Humanities Center’s Undergraduate Research Symposium Showcases Six HUM Grant Recipients

Six undergraduate students recieved grants for their student-initiated, faculty-mentored research.

PROVO, Utah (November 1, 2019)—The Humanities Center recently held its Undergraduate Research Symposium, an annual event highlighting six undergraduates from the College of Humanities and their scholarly research.

Each student was a recipient of a Humanities Undergraduate Mentoring Grant (HUM Grant) after submitting proposals for student-initiated, faculty-mentored research on a topic of strong personal interest to both the pupil and the faculty member.

Six students received grants this year, funding research on drastically different topics, ranging from the structure of Egyptian Arabic to climate change in the Caribbean.

Megan Orr — “A Room of Their Own: The Paradoxical Role of the Gynaikonitis in Women’s Oppression and Independence in Antiquity”

Orr, a senior studying Art History and Curatorial Studies, focused her research on gender roles in the ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantium Empires. She specifically accentuated the gynaikonitis, the women-only quarters of many ancient homes, and its greater influence in society.

Her presentation—“a feminist take on women’s architecture in antiquity,” as she described it—artfully analyzed the ways in which women overcame oppression, finding roles in society despite being deprived of roles in politics, philosophy, and the public sphere in general.

“Women in antiquity found independence both in spite of and due to the role of the gynaikonitis in their lives,” she explained. “It’s full of irony and paradox.”

Seth McCombie — “Discovering the de-facto in Colloquial Egyptian Orthography”

Following multiple trips to Amman, Jordan as a student and teaching assistant, McCombie’s interest in Arabic inspired him to launch an investigation to discover what is de facto, or standard, in terms of Egyptian Arabic.

An Arabic and Linguistics double-major, he set off to track orthographical patterns by analyzing different groups of Egyptian Arabic texts at varying levels of formality, noting any differences. His three corpora included samples from Egyptian Twitter, blog posts, and Wikipedia, each varying in their levels of formality. He discovered that there are obvious changes in variants of Egyptian Arabic used based on the formality of the writing format.

“What I was surprised, and also very happy to find, was that the results are very clear,” said McCombie.

He now plans to conduct a survey to further test his hypothesis among Egyptian respondents.

Abby Clayton — “The Greatest Showmen: P.T. Barnum, Charles Dickens, and the Fight for Shakespeare’s Legacy”

After spending a summer in England, Clayton developed an interest in the relationship between Shakespeare’s birthplace and Dickens, the prominent English novelist who is believed to have played a role in purchasing the home at Stratford-upon-Avon during the 19th century.

Her research took an interesting turn when she came across an article on Google claiming that Dickens helped save the birthplace “from the dastardly clutches of PT Barnum.”

“At first, I laughed out loud,” admitted Clayton.  “I wanted to know what was actually true about this.”

She soon discovered that Barnum, during a visit to England, learned that the home was for sale and devised a plan to purchase it and send it back to the United States. When word got out, the British media did all it could to prevent the sale, quickly shifting the public perception of Barnum in the UK from a brilliant businessman to that of an oddity. Dickens and a handful of other Englishmen ended up buying the home, cementing Dickens’ legacy as a British hero.

Clayton concluded that media culture plays a highly influential role in shaping literary heritage and perception of public figures.

Sam Jacob — “Intertextuality, Aesthetics, and the Digital: Rediscovering Chekhov in Early British Modernism”

In an effort to rediscover what “literary influence” really is, Jacob utilized traditional close reading with digital textual analysis to compare the writings of 19th-century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov with the works of several modernist authors, though they spoke different languages and lived in different cultures..

“In trying to find my place within this scholarship that’s been done, I really felt a need to almost rethink the way the intertextuality was being approached and used,” said Jacob. “I conceive intertextuality as multidirectional.”

Jacob specifically mapped out comparisons in the text and themes of Chekhov’s A Dreary Story and Katherine Mansfield’s The Daughters of the Late Colonel. Though the two stories were published on separate continents and over thirty years apart, Jacob analyzed intertextuality by dissecting some of the uncanny similarities between the narrative strategy and word frequencies by both authors.

“I think that these differences and this approach toward intertextuality really go to show that there’s a lot to explore an intertextuality beyond one author influencing another,” concluded Jacob. “While authors can be linked in these really profound ways, there’s also a lot of room for them to maintain independence and autonomy from each other.”

Calla Chamberlain — “The Ross ‘Rusty’ Butler Collection on Brazilian Protest Theater”

Chamberlain’s research centered around the acquisition of a collection of documents, books, and other artifacts from dictatorship-era Brazil, collected and formerly owned by Ross “Rusty” Butler. While working at the University of Victoria in the early 1970’s, Butler traveled to Brazil to research and developed acquaintances with many playwrights and writers. Brazil, at the time, was under the rule of an authoritative military dictatorship, and the work of these writers often spoke openly against the political environment.

When the situation worsened, Butler was forced to return to the United States, bringing with him an impressive collection of notes and interviews, magazine and newspaper cutouts, published books, unpublished manuscripts, and other documents. These sat in Butler’s garage, largely untouched, for four decades, until they were given to BYU’s Dr. Rex Nielson.

Chamberlain said that the collection provides unique insight into Brazilian culture and public opinion during a time of censorship and contention.

“The rest of the Butler Collection is so prized, especially for people who have an interest in studying the Brazilian military dictatorship,” explained Chamberlain. “Now, researchers can freely study materials that would have been censored. Not to mention how priceless this collection will become if further research confirms that these manuscripts were never published.”

Kacey Sorenson — “Re-colonizing the Caribbean: Climate Change, Derek Walcott’s Omeros and Niche Modeling”

An English major and Environmental Science minor, Sorenson utilized her interdisciplinary background to lead research on climate change in St. Lucia. She combined a study of Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros with her own evaluation of native and invasive plant species on the small Caribbean island.

Walcott, a Nobel laureate and native of St. Lucia, based his 320-page epic on his home island, mentioning 116 distinct plant species in the process.

“His work focuses on the interaction between environmental and human history and is one of the first to cite the impact of climate change in the postcolonial environment of the Caribbean,” Sorenson said.

In her research, Sorenson utilized Walcott’s masterpiece as a reference in comparing over one hundred native and invasive botanical species found on the island of St. Lucia, attempting to predict the long-term effects of climate change on those species.

“This interdisciplinary approach is significant because the humanities framework contextualizes and creates a deeper meaning from the empirical insights derived from the standard set of methods,” said Sorenson.

—Samuel Benson (Sociology, ’23)