undergraduate research



UW English majors at the 2013 Rutgers English Diversity Institute (REDI):
from the right, standing, Mimi Cagaitan, Noah Lee-Engel, & Rebecca Mark


What is Humanities Research?


Research in the humanities is frequently misunderstood. When we think of research, what immediately comes to mind for many of us is a laboratory setting, with white-coated scientists hunched over microscopes. Because research in the humanities is often a rather solitary activity, it can be difficult for newcomers to gain a sense of what research looks like within the scope of English Studies. (For examples, see Student Research Profiles.)

A common misconception about research is reinforced when we view it solely in terms of the discovery of things previously unknown (such as a new species or an archaelogical artifact) rather than as a process that includes the reinterpretation or rediscovery of known artifacts (such as texts and other cultural products) from a critical or creative perspective to generate innovative art or new analyses. Fundamental to the concept of research is precisely this creation of something new. In the humanities, this might consist of literary authorship, which creates new knowledge in the form of art, or scholarly research, which adds new knowledge by examining texts and other cultural artifacts in the pursuit of particular lines of scholarly inquiry.

Research is often narrowly construed as an activity that will eventually result in a tangible product aimed at solving a world or social problem. Instead, research has many aims and outcomes and is a discipline-specific process, based upon the methods, conventions, and critical frameworks inherent in particular academic areas. In the humanities, the products of research are predominantly intellectual and intangible, with the results contributing to an academic discipline and also informing other disciplines, a process which often effects individual or social change over time.

The University of Washington Undergraduate Research Program provides this basic definition of research:

"Very generally speaking, most research is characterized by the evidence-based exploration of a question or hypothesis that is important to those in the discipline in which the work is being done. Students, then, must know something about the research methodology of a discipline (what constitutes "evidence" and how do you obtain it) and how to decide if a question or line of inquiry that is interesting to that student is also important to the discipline, to be able to embark on a research project."

While individual research remains the most prevalent form in the humanities, collaborative and cross-disciplinary research does occur. One example is the "Modern Girl Around the World" project, in which a group of six primary UW researchers from various humanities and social sciences disciplines explored the international emergence of the figure of the Modern Girl in the early 20th century. Examples of other research clusters are "The Race/Knowledge Project: Anti-Racist Praxis in the Global University," "The Asian American Studies Research Cluster," "The Queer + Public + Performance Project," "The Moving Images Research Group," to name a few.

English Studies comprises, or contains elements of, many subdisciplines. A few examples of areas in which our faculty and students engage are Textual Studies, Digital Humanities, American Studies, Language and Rhetoric, Cultural Studies, Critical Theory, and Medieval Studies. Each UW English professor engages in research in one or more specialty areas. You can read about English faculty specializations, research, and publications in the English Department Profiles to gain a sense of the breadth of current work being performed by Department researchers.

Undergraduates embarking on an independent research project work under the mentorship of one or more faculty members. Quite often this occurs when an advanced student completes an upper-division class and becomes fascinated by a particular, more specific line of inquiry, leading to additional investigation in an area beyond the classroom. This also occurs when students complete the English Honors Program, which culminates in a guided research-based thesis. In order for faculty members to agree to mentor a student, the project proposal must introduce specific approaches and lines of inquiry, and must be deemed sufficiently well defined and original enough to contribute to the discipline. If a faculty member in English has agreed to support your project proposal and serve as your mentor, credit is available through ENGL 499.

Beyond English Department resources, another source of information is the UW Undergraduate Research Program, which sponsors the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. They also offer a one-credit course called Research Exposed (GEN ST 391), in which a variety of faculty speakers discuss their research and provide information about research methods. Another great campus resource is the Simpson Center for the Humanities which supports interdisciplinary study. A number of our students have also been awarded Mary Gates Research Scholarships.

Each year, undergraduate English majors participate in the UW's Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium as well as other symposia around the nation. Here are some research abstracts from the symposia proceedings archive by recent English-major participants:

UW English Majors Recently Presenting at the UW's Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium

Jonathan Armoza, "From France to Arcadia to Louisiana: An Examination of 'Civilizing Discourse' and Materialism in Acadian-Cajun Folk Tales," (mentor: Professor Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges), 2011
Jordan Augustine, "NSFW: The Subversive Cultural Logic of Anonymous Online Culture," (mentors: Jose Lucero, Carolyn Pinedo Turnovsky, Raj Chetty, Simon Trujullo), 2013
Merzamie (Mimi) Cagaitan, "Soft Slips of Flesh: The Female Body as a Place of Sexual Violence and Site of Economic, Social, and Cultural Exchanges," (mentors: Professors Sonnet Retman and Michelle Liu), 2012; "Behind the Veils of Industry: The Filipina Mail-Order Bride as the Ultimate Western Male Fantasy," (mentor: Professor Michelle Liu), 2013
Christopher (Chance) Campbell, "Formal Mimicry as Literary Genre Art: Signs of Performative Authorship in Darko Vukovic's 'Closings' and Katarina Grgic's 'Early April'," (mentor: Professor Juliet Shields), 2013
Alexander Catchings, "Pastiche and Humor in the Neo-Slave Narrative," (mentor: Professor Sonnet Retman), 2012; "Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes: The Integrated Audience's Gaze on Black Performance," (mentor: Professor Sonnet Retman), 2013
Alexandra Deem, "The Black Cook and the Tin Drum: Intimate Ethics in Literature," (mentor: Professor Leroy Searle), 2014
Julie Feng, "The Art of Ars Poetica: Exploring the Movement of Metalanguage in Poetry about Poetry," (mentor: Professor Juliet Shields), 2013
Martha Flores-Perez, "ELL Endorsement: Teaching Multilingual Students," (mentors: Professors Manka Varghese and Tom Halverson), 2010
Joseph Frantz, "Donald Justice and New Formalist Poetry," (mentor: Professor Brian Reed), 2011
Anne-Cecile (Lorelai) Germain, "The Controversy of the Tea Party in Contemporary American Culture in Light of Dissent Theories of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn," (mentor: Professor Laurie George), 2011

Jeremy Goheen, "'But Will I Be a Man?' The Masculinity Strategy in Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke," (mentor: Professor Juliet Shields), 2013
Alejandro (Alex) Guardado, "Cinema of Loss: Exploring the Role of War and Trauma in Burundian Films," (mentor: Professor Kate Cummings), 2013
Brian Hardison, "Contexts of Colonization: The Literary-Historical Treatment of the Anglo-Saxon Settlement," (mentor: Professor Paul Remley), 2011
Jessica Jungwirth, "Tutors as Participant Researchers: How English Language Learners (ELLs) Taught Us Better Ways to Support Writing and Learning," (mentors: Professor John Webster, OWRC Director Jennifer Halpin), 2011
Hyungbin Kang, "The Sea Wolf: A Naturalist Novel?" (mentor: David Holmberg), 2014
Cali Kopczick, "Complicating Professional Development: A Tutor-Driven Approach to Professionalization in the Writing Center," (mentor: Jenny Halpin), 2014
Michelle Kwon, "Imperial Profiling: Reading Western Figurations of 'Global' Citizenship through Egypt's 'Facebook Revolution'," (mentor: Professor Chandan Reddy), 2011
Tiffany Loh, "All Up In The Hair: The Significance of Coiffure in Crome Yellow," (mentors: Professors Juliet Shields and Charles LaPorte), 2013
Rebecca Mark, "Trans(form)ative Language: Asian American Poetry and Racial Difference," (mentor: Professor Chandan Reddy), 2010
Melanya Materne, "Literature in the Common Core State Standards: A Critique," (mentor: Professor Candice Rai), 2012
Dandi Meng, "Aura in Photographic Reproductions of the Didarganj Yakshi," (mentor: Professor Sonal Khullar), 2014
Sara Patton, "Science Fiction and Utopia: The Superiority of Intersecting 'Spaces'," (mentor: Professor Chandan Reddy), 2014
Vincent Pham, "Injecting Racist Hysteria: How Media Coverage of the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) Virus Raises Questions About Border Security, NAFTA, and Mexican Representation in U.S. Culture," (mentor: Professor Maria Elena Garcia), 2014
Anthea Piong, "Education Reform in a Results-Oriented Society," (mentor: Professor Carole Lee), 2013
Samuel Pizelo, "Biopower and Heterology: An Examination of Protest and Resistance through the Photographs of Abu Ghraib," (mentor: Professor Monika Kaup), 2013; "'Born Dying:' Cultural Futures, Social Space, and Reproductive Economy in Southern African AIDS Narratives," (mentor: Professor Eva Cherniavsky), 2014
Sarah Poppe, "The Literary Body: Modernist Experiments with Object and Image," (mentor: Professor Emily James), 2011; "Circles within Circles: George Herbert’s Poems around Poems, ad infinitum," (mentor: Professor Jeffrey Knight), 2012
Sarah St Albin, "The Fallibility of Post-Enlightenment Virtue in Matthew G. Lewis’ The Monk," (mentor: Professor Juliet Shields), 2013
Rachel Schlotfeldt, "Newbook Digital Texts in the Humanities: The Emma B. Andrews Diaries," (mentors: Sarah Ketchley, Walter Andrews), 2013
Kali Swenson, "Imagining a Novel Nation: The Indian English Novel and the Indian Independence Movement," (mentors: Raj Chetty, Jose Antonio Lucero, Carolyn Pinedo Turnovsky, Simon Trujillo), 2013
Jon Volkman, "Through the Eyes of the Mongoose: The Intent of Audience," (mentor: Professor Michelle Liu), 2012
Brandon Weaver, "No Pain No Gain; Violence and a Critique of American Identity in Contemporary Cinematic Incarnations of the Western," (mentor: Professor Ryan Burt), 2010'; "Visual Violence: Deconstructing the Romani Myth in Three Films of Tony Gatlif," (mentor: Professor Vera Sokolova), 2011
Ella (Sonja) West, "An Analysis of First Person Narratives by Women Political Prisoners in Apartheid South Africa," (mentor: Professor Lynn Thomas), 2010
Stephanie Whitney, "Exploring the International Student Experience: Improving the University's Response to a Changing Student Population," (mentors: OWRC directors Jennifer Halpin and Camille Dodson), 2012
Sher-Min Yang, "The Literature of Sexuality: Evolving British Attitudes through the Later 20th Century into Contemporary Times," (mentor: Professor Sydney Kaplan), 2012
Kenneth Yuen, "Meaning, Metaphor, and Linguistic Indeterminacy," (mentor: Professor Ann Baker), 2011


For additional examples, see Student Profiles and Past Honors Students' Thesis Projects.

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