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Current Hume Honors Fellows

Isabella Ainsworth

History

Project: A Small Band of the Best People on Earth: The Zimbabwe War for Liberation and White Supremacy

Advisor: Steven Press

Isabella Ainsworth grew up in Davis, California. She came to the history major in her sophomore year when writing a paper and realizing it was the first essay she had written where she was making an argument, not for the sake of it, but because it was something she truly believed in. It was a magical feeling, and thankfully one that she has experienced many times since. Apart from history, Ainsworth loves literature and learning new languages. She was originally in the class of 2021, but during the pandemic took a gap year to spend time learning Korean and Russian online. 


What is the focus of your current research?

I am researching the memory of the Zimbabwe War for Liberation, or as white supremacists term it, the Rhodesian Bush War. I am looking at what has and has not changed in how the memory of this war is used since its end in 1980, and what that tells us about modern white supremacy. 
 

What drew you to this topic?

For me, history is important because of how it informs the present. I wanted to work on something that I felt would illuminate not just an aspect of the past, but also the current moment. I was on Wikipedia one day looking at the various years of decolonization for former colonies of the British Empire, and I saw that Zimbabwe had an especially late year: 1980. After some initial Googling, I also saw that there was a surprisingly large number of memoirs and novels glorifying the Rhodesian government’s army, with many of these books published recently. I wanted to figure out why this one war that I had never heard about before was so popular and well-known among a small contingent of people. 


How are you conducting your research? 

The main sources for my project are written publications. I am looking at right-wing and white supremacist newspapers and publications, as well as memoirs and novels about the war. I am starting with how these publications treated the war and the Rhodesian government while it was going on, and then I am tracing the memory of the war after it was over. My time frame is around 1975 to the present. 
 

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

I think that many people who have never heard of the Zimbabwe War for Liberation, or its alternative name, the Rhodesian Bush War, would be surprised to learn how much interest there is in this war that ended 40 years ago and how much white supremacists are still talking and writing about it. There are active reddit threads, memoirs and books published just in the last ten years, and sites that sell imitations of Rhodesian army uniforms and other memorabilia. There is even a video game about the war. This just shows how strong of a symbol this war is for white supremacists today. 
 

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

I think we have all seen the devastating effects of white supremacy on the world today. My hope is that by researching one of the symbols of white supremacy and its use over time, I can help contribute to the overall understanding of modern white supremacy and its origins. 


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

Working on my honors thesis is really making me realize how much I love learning, researching and writing, and so it has convinced me that at some point in the future, I would like to get a PhD. 
 

How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

Even though I am writing my honors thesis under the aegis of history, my topic is very interdisciplinary. It deals with memory, with literature, and with present politics and past politics. I think that being able to meet with students and fellows in different disciplines will help me understand my topic better and help me write a better thesis. 

Natalie Francis

Classics and English, Minor in Art History

Project: Imagining a Hymn for Persephone: Rachel Smythe's Romance Webtoon "Lore Olympus" and the Contemporary Re-envisioning of Classical Mythopoesis

Advisors: Richard Martin, Roland Greene, Emanuele Lugli

Natalie Francis is a senior from Stanford, California majoring in Classics (Greek and Latin) and English (Interdisciplinary Studies in Classical Worlds) minoring in Art History. As a Romantic and Hellenist, she is fascinated by how the visual arts, musical performance cultures, and literary texts mediate the reception of myths (Ancient Greek, Roman, Celtic) in the modern world. In her honors thesis, Natalie is approaching the romance webtoon Lore Olympus (2018-present) as an artistically ambitious project that encompasses the Early Greek Hexameter Poetry corpus; Ovid’s Metamorphoses; 19th century Romantic and Victorian literature; and a modern feminist oeuvre. Her passion for the literary-arts led her to become the Graphic Designer and Financial Officer for Aisthesis, the Stanford Classics Undergraduate Journal (Vol VIII-X); Assistant Producer, Music Director, and pit musician (cello, keyboard) for Rams Head Theatrical Society; and Financial Officer for the Stanford Light Opera Company. In her free time, Natalie enjoys running around campus; peer mentoring for SLE and Classics undergrads; and being with friends and family. 


What is the focus of your current research? 

For my honors thesis, I am approaching Rachel Smythe’s critically acclaimed romance webtoon Lore Olympus (2018-present) as both feminist popular entertainment and a sophisticated work of classical reception. I am currently thinking about how Smythe quotes the Homeric Hymn to Demeter in her epigraph to the first of a series of episodes that draw upon the myth of Hades and Prosperina as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. To what extent does Smythe establish her authority as a visual storyteller through the juxtaposition of the Greek epigraph and Latin allusion versus English paratext on "the Taking of Persephone?" Are hexameter poets such as Hesiod, Homer, or Ovid appropriate classical analogues for what Smythe hopes to accomplish in reimagining the story of Persephone from Kore to Dread Queen? Or does Smythe’s stated project of feminist deconstruction of myth map better onto female artists such as Sappho, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Christina Rossetti? I hope to address all these questions and more through my thesis. 

 
What drew you to this topic? 

I first discovered Lore Olympus in the summer of 2020 when my friend from our SLE (Structured Liberal Education) cohort’s adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata recommended it to me. Having recently worked closely with Stanford student survivors and mental health advocates, I was struck by how sensitive author Rachel Smythe was in her portrayal of Persephone as a young college student grappling with grief, anxiety, and trauma from sexual assault. After noticing that Smythe cites the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hesiod’s Work and Days, Homer, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as primary sources for Lore Olympus on her personal website, I wanted to see to what extent the romance webtoon draws upon the myths and poetics of Early Greek and Latin hexameter poetry in reimagining Olympian gods with modern feminist sensibilities. 

 
How are you conducting your research? 

This fall I am studying abroad through the BOSP Oxford program, where I am doing a Greek tutorial on the Homeric Hymns, Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days and Homer with Dr. Sophie Bocksberger. As a visiting student at Corpus Christi College, I have full access to all the Early Greek Hexameter Poetry (EGHP) commentaries and scholarship in their Classics library as well as to the world-renowned Bodleian library system. I am also taking the Oxford Fantasists seminar with Dr. Emma Plaskitt, studying the pre-Raphaelites, Victorian literature, C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956) and Tolkien’s fairytale philology. Upon my return to campus winter quarter, I will synthesize my writings on the affective portrayal of the gods in EGHP and the subversion of the Victorian “fallen woman” in retellings of Apuleius’ Cupid and Psyche with Lore Olympus’s feminist take on Ovid’s Metamorphoses
 

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

Approaching Lore Olympus as a work of classical reception presents the unique challenges of not only working with an evolving corpus of material but also of minimal scholarly literature. At this time, Smythe has published around 180 episodes (115 in Season One, 64+ in Season Two), so many of the plots and themes of the series remain to be seen. Most of the ‘literature’ on Lore Olympus consists of news articles, blog posts, and social media; the sole exception being “'It Never Hurts to Keep Looking for Sunshine': The Motif of Depression in Works for Children and Youth Inspired by Classical Antiquity” (Retjer et al; 2019). The webtoon often makes clever allusions to Western popular culture including but not limited to Ariana Grande, Black Swan (2010), the #FreeBritney Movement, Heathers the Musical, and Rapunzel. Smythe herself gives a critical view of Persephone’s popular reception, comparing in a July 2021 interview the Hymn to Demeter (“you don’t hear much from Persephone”); the “fragile flower goddess who is having a really terrible day” in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; and the “Dread Queen” in Homer’s Odyssey
 

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

While most webtoon users may not read the classical sources in parallel with Lore Olympus, I want to explore how revisiting the portrayal of gods in the Ancient Greek and Latin hexameter traditions yields new insights into Smythe’s legendarium and vice versa. Comparing older and newer modes of mythmaking reveals the timelessness of certain social concerns (e.g. friendship, love, war, coming-of-age, family, death) and empathy with gods and mortals alike mediated through myth. The romance webtoon updates relations among the gods to represent modern psychology (e.g. anxiety, depression, emotional intimacy, gaslighting) and traditional τιμαί (‘recognized powers’). By creating Lore Olympus, Smythe hopes to address a question of classical philology and reception: “How did [Persephone] goddess of spring who is always talked about being so nice turn into someone who is so feared?”
 

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

This summer I took ARTHIST 119: “Love at First Sight: Visual Desire, Attraction and the Pleasures of Art” with Professor Emanuele Lugli, thinking it would be good to study the composition and contexts of romantic paintings before writing about Lore Olympus. The interdisciplinary course on medieval to early-modern Franco-Italian art, literature, philosophy, and art cinema far exceeded my expectations; inspiring me to pursue an Art History minor. My desire to write an honors thesis gave me the confidence to apply for the BOSP Oxford program, proposing a Classics tutorial that would allow me to study the Early Greek Hexameter Poetry corpus with a comparative literature approach. The process of pitching and drafting an honors thesis on Lore Olympus has been challenging but immensely rewarding, as I have refined my reading and writing skills as a humanities and arts scholar and shared the webtoon with friends. 
 

How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

I am incredibly excited to join the Stanford Humanities Center community upon my return to campus winter quarter and meet with my fellowship cohort. I thrive in small, tight-knit academic communities such as Aisthesis, SLE program, Stanford-at-Oxford, and Corpus Christi College where I can get to know and bounce ideas off other humanities and arts students. I look forward to being able to meet SHC fellows and researchers through working in the library space and eating meals at the Center. While much of my research can be done on-site through the libraries or through virtual databases, I am grateful to have the stipend for buying rare or new books. 

 

Ekalan Hou

Art History and English, Minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity

Project: Pockets of Becoming: The Photography of Lai Yong, Mary Tape, and Frank Jue

Advisors: Marci Kwon, Terry Castle

Ekalan Hou is a senior double majoring in Art History and English and minoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. She is a peer advisor for both of her majors. Her research interests include female publishers and booksellers, questions of (in)visibility, and Chinese diasporic photography. She has worked at the Cantor Arts Center, SFMOMA (the exhibition she contributed to, Constellations, will be on view from November 2021–August 2022), and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. She also writes for Hyperallergic and The Brooklyn Rail.


What is the focus of your current research?

My current research focuses on late 19th and early 20th-century Chinese diasporic photography, more specifically the works of Lai Yong, Mary Tape, and Frank Jue. I am exploring the ways in which they bent the violence of the camera—an imperialist and ethnographic instrument—into intimacy and solidarity, and the aesthetic strategies that they used to survive during an era of Exclusion, to find freedom within enclosure. 
 

What drew you to this topic?

Professor Marci Kwon introduced me to Mary Tape, whose photographs led me to the albums of her family friend Frank Jue, held at the University of British Columbia Special Collections. I came across Lai Yong, the first recorded Chinese studio photographer in California, while reading Professor Gordon Chang, Mark Johnson, and Paul Karlstrom’s Asian American Art: A History 1850-1970, and immediately read the biographical files the authors compiled on him from the Stanford Special Collections. I was compelled by their self-representation in a time when others sought to define them.
 

How are you conducting your research?

My thesis relies primarily upon archival research, and I am pulling most of my materials from Linda Doler’s family archives (she is the great-great-granddaughter of Mary Tape), California Historical Society, and Stanford, UBC, UC Berkeley, and Yale’s Special Collections. However, my thesis cannot possibly exist without the secondary literature that I am reading and the important scholarship of Tina Campt, Thy Phu, Anthony Lee, Mae Ngai, etc.
 

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

That these photographers are also incredible activists! Mary submitted a letter to the Daily Alta in response to Spring Valley’s debarment of her daughter, Mamie Tape, from education. She writes, “It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress so long as you know they [are] Chinese. Then they are hated as one. There is not any right or justice for them.” Lai Yong co-authored “The Chinese Question from a Chinese Standpoint,” which pointed out the hypocrisy of American antagonism towards Chinese immigration when it desired open access to Chinese markets. 


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

This topic is valuable because the photographers offer us blueprints for coping with anti-Asian violence: subjects in Mary Tape’s photographs deflected a surveilling gaze by being camouflaged in nature; Lai Yong left California and opened a photo studio in Guangzhou, where he photographed Chinese people in Victorian costumes; and Frank Jue sutured friends and family together in his albums, accompanied by humorous captions, practicing what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call “being together in homelessness.”


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

I hope to continue pursuing the topic of my research at a graduate program; I will also be presenting my chapter on Lai Yong at the CAA Conference in March. My thesis has allowed me to meet an incredible community of scholars who do not treat research as a solitary endeavor but consider the advancement and study of Asian American art as a collective goal. I have experienced many moments of home-coming and of care during my conversations with scholars and artists. These exchanges will sustain me for a long time and are my first and last purpose. 


How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

The fellowship will support my research through the community that it facilitates. I know that my co-thinkers and co-conspirators will help me weather through difficult parts of my research and writing. The stipends also make visits to archives more manageable.

Jeevanjot “JJ” Singh Kapur

Theater & Performance Studies, Minor in Psychology

Project: Modified Digital Forum Theater—A Novel Approach for Improving Communication and Reducing Acculturative Family Distancing in Immigrant Families

Advisors: Michael Rau, MFA, and Dr. Shashank Joshi, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

JJ Kapur is a senior at Stanford majoring in Theater and Performance Studies and minoring in Psychology. JJ is a proud Midwesterner. When asked, “Is this heaven?” JJ’s reply is always: “No, this is Iowa.” Kapur grew up in a family of storytellers who instilled in him a love for the stage and performance arts. In college, Kapur has enjoyed exploring the intersection of theater and psychology, especially how the theater can be used as a platform for education and healing. His desire to bridge theater and psychology led him to found “Sikhs in the Spotlight”: a youth-led organization that uses theatrical vignettes to shine the spotlight on issues affecting the mental health of Sikh Americans. When he’s not writing his thesis, you can find him sipping a cup of chai with his friends, chomping on McDonald’s McGriddles, watching pre 2005 Spongebob episodes, or listening to one of the 4 B’s on his record player (The Beatles,The Beach Boys, The BeeGees, and Burt Bacarach). 


What is the focus of your current research?

My honors thesis explores a big question: Can theater change people’s behavior?  Underneath this big question is a more specific one: Can theater change the way parents and children communicate? To investigate these questions, I am researching the effectiveness of a theater family workshop at Milpitas High School. I hypothesize that theater can be an intervention to improve communication and reduce cross-cultural conflicts for immigrant parents and teens. I’ll be testing this hypothesis using the framework of Albert Bandura’s “Social Learning Theory” which suggests that social behavior is learned by observing and imitating the behavior of others. In other words, I believe that theater can serve as a useful tool to teach positive and healthy social behaviors to a target audience. 


What drew you to this topic?

The idea for my honors thesis comes from lived experience. I am a first-generation Sikh American and, unapologetically, a “Cultural Coconut.”This nickname started as a joke from some of my Indian friends back home in Iowa, referring to my Brown skin on the outside but White identity on the inside. For much of my childhood, I embraced my bicultural identity—my “Coconut-iness” if you will. But as a teenager, I noticed my American and Asian identities come into conflict. Recently, while working on a research project with Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Shashank Joshi, I learned a psychological term for the rift I was experiencing: Acculturative Family Distancing (AFD), “the distancing that occurs between immigrant parents and children that is a result of immigration, cultural differences, and differing rates of acculturation” (Hwang, 2006). As the saying goes: “Research is Mesearch.” I chose to pursue an honors thesis with a desire to learn more about the cultural and intergenerational rifts that occur in immigrant families and, most importantly, how to help families like my own deal with them better.


How are you conducting your research?

I am reading lots of theater and psychology literature. In the theater, I am focusing my research on theater directors Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal. Both directors offered a new and radical conception of theater’s function in society which unraveled the enduring traditions of theater as entertainment. Instead, Brecht and Boal saw the theater’s function as an interventional and educational tool where the audience can actively engage in both personal and social struggles. 

My honors thesis will also include research in Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, applications of Mimetic Theory to cognitive and behavioral change, and a statistical analysis of survey data (both quantitative and qualitative) administered before, after, and two-months after audience members attend my family theater workshop to determine whether theater can act as an effective intervention in reducing psychological distress in families over time. 


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

In a study on Chinese American high school students and their mothers, I was surprised to learn that greater AFD is associated with higher depressive symptoms and a greater risk for clinical depression (Hwang, 2010).This helped me understand the very real effects AFD can have on the mental health of immigrant family members. I was also surprised to find out that, while there is an abundance of articles investigating the causes and effects of AFD in Psychology journals, I do not know of any interventional studies investigating strategies to reduce AFD. And in theater literature, the last time the intersection of psychology and theater was actively and empirically explored was over one hundred years ago when Konstantin Stanislavski created a system of acting based on Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. These gaps in both theater and psychology literature make me excited to write my thesis!


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

I hope that my honors thesis can pave the way for mental health clinicians to approach cross-cultural treatments through a theater lens and for theater professionals to better understand the psychological impact of their performances on audiences. But the greatest goal I have for my thesis project is to make a tangible difference for the Milpitas community; to create a performance where the audience does not sit silently the entire show, but instead feels alive and awake to the possibility of change.  Augusto Boal, founder of Theatre of the Oppressed, puts it best: “The theater itself is not revolutionary: it is a rehearsal for the revolution.” Like Boal, I see the theater’s purpose as a rehearsal for life. If even one parent walks away from my family theater workshop with greater confidence to have healthier conversations with their teens about issues that matter, then I am immensely grateful.


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

I was quite ambivalent about what I wanted to study when I first came to Stanford, but I continued to try out different classes from different majors until I found intellectual homes in the theater and psychology departments. I think the biggest impact writing my honors thesis has had on me is that it is helping me to connect the dots and to cap off my Stanford experience having delved deep into my intellectual interests! 


How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

Having another home on campus! It feels so amazing to walk into the Humanities Center at any time and know that I can make my favorite cup of chai, put on my fuzzy socks, sit at my own desk, and write something I care deeply about. I also am incredibly grateful for the energizing and intellectually stimulating community at the Center. It is such a gift to engage in amazing conversations over lunch with experts in so many different areas.

Arman Kassam

History, Minor in Anthropology

Project: Man on the Moon: John Wilkins's Lunar Fascination and the Futures of Empire, 1630-1650

Advisors: Paula Findlen, David Como

Arman Kassam hails from Durham, North Carolina, where he lives with his parents and his two dogs. He thought he would major in chemistry but realized in his freshman year that writing essays and reading history offered a little more space for creativity. Arman co-leads Basmati Raas, a traditional north Indian dance team on campus, and he also helps manage Herodotus, Stanford’s undergraduate history journal. Ironically, Kassam never grew up a big fan of Sci-Fi, but he did read Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed this summer and absolutely fell in love with it. His first intellectual interest in college was the history of cartography, and he recommends heading over to the David Rumsey Map Center, located in Green Library, if you haven’t already. 


What is the focus of your current research?

After Galileo published some of the first images of the moon from the perspective of a telescope in 1609, a handful of English writers became fascinated with the possibility of lunar life. My thesis interrogates how these writers conceptualized the inhabited moon as an extension of the cartography, commerce, and conquest in the age of discovery. Philosophers like John Wilkins and novelists like Francis Godwin replaced America with the Moon, caravels with flying chariots, and indigenous peoples with lunar societies. How else did colonial encounters offer a script for understanding a world on the moon?


What drew you to this topic?

In the spring of my junior year, I took a class on Utopia taught by Jon Cooper in the History Department. We had to read a fantastical lunar voyage novel called The Man in the Moone (1638), where an intrepid and naïve Spaniard unexpectedly floats to the lunar sphere. There, our protagonist discovers a lunar paradise. I was originally drawn to the question, how much of this fiction is actually based on the science of 17th-century England? How do works like The Man in the Moone blur the contemporary categories of literature and science that we project onto the past?


How are you conducting your research?

Beyond reading the works of John Wilkins and Francis Godwin, which are thankfully digitized, I scour archives for everything from cosmographies to satires, from maps to pamphlets. Because I’m interested in the way that my writers take from (and break from) contemporary understandings of the moon and colonial discovery, much of my research is about reconstructing contexts. Right now, for example, I’m attempting to reconstruct Renaissance discussions about Earth’s climates, which Wilkins likely drew inspiration from. I’m also indebted to the historians of science and literature who have come before me; extraterrestrial speculation is actually well-documented, though not often connected to wider concerns about discovery and colonization.


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

While most natural philosophers in the period I study didn’t accept the existence of other worlds, it became much more mainstream by the beginning of the eighteenth century (Kant, for example, believed in extraterrestrial life!). Historians and literary critics often cite Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (1686) as the first “pop science” book of the Enlightenment. In it, Fontenelle suggests the existence of aliens not only on the moon, but also on all the other planets, on galaxies far away, and even on comets.
 

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

A lot of my work is inspired by the commitments of sociologists of science from the 1960s; Science has woven fictions about its coherence, seriousness, and objectivity. I want to show how the roots of modern science trace back to moments like the one I study: where power, literary representation, and fertile imagination mattered just as much as the “facts.” Wilkins turns out to be one of the founders of England’s first modern scientific institution, the Royal Society, over 20 years after he argues for a world on the moon.


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

Well, I don’t quite get the same amount of sleep I used to! Though I’m grateful that I get to dedicate so much of my time to something that I love and can explore on my own terms. One of the most unexpected results of my thesis work is that I’ve drawn much closer to my peers in the History Department. It’s wonderful being able to share the grueling, messy, and rewarding experience of a senior thesis with others. The Stanford Humanities Center plays no small role in facilitating those connections.


How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

One thing I’ve learned about writing a thesis over the past month is that my perspective can change at any moment. I didn’t even know I was writing about colonialism until the start of my senior year. The Hume fellowship puts me in touch with people who, through their own research processes, have guided me in unexpected and promising directions, indelibly leaving their handprints on whatever final paper I produce by the end of the year.

Hannah Kunzman

Philosophy and Religious Studies, Minor in Spanish 

Project: Is There Room for the Family in Liberal Theory? The Complexity of Children's Interests

Advisors: Leif Wenar, Rob Reich 

Hannah Kunzman is a senior from Bloomington, Indiana majoring in Philosophy and Religious Studies with honors in Ethics in Society and a minor in Spanish. Her academic interests include religion in liberal democracies, children’s rights, and historical and contemporary populist movements. Outside of class, she is a Hume tutor and a tutor for Ethics in Society’s Hope House Scholars Program, which brings humanities courses to a local women’s addiction recovery center. In her free time, she enjoys watercolor painting and cooking with friends.
 

What is the focus of your current research? 

My thesis analyzes the philosophical concept of children’s rights, specifically focusing on the case of children in families that hold illiberal values and conceptions of the good. My goal is to develop a working framework for understanding the interests of a child and how this relates to those of the parent(s), society, and the state. One of my contributions will be to elucidate the rationales of illiberal families living within liberal democracies, and their claim to “expressive interests” in raising their children. Ultimately, however, I argue that we need to shift—legally, socially, and philosophically—towards viewing children as individuals with complex and sometimes competing interests. 
 

What drew you to this topic? 

Children occupy a unique social space.They are arguably nonconsenting, heteronomous individuals who nonetheless have interests in living a good life, both now and in the future. The tensions between the interests of parents, children, and the state represent inherent contradictions embedded in the very idea of a pluralistic society. Can children be compelled to attend religious services? How much control should parents have over their child’s education? These types of questions are ones that reveal how we think about individuals’ claims to self-determination, and how these claims interact with each other. 
 

How are you conducting your research? 

I’m framing my work around the U.S. opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was the first substantive international attempt to create standards for the treatment of children. From there, I’m drawing on works of political philosophy concerning pluralism in liberal democracies, conceptions of the public and the private, and parental expressive interests versus children’s self-determination. 
 

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

People may be surprised by how recently the very idea of “children’s rights” came into our philosophical and social lexicon. For a long time, children were considered small adults, or the property of their fathers. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that protections designed to safeguard children’s special interests began to be enacted. There is still disagreement over which types of rights children should hold. Some philosophers argue that children have “welfare rights,” but lack “agency rights” because they do not possess the capacities to exercise these (for example, what would it mean for a five-year-old to exercise freedom of religion?). 
 

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

The question of what rights to afford children is a recurrent theme in many social and political debates. We’re seeing these questions arise now, for example, with the debates over adolescents who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but whose parents refuse to give permission. Moreover, children are often used as political bargaining pieces (as is the case right now with transgender children). In doing so, we fail to center children as individuals in the questions that are so vital to their lives. 
 

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

I’ve been working on iterations of this topic since my freshman year, so it’s exciting to see how my thinking has changed and expanded throughout college. Despite my work over the years, however, I still have so many questions and uncertainties about my topic, and writing this thesis is challenging me to address these in a fulfilling and meaningful way. 
 

How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research? 

I’m excited to be in a community of thesis writers from across the humanities who offer a rich variety of disciplinary perspectives. I hope we will mutually challenge and encourage each other in our work. I want to approach the research and writing process as a collaborative rather than isolating endeavor, and I look forward to doing so as a part of the Hume community!

Brennan Megregian

Classics, Minor in Computer Science

Project: Master of Words: Using Natural Language Processing to Explore Negative Diction in Cicero’s Orations

Advisors: Hans Bork, Cleo Condoravdi

Brennan Megregian is a senior from London, UK majoring in Classics in the Latin and Greek Language track, and minoring in Computer Science. She is particularly fascinated by the ways in which we can bridge our modern technological world with the ancient world. Innovations in branches of Artificial Intelligence, specifically Natural Language Processing, has provided us with the unique opportunity to investigate ancient texts on a much larger analytical scale, and she is keen to employ these tools in her research on Cicero’s legal and political speeches. Outside of her thesis work, Megregian is interested in discovering alternate ways in which Natural Language Processing and machine learning can help people now, and this has led her to become a research assistant at the Legal Design Lab in the Stanford Law School, exploring ways to make legal resources more accessible to people online.


What is the focus of your current research? 

The Roman scholar Quintilian famously said that Cicero was “not the name of a man, but eloquence itself.” Yet despite his famous rhetorical skill and style, he was nevertheless despised by many. One explanation of this contempt can be attributed to his ruthless character assassinations in several of his speeches. Thus, my thesis will explore Cicero’s use of abusive and insulting vocabulary. Specifically, I intend to investigate and compare Cicero’s use of negative diction across his speeches using Natural Language Processing, a subfield of artificial intelligence that helps computers understand and interpret human language. 
 

What drew you to this topic? 

As a Classics major and Computer Science minor, I have always been fascinated by the ways in which technology can be employed to learn more about the ancient world. Additionally, when I first studied Cicero’s Pro Caelio (his speech in defense of Caelius) in high school, I was taken aback by Cicero’s brutal attack on Caelius’ accusers, and this ignited my interest in Roman law and politics. This inspired me to look further into Cicero’s use of negative language in his speeches, and Natural Language Processing provides the perfect lens through which to examine this topic in a new way.
 

How are you conducting your research? 

My research will be conducted using Natural Language Processing to investigate Cicero’s legal and political speeches. More specifically, I am using sentiment analysis, a method of classifying words as "positive" or "negative" in terms of their meaning and connotations, to isolate and further explore Cicero’s use of negative words across his speeches. Additionally, I will use word embeddings, which is a way of investigating word associations, through which I will investigate and analyze the context in which Cicero uses negative diction.
 

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

In general, I think people may be surprised to learn how two seemingly disparate fields of study, Classics and Computer Science, can be combined to provide new perspectives through which we can investigate and learn about the ancient world. The use of Natural Language Processing in Classics has recently started to gain momentum and attention.
 

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

This approach using Natural Language Processing will offer new insight into Cicero’s use of negative language. Such techniques, so far as I know, have never been applied to the works of Cicero. Most importantly, the corpus of extant legal speeches by Cicero is enormous, and so it is impractical to analyse by hand (as is traditional) each instance when Cicero uses insulting or abusive language. However, the use of NLP allows me to analyse text quantitatively, going beyond subjective reading and impressionistic analysis to explore the actual features and linguistic make-up of the text.


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

Academically, my honors thesis has provided me with the rare opportunity to explore and combine my two passions of Classics and Computer Science. This work in particular has demonstrated to me how there are so many unique and interesting ways that Computer Science can be applied to investigating topics in the Humanities. While I have personally been fascinated by the ancient world since high school, my interest in Computer Science is more newfound, and this project has given me the confidence to embark on more untraditional research and career paths.


How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research? 

The variety of interests, skills, and experiences among the people in this fellowship demonstrate just how interdisciplinary the Humanities are. I am incredibly excited to work alongside my peers who are so dedicated and passionate about their research topics, and I look forward to learning from each and every one of them. I think this community will offer me many new perspectives which I can not only apply to my own research, but which I can also take with me in my later life and academic career.

Megha Parwani

Philosophy and Political Science

Project: The Individual Ethics of Resisting Immigration Law 

Advisors: Emilee Chapman, Alison McQueen, Krista Lawlor

Megha Parwai is a senior double majoring in philosophy and political science and writing her honors thesis through the Ethics in Society program. She is interested in studying and building more just, representative political systems. Parwani does research at the Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy and coordinates civic engagement efforts at the Haas Center for Public Service. She also loves to read fiction, drink tea, and go on walks.


What is the focus of your current research?

My thesis explores the question: When might it be justified for a citizen to resist immigration law? This is a salient question in American life, where ordinary citizens are often enlisted into the enforcement of immigration law. For example, in some states, employers are legally required to report unauthorized employees to the authorities, potentially triggering deportation and detention proceedings against these employees. My thesis explores whether such an employer can be justified in refusing to report her employee. More broadly, I am studying political obligation and its limits in democratic society.


What drew you to this topic?

I was drawn to this topic for its philosophical and political importance, and because of how it sits at a fascinating intersection between moral and political philosophy. While I’ve always been interested in the ethics of immigration, the literature tends to focus on nation-states, and how governments ought to enact immigration policy. However, after reading philosopher Javier Hidalgo’s work on immigration, I was inspired to explore how individual citizens can and should react to immigration policy and border regimes.
 

How are you conducting your research?

So far, my research is largely based in secondary sources, drawing upon political theory, sociology, political science, and history. From theoretical sources, on one hand, I am trying to understand the most compelling arguments for a duty to obey the law and assessing whether these views leave room for principled disobedience in the face of unjust immigration law. From empirical data, on the other hand, I hope to draw out morally salient considerations about unauthorized immigration in contemporary society, grounding my theoretical argument firmly in current politics.
 

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

People might be surprised to learn that the very reasons grounding a duty to obey the law can also justify disobeying the law—or even require it. Sometimes the realization of justice, defined by egalitarian ideals, requires pushing back against democratically-decided law.  What’s more, as I see it, pushing back could mean disobedience and protest—but it could also mean challenging laws in court, running for office, and voting conscientiously. As such, while my project seemingly harks upon the limits of justice achievable by democracy, I see it as equally motivating reforms within democracy. 


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

In my view, it is valuable to study this topic because it provides a framework for imagining and building a more just society. Majoring in philosophy has taught me that many things we assume about the world and the present status quo can be questioned and destabilized—and reimagined for the better. I hope studying this topic will allow me to critically engage with and shed light on the moral complexities of our immigration system and think about how to reform it.


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

My honors thesis is certainly the longest project—academic or otherwise—I have engaged in. As a result, working on it has been in equal parts daunting and exciting. More than anything, however, I am trying to be grateful for this opportunity to immerse myself in a serious, independent project. As much as possible, I want this project to be a labor of love—a fitting culmination to the four years I’ve spent joyfully studying philosophy.
 

How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

I’ve heard wonderful things about the community fostered by the fellowship. And in the last few weeks since I received the fellowship, I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know and learn from the brilliant people in my cohort. I believe the community and camaraderie created by this fellowship will be invaluable, both to my development as a student and my ability to persevere through this project.

Andrew Tan

English

Project: Parable of the Corpus: Personal and Interpersonal Modes of Writing in Octavia Butler's "Parable Series"

Advisors: Roanne Kantor, Patrick Phillips

Andrew Tan is a senior from Menlo Park, California, majoring in English with an interdisciplinary focus in biology. Through his research, he seeks to better understand how both the individual and society at large interact with concepts of race, gender and disability and the role of speculative fiction in reimagining and reshaping these categories of identity. In particular, he is interested in the environmental image of fire as a heuristic for the iterative reconstruction of identity and of the terms by which identity is defined. He is also interested in how this process might be relevant to teaching and education, in which he is involved as a Peer Learning Consultant at the Center for Teaching and Learning and as a local English tutor. He strives to write accessibly and has served multiple roles as a writer and editor at both the Stanford Daily and STANFORD magazine. In his free time, he enjoys writing poems, playing board games, and drinking tea. 


What is the focus of your current research?

I am interested in how nature is written in Butler’s Earthseed trilogy, but especially in Parable of the Sower, as both an effector of and a lens through which to view disability. I believe the ecocritical framework will be one that is productive for my research because nature—with its dual connotations of the environment and of inherence—participates in a process of construction with culture akin to the conceptualization of disability and able-bodiedness/able-mindedness. Thus, my project aims to destabilize fixed definitions of disability, race and gender as nature and culture are dismantled and recreated in Butler’s fiction. 
 

What drew you to this topic?

I was originally interested in investigating the patient-physician dyad in Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone; however, through my background and theoretical research into this topic, I realized that I was more interested in attending closely to the person behind the “patient,” with a particular focus on their material and social realities rather than on their clinical outcomes. This line of thinking led me to a class on Disability and Technology, through which I reacquainted myself with Octavia Butler and identified her fiction as the subject of my research. 

How are you conducting your research?

My primary mode of research is close reading, specifically through a lens that contextualizes disability in the Earthseed trilogy within the rules of Butler’s fictive world. That is, at a base level, I intend to analyze the non-realist disabilities that Butler creates through the terms by which they are created and defined without imposing real-world understandings of disability on them. I will approach nature and race in a similar fashion, before attempting to extrapolate from the literature how such definitions can thus be reconceptualized. 
 

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

We can learn a lot from Butler’s work through a mode of analysis that is critical of her authorial decisions, of her stories’ narrative details themselves. For instance, the destiny of Earthseed, as stated in Parable of the Sower is “to take root among the stars,” a settler colonial fantasy that fuels the protagonist Lauren’s nascent religion. How does this detail about Earthseed affect our perception of religion? How does it interact with Lauren’s disabled identity? These are some questions that I broach through this method of analysis, which I pair with a more faithful reading of Butler to investigate nature and disability in the Earthseed trilogy. 


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

Through this thesis, I hope to propose an understanding of nature and disability that both acknowledges how these labels are born out of a manufactured desire for discrete categories of identification and reframes these terms (and other markers of identity) as dynamic concepts that are continually renewing and evolving. I find this dual formulation of disability valuable because it better describes the temporal process through which the individual interacts with this identity and others in pursuit of a cohesive self. 


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

The process of identity formation which I describe as cyclical and recursive is one that I am constantly aware of in my own development as a scholar and person. In a way, I am living my own personal case study of identity and selfhood, which will undoubtedly inform my thesis and vice versa (another cycle!) Additionally, this topic continues to teach me how disability manifests and is experienced in my ongoing self-education about disability justice and advocacy. 


How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

Besides the invaluable opportunity of working with the other Hume fellows, the fellowship provides me with the requisite funds to explore museum exhibits, archival research and other experiences relevant to my thesis. In particular, I am excited to attend and re-attend the exhibit, “Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism” at the Oakland Museum of California, which includes multiple displays on Octavia Butler. I also hope to visit the Huntington Library to view its Octavia Butler archive, which contains outlines and other planning documents for the third, unwritten book of the Earthseed trilogy.

Emily Wan

East Asian Studies (Japanese Literature), Minor in Translation Studies

Project: The World Beyond the Page: Reexamining the Place of Rules in Medieval Japanese "Linked Verse"

Advisor: Ariel Stilerman

Emily Wan is a senior majoring in East Asian Studies with a focus on Japanese literature and minoring in Translation Studies. Her interests lie in premodern Japanese poetry, translation, and how research in these areas can expose more people to the value and beauty of literature of different languages and cultures. Outside of honors thesis research, she is also part of the Stanford Sharing Conversations team which combines linguistics, literature, and psychology to conduct interdisciplinary research on the language of aging. In her free time, Wan sings in Stanford O-Tone a cappella, is involved in the Stanford-Japan Exchange Conference, and enjoys reading/writing, music, hiking, and learning languages.


What is the focus of your current research?

My thesis focuses on a genre of medieval Japanese poetry called renga (“linked verse”), in which 100 alternating verses of 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllables per line are linked in succession collaboratively and spontaneously by multiple poets. I will compare five renga sequences from different compositional contexts in which the renga master Sōgi participated to explore how the levels of textuality versus orality/performance, formality, etc. influence his approach to the genre. I hope to gain insight into how to better study renga given that only the textual objects are left and the implications it may have for translation and performance theories based mostly in Western literature.


What drew you to this topic?

I first encountered renga during my sophomore year, and the complexity of the genre, particularly the dynamic of freedom within rules and the countless semantic possibilities each short verse could contain (and questions of how to translate them), had me hooked. After doing an annotated translation of a canonical dokugin (solo composition) sequence by the renga master Sōgi, which unlike normal renga was a purely written piece composed over a long period of time, I became interested in the interplay between the textual and performative natures of renga, leading to my current thesis topic.


How are you conducting your research?

For my research, I am comparing five primary renga sequences that Sōgi participated in, including one solo, one duo, two trio, and one large group composition covering a range of levels of formality and purposes. My current analysis focuses on how the rules of the genre are treated in each sequence by Sōgi, and how that may reflect different roles or personas he performs in response to the context and his relationships with the other participating poets. I will also engage with existing scholarship on renga and Japanese poetry, translation, and orality and performance.


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

In a renga sequence, each verse relates only to the directly preceding one, creating a themeless chain of constant shifts between seasons, settings, emotions, and perspectives governed by an exceedingly complex set of structural and linguistic rules. Poets not only memorized all these rules but also needed to keep in mind every previous verse to apply them. Furthermore, each verse had a condensed richness of language made possible only by poets’ extensive shared knowledge of the classical Japanese literary canon. Combining all this in spontaneous response to other poets across 100 verses is already incredible, but there were actually even longer sequences from hundreds to even 1000 verses.
 

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

Renga, a key stage of premodern Japanese poetry, was an art form that existed largely off the page. The methodology of comparing sequences from different contexts can inform better understanding of and ways to study the genre given that only textual objects remain. In addition to poetic skill and collaboration, renga composition required a balance of literary quality and social function, and poets often performed different personas with their poetic voices in each verse borrowing greatly from various external sources. Coupled with the highly condensed language, these qualities of renga pose an interesting challenge for translation and comparison to poetry of other traditions.


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

Defending the significance of non-Western pre-modern literary studies is often a challenge, and working on my thesis has helped me learn to do this more effectively and build a case for my own research. As renga was the segue between waka and haiku, gaining a comprehensive understanding of it will help me develop a foundation for future study of Japanese poetry in general. It’s also just such a fascinating genre, and I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know this beautiful poetry so intimately and discovering more of its charms each day.


How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?

Having been deeply involved with research within my major in the last few years, I have as a result not had as much exposure to other fields and regional focuses in the humanities as I would like. The fellowship will give me the chance to interact with people doing really interesting work in various disciplines and learn from their perspectives. Generally, I think having a community of people who love what they do with whom I can share ideas is really valuable and will bring a lot of fun to the thesis-writing process.