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Current Undergraduate Fellows

Jade Arellano

Anthropology

A Matter (Out) of Place: Negotiating Service in a Moment of Transition

Advisor: Paulla Ebron

A senior majoring in anthropology, Jade Arellano aspires toward a “public anthropology,” and she is passionate about how the anthropological perspective and ethnographic form can inform homeless policy. Her academic interests include harm reduction, urban planning, and material forms of governance. One theme that emerges across her writing is how ideas and policies are built into the environment of cities, where they are enacted and co-opted in various ways by city-dwellers. On campus, Jade is a peer advisor in the Anthropology Department and a student ambassador for Stanford in New York. She also works as an editor for CONTEXTS, Stanford’s undergraduate anthropology journal.

What is the focus of your current research?

The focus of my current research is on a particular model of homeless services called “Housing First” that uses a survey called the “Vulnerability Index” to allocate housing. While the survey aims to effectively and efficiently quantify vulnerability, my research examines how the process of administering the survey is actually methodologically fraught; at the heart of this study are the moments of friction that emerge as individuals—service workers and unhoused folks alike— reconcile the rigid constructs of the organization with messy and profound stories of suffering and struggle.

What drew you to this topic?

I first became interested in this topic in high school. I’m from a small, semi-rural town in Southern California that was hit hard by the 2008 recession, and I remember being frustrated by the structural barriers that made it immensely difficult for unhoused people in my community to get the services they needed. When I came to Stanford and started researching different models that sought to address these barriers, I became really interested in how they reconceptualized what it meant to be homeless. My initial research question was an inquiry into whether new institution and federal categories like “chronically homeless” actually changed the experience of homelessness in Los Angeles. I came to the Vulnerability Index survey in my fieldwork as a site where these definitions are negotiated between service workers and people experiencing homelessness. 

How are you conducting your research?   

I conducted my research over a seven-week internship with a housing first organization in North Hollywood. The bulk of my data is comprised of participant observation done throughout my internship, which included working in three capacities: as an operator for the Outreach Hotline, which individuals experiencing homelessness can call to request services; as a secretary in the organization’s shelter, where I was able to shadow the processes by which people were inducted into the shelter; and working in Outreach, where I accompanied the Outreach Team into homeless encampments to talk to potential clients, administer surveys, and hand out “incentive” materials such as water bottles or hygiene kits. In addition to participant observation, I conducted interviews with employees in each of these capacities, specifically focusing on their backgrounds in the organization and their unique experiences with people experiencing homelessness.

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

I think that one thing people would be surprised to learn is that the process by which people become housed in this model can take years. In my first couple of weeks of fieldwork, the Outreach Team I’d been working with helped one woman secure an apartment—but they had been building a rapport with her for roughly ten years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a housing strategy that is really a quick-fix, but the amount of effort and sheer time that goes into housing one chronically homeless individual seemed to stand out in stark contrast to the official discourse, which prized efficacy measured by number of participants reached. 

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

I started this research as a commitment to a kind of public anthropology, and while I think now I have a lot more of a complicated relationship with the idea that anthropology can or should be “applicable,” I am still really passionate about how ethnographic writing has the potential to explain how different policies and models of homeless services are productive in often unpredictable ways. How is the survey also a vehicle for people to tell the stories about how they became homeless, and what does the act of translating those stories into an acuity “score” do to reinscribe the barriers that the survey is explicitly designed to remedy? 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

My honors thesis has been one of the most exciting academic challenges in my Stanford career; it has really pushed me to think critically about my writing and how it fits into my understanding anthropology as a discipline more broadly. Personally, the whole process has really affirmed my desire to pursue a professional degree in anthropology and engage more deeply with the theory that has guided my thesis project and fundamentally shaped my undergraduate career.

Alma Ixchel Flores-Pérez

Linguistics, Iberian and Latin American Cultures (ILAC)

Language Ideologies and Practices in a Spanish-Immersion Preschool

Advisor: Penny Eckert

Alma Flores-Pérez is currently a senior majoring in linguistics and Iberian and Latin American cultures, with a minor in anthropology. In the field of linguistics, she is particularly interested in the subfield of sociolinguistics, or the ways in which language interacts with society, people, and culture. Her current research takes place at a Spanish-immersion preschool in her hometown of Austin, Texas. As an aspiring academic, Alma hopes to conduct work that influences the way that the educational system works with multilingual, multidialectal students of color, and immigrants. During her time at Stanford, she’s worked as a project manager for the Voices of California Project under Penny Eckert (Linguistics), and as a research assistant on the Stanford Integrated Science and Language Project under Guadalupe Valdes (Education). She is also a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. After graduation, she hopes to take a year off before applying to doctoral programs in either linguistics or linguistic anthropology.

What is the focus of your current research?

My current research aims to study the ways in which multilingual five-year-old students in a Spanish-immersion preschool formulate their identities through the use of their various languages. The particular uses of their languages also index their understandings and positionality to the language ideologies that exist in the world around them, particularly the dominance of English in our society.

What drew you to this topic?

As a multilingual person myself, I have always been interested in the learning of new languages. Eventually, I ended up a student of linguistics, which opened up a whole new world of academic research that concerns speakers such as myself, and the ways that we use languages. I was particularly drawn to young children, since I grew up in and around my mom’s preschool for my entire life. I began to think not only about the ways that multilingual children use language, but how these languages relate to the early formation of their identities as humans and speakers.

How are you conducting your research?

The data that I am using for my research was collected last summer, using funding from the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and the Escobedo Grant. The study itself is ethnographic in nature. During my time in Austin, I spent about three hours a day, for three weeks, in the classroom with the five-year-olds. I had to be sure to position myself as a friend and a student, and not as a teacher, to make sure to try and minimize any power dynamics that may exist, and to help ensure that students were producing speech that was as natural as possible. In order to collect my data, I kept a detailed field notebook, in addition to audio and video recording my interactions with the students, and their interactions between each other. I am using Elan, Praat, and JMP for data coding and analysis.

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you’re working on?

I think when I first began learning about language ideologies, it felt like a type of veil was lifted over my eyes. I, like most other speakers, had intuitions about people’s opinions on different languages and their speakers, but I had never known that there existed a term for it. In this way, I think the simple conception of the fact that people hold very specific opinions towards language, wouldn’t surprise most people, but the conceptualization and study of it might. It might also surprise people to see that young children have pretty intuitive conceptions of these ideologies, that play into their own linguistic practices.

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?

In a society where the number of multilingual people and bilingual education programs is growing every day, I think it’s extremely important to understand how the learning of multiple languages in such cultures affects the identity formation and practices of students. I think researchers in this field also have a habit of not studying young children, for a variety of reasons. However, these little students will go on to become older students, and eventually adults, who will carry with them the language ideologies that they undoubtedly began learning at a very young age. By studying these types of students in bilingual education programs, we can also begin to create programs that better educate all types of students and disrupt the English-dominant ideologies that have historically been present in schools.

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

Currently, my honors thesis takes up a large amount of my time as I immerse myself in the process of analyzing my data! However, I am extremely excited to create my final piece of work on a subject that is so important to me for so many reasons. My honors work has also allowed me to spend a large amount of time with students, who in their five years, have already developed such amazing ways of thinking about the world. In addition, my current work is producing a whole host of new ideas and topics that I hope to study in my future academic career.

Nya Hughes

African and African American Studies, Communication

Catchin’ Spirit: Movement as a Vehicle of Catharsis and Healing in U.S. Black Communities

Advisor: Adam Banks

Nya Hughes is a scholar-artist from New York City majoring in communication and African and African American studies, with a concentration in identity, diversity, and aesthetics. At the intersection of critical race studies, queer of color critique, and traditions in black cultural production, her research project explores the role of embodied movement in the personal and collective healing of Black communities in the United States. Nya situates these cultural movement practices as extensions of past and present social movements for liberation. Her work will culminate in a creative project that will invite audience members to participate in the movement practices in a co-performance that will allow everyone present to deeply engage with the work.

What is the focus of your current research?

Essentially, my central research question is: How do black people in the United States find the will to live, especially while existing in an American culture that has historically normalized pre-natural black death? I seek to answer this question by archiving and analyzing viral online videos of people “catching spirit,” in secular and sacred spaces. I categorize “catching spirit” as any expression of ecstatic release—be that crying, laughing, singing, or dancing. The project seeks to position the video content as a site of cultural production that inspires the possibility of living for black people, in contrast to the proliferation of videos of black death that we see on our social media feeds. The videos of “catchin’ spirit” will foreground the live performance aspect of the project, where I hope to stage a participatory “tent revival” in the effort to inspire the feeling of aliveness characteristic of these videos for the audience.

What drew you to this topic?

I’m taking up this project because every day I struggle to find the will to get up in the morning. While I’m sure that I’m not the only one who struggles to find inspiration in my life, as a black woman who grew up in the neighborhoods of New York City, I was forced to encounter circumstances that threatened my survival and well-being on a regular basis, whether through the heavy police presence on my street, lack of access to fresh produce at my grocery stores, or inadequate healthcare service options at nearby hospitals and clinics. To then log onto online spaces, and see similar experiences reflected amongst my family and friends or live videos of black people being hunted and killed, is emotionally, psychically, and spiritually painful. How have we persisted when it seems that we are already marked as dead? How do we tend to the residue of these traumatic experiences, and the traces it leaves on our lives and bodies? As a creative, I was interested in learning more about how black people were re-dressing this painful reality through cultural expression.

How are you conducting your research?

To analyze the videos, I hope to use an interdisciplinary method of rhetorical analysis, queer studies, performance studies, and African and African American studies. The rhetorical analysis will aid me in close reading the audiovisual content, while the queer studies and performance studies will provide with me the language necessary to situate the movement work as a community ritual used to address trauma. I will use work from scholars in the African and African American studies tradition to argue the videos value as both a resistive and healing strategy that we have developed in spite of the history of violence against black bodies in this country. The videos in question will be sourced from Twitter, and using the key words “catchin spirit,” “spirit,” and “joy,” I will choose the most widely circulated videos, from 2014-18, tagged with those key terms. This time period in particular, from Mike Brown’s death until the present, saw an increase of videos of black death on social media feeds; I aim to point towards the counter narrative of joy that existed during that time as a necessary resistive strategy. 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

People may be surprised to learn that this phenomenon of “catching spirit” is one that has been practiced throughout time. This cultural practice extends from the slavery-era religious ritual of the ring shout and 20th century Pentecostal practice of tent revivals to the churches and dance floors of our modern day. It has been theorized by scholars working in queer of color traditions—such as in the works of E. Patrick Johnson, Jafari Sinclaire Allen, and Ashton Crawley in their meditations on ecstatic performances in the gay nightclub, and scholars in the African and African American studies tradition, such as Cornel West and Fred Moten. Although seemingly esoteric, it is deeply rooted in and has been heavily studied in both scholarly and cultural traditions.

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

While the strategic efforts of black resistance movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement have absolutely helped to advocate for an end to structural state violence against black communities, it’s also necessary for us to find ways to release the accumulation of stress and trauma built up in our bodies from our varied encounters with death. In conjunction with these larger social movements, movement of body and movement of spirit have also been critical components to black survival in a social landscape that calls for our death. The church, the dance floor, the bedroom, have all been primary spaces in which black bodies are able to engage in continuous movement that build into ecstatic release. 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

The honors thesis process has compelled me to grow in so many ways. It's been helpful to practice writing literature reviews, methodologies, grants, and other components of the research process since I hope that I will be doing similar work for many years to come. It's compelling me to draw on all that I have learned at Stanford thus far, in my performance courses, academic courses, and summer research, to create this project.

Victor (Viv) Liu

Art History, Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity

Martin Wong and the End of the Lower East Side, 1988-90

Advisor: Marci Kwon

Victor “Viv” Liu is an undergraduate at Stanford University double majoring in art history and comparative studies in race and ethnicity. Liu focuses on the art and visual culture of the United States, especially the art of the 20th century, with respect to the cultural politics of race and ethnicity; histories of migration and diaspora; and the signaling and deferral of “identity.” Outside of Stanford, Liu has held internship positions focusing on curatorial research at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His writing can be found in the accompanying catalogue for MoMA’s exhibition Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done.

What is the focus of your current research?

My thesis focuses on the American painter Martin Wong (1946-99) during the years 1988 to 1990. During this period, he transitioned away from his longest-running and most critically-celebrated series: paintings depicting the crumbling red-brick tenements and underground economies of his longtime home of New York’s Lower East Side. I examine Wong’s work during this understudied, transitional period in relation to the drastic changes to the landscape of the low-income, minority neighborhood, such as increased police presence and displacement of immigrant communities. Overall, I hope to trace in Wong an increasingly contested sense of municipal, national, and ancestral belongings, which culminated in an uprooting of his practice. 

What drew you to this topic?    

They say to “write what you love,” and Martin Wong is my first love. I initially came across his work at a time when I was at my lowest, and his luscious depictions of moments of tenderness found within landscapes of alienation pulled me right out of where I was. We also have a spiritual connection. We’re both queer, Chinese-American San Franciscans, and his middle name is my first. Really, I’m just doing what his ghost is telling me to.

On a more academic note, Wong is an under-studied artist without much scholarship to his name. What has been written about Wong is usually by people who knew him closely, and these texts tend to be based in personal memories or a recuperation of biographical details about his life. With the privilege of critical distance, I began this research hoping to make a foray into historicizing his work.

How are you conducting your research?

This summer, funded by a Major Grant, I went to New York for archival research, making use of Martin Wong’s papers at New York University’s Fales Library & Special Collections, as well as miscellaneous materials at P.P.O.W. Gallery, which maintains the Estate of Martin Wong. In addition, I conducted long-form interviews with a few of his close friends, and we are still in touch for when I have other questions that need answering. 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

By most personal accounts, Martin Wong was a free-wheeling bohemian who marched to the beat of his own drum and sought pleasure wherever it could be found. Critical reception tends to interpret his canvases as embodiments of a deeply romantic vision of urban blight. However, Wong also had a tendency to surprise people with the way he contained multitudes. My archival research on Wong has uncovered evidence of his rigorous critical and social consciousness. As such, my thesis hopes to hold his idiosyncrasies, sensuality, and sentimental outlook in generous tandem with his attendance to issues of alterity and difference. 

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

In the United States, the field of art history and the institutions that govern the sale, circulation, and display of art are dominated by people of particular racial and class backgrounds. Under this gaze, the work of artists such as Martin Wong has often been misunderstood. For example, I have seen people off-handedly describe the minority neighborhoods that Wong depicts as filled with “thugs,” or conflate his depictions of New York’s Chinatown and San Francisco’s Chinatown. I hope that my close analysis of Wong will dispel the generalizations and distortions that arise with artwork related to marginalized subjects.

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

The entire process has been extremely rewarding—from applying to grants, to reviewing literature, to spending months in the archive, to writing the thesis proper. My Honors thesis has affirmed my interest in pursuing a PhD in art history, as well as assuring me that I will be well-prepared for when that time comes.

Ian Miller

Philosophy

“Acts Against the Order of Nature”: Sexual Ethics, Inclusivity and the Law

Advisors: Deborah Rhode, Jisha Menon

Ian Miller is an undergraduate majoring in philosophy. His diverse interests include the intellectual and legal history of South Asia, philosophy of science, the history of environmentalism, and gender and sexuality studies. In addition to his honors thesis, Ian is working on an archival research project through the Silas Palmer Fellowship which tracks the development of a self-conscious “working class” identity in the Indian Marxist and labor movements. On campus, Ian is the president of the performance art collective, The Freeks, works as a Structured Liberal Education writing tutor, sits on the Undergraduate Humanities Council, and is a research assistant in the Department of French and Italian. Ian speaks Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and French. 

What is the focus of your current research?

My thesis project examines the use of the concept of privacy in efforts to gain legal protection for gender and sexual minorities. Feminist and queer commentators have long criticized the public/private distinction and its legal manifestations, and yet, many legal victories for gender and sexual minorities have relied heavily on the notion of privacy in their arguments. Through an analysis of the legal proceedings which led to the 2018 decriminalization of sodomy in India, I evaluate critical accounts of the legal concept of privacy. I hope to draw conclusions about the ability of privacy to undergird the state’s protection of sexual autonomy. 

I am interested in the ways that Western political and social categories have been interpreted and transformed in colonial and post-colonial contexts. I spent the last two summers conducting research and doing language learning intensives in India. Through conversations with academics, activists, lawyers, and friends I became interested in the ability of some of the concepts of Western queer political practice to account for political, historical, and cultural difference. Through work in the legal archive, I developed an interest in the use of privacy as grounds for the decriminalization of sodomy and wanted to understand if it was subject to the context-blindness which scholars have identified in other foundational concepts of liberal legal theory. 

What drew you to this topic?

In the summer of 2018, I conducted legal archival work in Kolkata, India. I sought to develop an understanding of the law’s treatment of sexuality from 1865 to the present, as well as an account of the meanings of key terms like ‘privacy’, ‘sexuality,’ and ‘autonomy’ in Indian jurisprudence. My analysis takes the form of a philosophical evaluation of these concepts in the debates surrounding the decriminalization of sodomy. 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

Many people I describe my research to are surprised that sodomy wasn’t decriminalized in India until 2018. Even more are surprised that the same didn’t occur in the United States until the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence vs. Texas! The history of queer sexuality is one that people think of as relatively new, but its presence in the historical archive goes back far. The different ways that human societies have celebrated, sanctioned, hidden, flaunted, and interpreted sexuality are as variable as the great number of forms that sexuality can take.

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

Established legal approaches to sexual liberation have often failed to attend to the varying necessities that queer people face in different political and historical contexts. My hope is that my thesis project will show how these blind spots have resulted in inappropriate legal solutions to issues of sexuality, and that I can provide a groundwork for thinking differently about how to address them. 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

The friends and collaborators I have met in researching my thesis have deeply changed how I think about the politics of sexuality. The questions I seek to answer in my thesis are ones that I hope to continue to puzzle over after graduation. Working on this project has also opened new questions and fields of study for me that I hope to pursue in graduate school and beyond. 

Julia Sakowitz

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Minor in Russian Language

Tell the Family

Advisor: Gabriella Safran

Julia Sakowitz is a senior from New York City majoring in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies. A pre-med, she is dedicated to solving issues of gender-based violence and intergenerational trauma and has done research on these topics in both the humanities and the sciences. Julia served as 2017-18 President of the Stanford Jewish Students Association and pioneered several Jewish feminist and interfaith initiatives during her time at Stanford, including Feminist Seder and Stanford’s first Sikh-Jewish Interfaith Dinner. In addition to her FemGen major, she is a Russian Language minor and is currently taking fifth year Russian. In her free time, she volunteers as a mental health crisis counselor through Crisis Text Line and spends time with her rescue dog, Bo. 

What is the focus of your current research?

My thesis is a work of creative non-fiction that tells the story of my great-uncle Jack, a Jewish guard in Auschwitz, and my quest to reconcile his accuser and his son. Born Yakov Sakowicz in Sierpc, Poland in 1905, Jack was the only member of the Sakowitz family who survived the Nazi extermination camps. Last year, I discovered evidence that Jack survived because he cooperated with Nazis as an Auschwitz kapo, a prisoner-guard appointed by Nazi authorities. I will use Jack’s story as a lens to explore broader questions of guilt and justice within Jewish families, writing about Jack’s abuse of his second wife after he came to the United States, and my personal family history of abuse and intergenerational trauma.

What drew you to this topic?

In Spring 2017, while taking a class on folklore I interviewed my father and some of his family members about Jewish immigration stories. I was surprised to find that they actually wanted to talk about the Holocaust—specifically about their uncle Jack. Some parts of Jack’s story didn’t add up, and I wondered whether I knew the whole truth about how he survived the Holocaust. It wasn’t until fall 2017 that I found online video testimony from a fellow Holocaust survivor, Leon Sherman, that accused Jack of being his unit’s violent kapo in Kaufering, a concentration camp in Germany. I started a research project to find out everything I could about Jack’s story, and was finally able to track down Jack’s accuser, Leon Sherman, and arrange a conversation between him and Jack’s son. By that time, I knew this was a story I needed to write.

How are you conducting your research?

I’ve already conducted much of my research on Jack’s story. During my junior year, I conducted in-person and phone interviews with Leon Sherman and members of my father’s family and gathered information from the USC Shoah Foundation Archive, Yad Vashem, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives. As I write my thesis, I’m consolidating this prior research and doing supplementary reading on Jewish masculinity and the history of kapos that will help me situate my narrative. 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

Although I spent years learning about the Holocaust in familial and academic contexts, I was surprised to learn about Jewish cooperation during the Shoah. It is a taboo subject in the Jewish community but is nevertheless important to understanding how the Nazis engineered their genocide. Throughout the Holocaust, Nazis relied on Jewish functionaries as administrators in governing councils, policemen in ghettos, and as kapos and Block Commanders in concentration camps. By privileging these Jews, Nazis intentionally undermined Jewish solidarity. The tactic was highly effective. Whether individual kapos acted out of sadism, self-preservation, or the belief that they were actually protecting Jews, they overwhelmingly obeyed the Nazis, quelling uprisings and delivering punishments. Both historians and the Jewish community must contend with the chilling possibility that, in the words of survivor Reuben Vaxelman, “if it had not been for the Jews who collaborated, the Nazis would not have succeeded in murdering six million Jews.”

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

The history of Jewish kapos is one of most morally complicated parts of the Holocaust, representing what Holocaust survivor Primo Levi called a “gray zone” between victim and perpetrator. Should kapos be excused for committing violence because they were just trying to survive, or should they be held responsible as people who aided the Nazis? I plan to use the story of one Jewish kapo as a critical lens to examine difficult and universally important questions about guilt, justice, and trauma. Through my research, I’ve realized the stories we tell—and the stories we bury—powerfully shape our identity and reality. Understanding kapos means understanding human beings. It means being willing to face the darkest parts of ourselves and our community for the sake of justice and love. 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

Personally, I am simultaneously honored and overwhelmed that I have the responsibility of documenting this story. My father’s family is beautiful and complicated, and writing about these people I’ve always heard about in his stories is something I’ve always wanted to do. Academically, the project gives me a chance to draw on knowledge I’ve gathered in Jewish studies, FemGen, and Slavics courses. I’m excited to refine my writing skills and get feedback from my mentors and peers.

Miguel Samano

Comparative Literature, Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies

What is Chicanx about Chicanx art? Toward a theory of Chicanx aesthetics

Advisors: Ramón Saldívar, Michele Elam

Miguel Samano is a senior double majoring in comparative literature and Chicana/o-Latina/o studies. His research interests include Chicanx and African American literary and visual studies, the historiography of art and literature, and the social aesthetics of race and ethnicity. Previously, he received a Chappell-Lougee grant to conduct ethnographic research on Mexican regional music in the Los Angeles area. He has written for a number of publications on campus including The Stanford Daily and Stanford magazine. Through his positions as a Resident Tutor for the Structured Liberal Education Program, the peer advisor for the Comparative Literature Department, and a peer mentor for the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, he hopes to share his love of the humanities with others. He is currently running a yearlong reading group on Chicanx literature and has previously run workshops on Chicanx and Black aesthetics and the philosophy of race. 

What is the focus of your current research?

My thesis uses close reading to examine how artworks produce affect as historically-coherent and socially-organized experiences of the world. I analyze two case studies: Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 (CARA), the first major retrospective exhibition of the Chicano art movement, and the writings of the Chicano poet and literary critic Alurista. I pursue an approach to cultural history grounded in sustained attention to the art object, in the process acknowledging the radical potential of art to locate and change our sense of the world in ways that exceed whichever analytical instruments, such as canons or historical narratives, that we bring to the works. 

What drew you to this topic?

An Arts Intensive course on curating Latinx and Latin American art helped me realized that I was interested what happens when we put works into conversation with each other in novel ways. During the course, I learned to be attentive to how a work’s being exhibited alongside other works changes my sense of what that work is about. Once I returned to campus, I tried to track which conceptual metaphors kept recurring in poetry criticism through a directed reading on Chicanx poetics. Afterwards, I felt that the study and classification of Chicanx art broadly construed was inextricable from an exploration of how our various reactions to it creates and maintains our collective experiences of the world 

How are you conducting your research?

I am drawing upon the materials I collected from the CARA exhibition’s archives and Alurista’s papers to as evidence for my broader theoretical argument. Tentatively, that argument will be about the relationship between affect, social location, and a work’s positioning within a canon. I will be reading through planning documents for CARA such as grant proposals, drafts of catalogue essays, sample label texts, and the exhibition floor plan. My hope is that I will recover the broader arguments the exhibition and catalogue intended to make about the relationship between the works in the CARA show and the Chicanx community. Preliminarily, my work with the Alurista papers leads me to read him as a theorist of the novel. His research files, CVs, and graduate work suggest that Bakhtin, Marxist literary criticism and philosophy, and existentialism in particular influenced him. As a literary critic, he focused on the relationship between literature and its surrounding material conditions of production.

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

If affectively-laden encounters with artworks can be glossed as personal, Chicanx art and literature causes one to reflect on how art transforms the personal into the political, and vice versa. Despite the enduring questions about how art works I am grappling with, the art produced amongst the political milieu of Chicano civil rights movement was often neither created or described as being made for its own sake. However, the political commitments of the Chicanx artists and writers I am studying should not be taken as being overly determinative of their art practice. The artists in the CARA show worked across a variety of media, themes, and styles, yet arguably, all can be classified as working during and within the Chicano art movement. Similarly, Alurista read widely across European philosophy and literature, pre-Columbian Indigenous thought, and Chicanx literature. His cosmopolitanism did not preclude his being hailed as the Chicano poet laureate. The political dimension of Chicanx art enriches the kinds of questions one asks about art more broadly.

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

To my knowledge, there has not yet been a study of the questions the CARA show raises for the interpretation of individual artworks vis-a-vis their emplacement within a canon. There also has not been a study of Alurista that leverages knowledge about his development as literary critic to nuance readings of his poetry.  I view both of these studies as opposite sides of a common problematic in the interpretative humanities: namely, how one makes sense of the projects of artists as individuals, and as participants in historical formations such as canons that inevitably precede and exceed their lives and works. If truly great works address themselves simultaneously to a particular historical moment and to people across all of time, not all works are evaluated as if they could transcend their moment. My belief is that the works I am studying map out a shared set of experiences at a given place and time, but that their complexity as works of art means they evade being pinned down to just being of their moment.

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

While conducting archival research for my thesis, I had the opportunity to converse with scholars working in art history and performance studies. Scholarship from these two fields has changed the trajectory of what was originally a thesis drawing primarily on work in literary studies and philosophical aesthetics. My project as a whole continues to reaffirm my desire to pursue my research interests further through a doctoral program in English or an interdisciplinary humanities field such as American Studies, but I am now also thinking about incorporating the visual arts into my research agenda for graduate school. Finally, and most importantly, working on this project has motivated me to think of my scholarly practice as inseparable from other facets of my life. I am still thinking about how my deference to the rich complexity of the works in my study should affect my interpersonal interactions and political commitments.

Noam Shemtov

Comparative Literature, Iberian and Latin American Cultures

Literature and Cultural Politics of Tlatelolco, 1968-2018

Advisor: Héctor Hoyos

Noam Shemtov is a senior majoring in comparative literature with a minor in philosophy. His primary interests lie at the meeting-point between aesthetics, ethics, and politics. After studying the histories of political thought and literary criticism during his first few years as an undergraduate, he has narrowed his focus to modern and contemporary Latin American literature. This grouping of interests has led Noam to participate in working groups such as the Philosophical Reading Group and the post-anthropocentric humanities workshop Materia. In addition to these research interests, Noam has worked as a research assistant with the Stanford Law School's Human Rights Clinic. 

What is the focus of your current research?

My research focuses on representations of the Mexican body politic in the wake of that country's 1968 student popular movement. In particular, I am interested in how figures of crowds, amassments, and assemblies appear in Mexican literature as subject matter, on the one hand, and as a structuring or formal element, on the other. 

What drew you to this topic?

I have always been fascinated by the connection between literary forms and the forms of social and political life. Because 1968 marks a recognizable shift in representational practices, on the one hand, and in the very idea of politics, on the other, it seemed to me as good an area as any in which to explore this connection. 

How are you conducting your research?

I am reading from three “categories” of texts for this project. The first is Mexican literature from the post-1968 tradition; novels, films, and crónicas, and political writings that grew out of, or bear a substantive relation to, the event of 1968 as it took place in Mexico. The second category gathers texts from across contemporary critical theory. These texts bear all sorts of fancy disciplinary names, but they are all unified in the project of thinking politics in a distinctively contemporary key. I believe these texts have the potential to enliven the debate around 1968 in Mexico by broadening the conception of what “counts” as political. I am thus interested in the role of non-human actors such as technology, media, architecture, and so on, in the 1968 political process. Finally, I am reading texts by historians of the global 1968 movement. My purpose here is to draw Mexico's 1968 movement into relation with the widespread democratic fervor of that year and to analyze how Mexican literature has dealt with the figure of globality since the student popular movement. 

What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

It depends, of course, on the people in question. Still, one thing I hope to bring to this project is a careful attention to the political theory that was produced in relation to Mexico's 1968 movement. That there was a robust effort to theorize 1968 from Mexico may not be in itself surprising, but my hunch is that attending to the intellectual product of this effort will help me to dislodge some ways of thinking and speaking about that year that have been handed down to us from better-known movements in the Global North (Paris, the United States, and so on). 

In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic? 

I think we are in an interesting age for activist politics, in which forms of assembly and political networking are transforming rapidly. I am studying the canon of ‘68 literature in Mexico with these developments very much in mind, asking what role globalization, technology, and the various forms political networking played in opening up the field of the political. 

How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

It has been instructive to work on a mid-sized project like this, which is not quite a dissertation and not quite a paper. Choosing the size of the project has been a surprisingly involved intellectual process, as it's put me in a position to ask what kinds of questions are worth asking and to select/eliminate sources accordingly.