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Research Assistant

Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Assistant, Student Research

Trollin’ Barthes: Internet Memes and Deconstruction

Jon Santos is in his first year as a graduate student. Jon currently works as a graduate writing fellow in the English department at the Dougherty Family College. Jon also received his BA in English from the University of St. Thomas. Jon created a webpage for his final project in Dr. Alexis Easley‘s GENG 513: Issues in Criticism course. 

My research on internet memes—yes, those funny pics of cats and dogs and Donald Trump’s tiny hands, but also so much more—began when I was an undergraduate at St. Thomas. As part of the Excel Research Program, I studied the ways that race and ethnicity were represented in a large sample of internet memes. I found that people of color were most likely to be racialized by these memes, and whiteness was often deracialized, or rendered invisible. While the project yielded interesting results at the time, this was way back in the summer of 2015. Since then, the specific internet memes that I had researched have become ancient history, swept up and replaced by newer trends and forms of digital content. The speed with which my research became outdated was itself a lesson to me, speaking to the unpredictability and particularity of the cultural texts I was dealing with.

Admittedly, this early research was constrained by my limited idea of what an internet meme could be. My work focused on one “genre” of internet meme, but left much to be said about the unique textual character of internet memes as a whole. The presentation of my research (a Word document with a few images) also felt inappropriate—like writing about typewriters with a quill pen. A study of digital media, at least in this case, requires greater implementation of the digital tools that we now have at our disposal.

In this second effort, I’ve used my amateur knowledge of HTML to design a website about internet memes more generally. Especially useful here was the ability to hyperlink other media from the site, as a lot of the research tended to extend beyond the reaches of a conventional Works Cited page. All in all, the project is meant as a work-in-progress, with space for ideas I intend to continue developing or that might be developed by others. It’s my hope that this website proves a better fit for a text that is defined by online sharing and shapeshifting—and which demands continual engagement and rethinking on the part of the researcher.

(Don’t worry, there’s still some funny cat pictures on here. Donald makes an appearance as well.)

Check out Jon’s website, Trollin Barthes!

Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Assistant

Hemingway Research Assistant

Angela Drennen is a current graduate student entering her final year in the program. She spent the last year working with Dr. Kelli Larson researching for her second book on the American author.

This past fall and spring of 2015-16 I had the opportunity to work on the tremendously exciting (and tremendously immense) collection of Hemingway research from 1989 to the present. This includes articles, books, audio, dissertations, and even research published in foreign languages. This will be the second book Dr. Larson has published compiling Hemingway research after taking on the task the first time, compiling Hemingway research from the decades leading up to 1989. Despite hoping someone else would pick up from where she left off, no one else stood up to the task, so she, along with some of her hardworking students, got to work compiling all of the Hemingway research that had been done since the last book was published.

In August, I got an e-mail from Dr. Larson asking me if I wanted to be a research assistant on a manuscript she’d been working on. After taking a professional editing course with Dr. Easley, I knew that editing was what I wanted to do, which meant I needed to get some experience. Needless to say, I immediately said “yes.” Soon I was immersed in checking spacing, switching all of the citations to Chicago format, combining citations from each year, and a number of other detail-oriented tasks to prepare the manuscript to send to a publisher. The project in total wound up at a whopping 325 pages – the document is so long that Microsoft Word refused to spellcheck (which is fine, because I don’t trust it anyway). I probably spent about 50 or 60 of the 75 hours that were allotted in the budget for my position throughout the fall and spring. Each time I sat down to edit, it was usually in 3 hour intervals, unless I was determined to get done with a whole file I was checking, in which case I could spend up to 6 hours on it.

I started the project knowing nothing about Hemingway aside from an anecdote my dad likes to tell where Hemingway’s wife rubbed him down with alcohol before a dinner party because he had stopped taking showers. Embarrassingly, I haven’t even had the chance to read any of Hemingway’s works in my English student career. I learned a lot about Hemingway as well as gained a familiarity with using the Chicago Manual of Style (a must when preparing to get into editing). By some chance, I also learned how to replace a laptop keyboard when mine decided to rebel against all of my typing.

There were some stressful, panicked moments, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ask Dr. Easley for advice, but it was a truly satisfying experience to help Dr. Larson put together this project. It’s not finished yet, but it’s going to be worth the wait to all Hemingway enthusiasts and anxious students who need to write papers, and I’m excited to see what the final product will be.

Most of all, this opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without taking the editing course by Dr. Easley and her recommending me to Dr. Larson.

I think me and Hemingway would have gotten along pretty well.

Angela Drennen and her cat Luddy (Ludwig).

Angela Drennen and her cat Luddy (Ludwig).

Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Assistant

Human Rights Research Assistant

Pearl Nielsen is in her final semester in the graduate program. She works as a graduate consultant in the St. Thomas Center for Writing as well as being a research assistant for Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury, an experience she describes below. Dr. Chowdhury is also Pearl’s advisor for her capstone essay. Pearl will present her Master’s Essay, titled “Citizenship, Violence, and the Black Body: (Trans)National Belonging in Coates’s Between the World and Me and Cole’s Open City” at our Master’s Essay presentation event on May 18th. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating Pearl and all the other graduates.

Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury and Graduate Student Pearl Nielsen

Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury and Graduate Student Pearl Nielsen

During the second and final year of my MA English degree, I have served as a research assistant for Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury as he prepares to write a book on human rights. When I began this project, Dr. Chowdhury asked me to conduct a review of recent literature about human rights discourse. I found and read articles and books from the last 3-5 years that look at human rights concerns, particularly the language of human rights in contemporary discourse. To align my research with Dr. Chowdhury’s particular interest in transnational human rights, I aimed to make connections between texts to illuminate how human rights discourse takes shape across national borders.

As I reviewed the literature, I tried to get a sense of the patterns that seem to repeat themselves in this discourse. Some key inquiries guided my research: What sorts of rights concerns seem to dominate? What concerns seem to be ignored or underrepresented? Is most of the discourse coming from Western sources? Do the so-called scholarly sources seem to focus on topics that are significantly different from the more popular sources (NYT, The Guardian)? Can I notice distinctions in patterns and priorities depending on the origin of the source (that is, do NGO publications, popular sources, government documents, and scholarly literature seem to agree or disagree with one another on rights issues)?

I began by conducting a wide-ranging review of recent texts, and I later narrowed my focus to examine the precise language these texts were using to discuss, promote, or hinder various human rights concerns. In particular, I collected sources that discussed specific topics including economic injustice and inequality, transnational environmental violations of rights, and gender injustice (including how and why NGOs seem to play a prominent role in this area). Later, I began looking over chapter drafts to help Dr. Chowdhury identify areas that could use clarification or documentation. I read through his drafts and added relevant footnoted information, source citations, and suggestions for areas that might be developed further.

This project helped me conceptualize and reaffirm ways in which my field of study is relevant and applicable for helping to solve serious world issues and improve the lives of others. As I conducted my search for materials and my review of existing literature, I uncovered more and more social and cultural information and views which broadened and deepened my own worldview as well as my understanding of the trajectory of human rights. Furthermore, this research will hopefully contribute to Dr. Chowdhury’s writing, which will in turn make useful interjections and contributions to continuing discourse. I enhanced my organizational skills, learning to better focus my research while still keeping an open mind toward interesting tangential topics which emerged along the way. Though I was given guidelines and guidance throughout the project, I still made decisions about how heavily to weight various topics, where to find my sources, and how to interpret the language used in source materials. These responsibilities helped me hone my research process and develop my own understanding of contemporary human rights instead of having a particular understanding delegated to me. As I continue to work on this project, it has been exciting to see how the work I do while earning my degree can contribute to helpful scholarship on human rights and also prepare me to be a better-informed and more active citizen.