shared your responses! We share here not only a sampling of 2014's thesis topics, but advice and suggestions. In total, this quote sums it up quite nicely: "We'll be able to solve all the world's problems" (Lupe Fiasco, 2014).
Question 1: Describe your thesis in two sentences—think of this as a "My Thesis for Dummies" sort of summary.
In their theses, some seniors captured moments in time or novels, giving us a deeper insight into the way some things are. For example:
The domestic sphere becomes an inhospitable space to female characters in Anna Karenina, and is used as an architectural manifestation of female sexual transgression
The ones that dug into the archives to find something meta:
A close reading of a Christian newspaper distributed in the Ottoman Empire in 1922-1923 reveals how it helped its readership construct an identity/narrative—in 1923, Christians were forcibly expelled to Greece from Turkey, effectively ending their way of life.
I wrote about the exploitative nature of colonialism in early 19th century Ireland.
The scholar who had strong feelings about a certain royal lineage, so he/she wrote about it.
The Spanish Habsburgs were inbred and fucked up. Evidence: their portraits are fugly.
The budding political linguist (can we create an interdepartmental major already?)
In general, we fail to recognize language as a site of cultural conflict. Rachel Jeantel (the woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin before he died) was subject to a great deal of this implicit racism.
The one inspired by baseball:
Joe DiMaggio and Barry Bonds symbolize the best and worst of American exceptionalism.
Other seniors explored recent and relevant events, analyzing them in an academic light:
In the struggle to stand as a “liberal multicultural” institution, Barnard faces the contested means and challenges that come with that label.
Innovation is a culturally contingent concept, one that needs to be sensitive to existing cultural traditions and authenticity claims—I explored this in the context of the New York City Opera's recent bankruptcy.
Modern fan-dom as essentially fetishistic in nature, as demonstrated by the relationship between Oklahoma City and it's NBA team, the Thunder (examined through Frankfurt-School critical theory.)
Still others remind us the ills that surround us in society and offer (we hope) insight into how to improve these:
I did a critical content analysis of social studies textbooks used in middle schools to evaluate how comparative religions were being taught.
Human rights organizations often say they depend on states—even when states are very tenuously drawn, politically. This becomes problematic, as demonstrated with Shi'i development organizations working in Tajikistan.
Rappers like to pretend that they're from other planets. Maybe that's because this planet still treats black people poorly.
The best dummy-friendly summary, for those of us not as familiar with the environment:
Deer can't eat plants inside of the fence, and thus things grow. This is good for the forest.
Question 2: What is one thing you learned while writing?
1) How long I can stomach my own ideas before realizing that I'm just spewing bullshit.
2) How ok I am for spewing bullshit for my thesis.
I wish we could find a way to integrate footnotes into real life conversations, because I (apparently) am a huge fan of tangents.
We've condensed the rest of our responses into a long, collective rant by the class of 2014. Give it a whirl.
Before you start, "ALWAYS meet with people. Department websites lie about requirements."
Then, "really figure out what your thesis is before you start writing. Better yet, figure out what your thesis is before you start researching it." Also, "start early, even if it really sucks. Then edit the CRAP out of it. Don't wait for the last minute!!" This advice sums it up well: "research is best started by being thrown into the water." Stoically. You know, when you can plan getting thrown in, not when you're just surprise-attacked.
When you're ready to start, "SIPA library—ALWAYS!". Read: Butler isn't the only solution. Also, "you can have more than eighty books checked out of the library at once!" But always go to deep, first-hand sources if possible: "textbooks often really suck in the way they present information, especially social studies textbooks". Don't be scared to reach out for more information. "Interviewing people and writing about it is a lot harder than it looks. But also hugely rewarding."
If you're looking to boost your word count, "using the word 'funkadelic' over 40 times in a paper can only help." If you're looking to lower your page count, "footnotes are AWESOME!" And if you're looking to save time, "Shift+? on a Mac is a way easier way to get the upside-down question mark than scrolling through the insert-symbol menu for ten goddamn minutes."
But ultimately, relax and enjoy it. "It's impossible to say everything you will want to say, especially about something you care so much about, and at some point you just had to accept that and have fun."
Question 3: Describe the thesis you wish you wrote. (Disclaimer: Not as academic as you might expect)
A creative writing thesis about writing theses. It'd be a soap opera/CIA-thriller/suspense novel—capturing the surprising crazy places academia can lead people.
So....what's the gossip up in here? Hanging out with awesome musicians.
How the story and mechanics of Magic: The Gathering interact.
A love poem to Kevin Durant.
Whose milkshake brings all the boys to the yard? Why Columbia boys are so infatuated by Barnard girls
Kanye West is a Motherfucking Lyrical Wordsmith Motherfucking Genius: How South Park Got It Right
And, our favorite:
Proposal for an addition to the Core: Masterpieces of Western Pornography