- Getting Started
- Ethics & Compliance
- Research Directory
- Preparing for a Research Consultation
- Research Consultations
- Finding a Faculty Mentor
- Research Peer Advisors
- Research Grants
- Summer Opportunities
- Humanities Internships
- Community Service Opportunities
- Featured Projects
- Recent Recipients
- Undergraduate Research Journals
Never before had I done intensive English research on a private project, and I certainly had never worked so closely before with a faculty member. Nor had I ever read any literature of the period. Being a part of this project was an exercise in the unknown, a complete leap of faith into something totally new, for which I was a blank slate.
I worked with Erica Shockley, another student in my year interested in literature and history, over ten weeks in the summer to see if we couldn’t find enough information to back up Professor Thadious Davis’s hypothesis that new technological and scientific innovations around the time of the Harlem Renaissance influenced some of its biggest writers in their scope and direction. If we could find enough evidence to support her theory, she would present it at Harvard University’s Alain Locke lectures in a three-part series. Clearly, we had our work cut out for us.
We prefaced our intensive period of research by dividing up four primary authors amongst ourselves, with Erica taking on Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen while I tackled Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman. Together we would consider Rudolph Fisher, Professor Davis’s key point of interest and the source of the idea itself. Each of these authors based their writing around one certain scientific principle; in my case, it was anthropology for Hurston and medicine and Eugenics for Thurman.
After we had read our respective novels and had a firm background for each author in mind, Erica and I convened daily in Van Pelt Library to scour the Internet and the stacks for possible clues that might bolster the theory. With the help of Jeff Edwards, a recently departed post-graduate student in the English department, we first began by poring over the archives of various popular magazines of the time, like The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s, searching for articles about new technologies and sciences that the authors might have read and by which they may have found themselves inspired. We tracked down all the articles, either via Van Pelt, the LIBRA system, through microfilm, or on the web. We looked over the Frank and Naumberg collections in the Rare Book and Manuscript Room to see if we could discover any connections. We read biographies of the authors’ lives, looking back through their college and high school years to see if they showed any inclination toward the sciences (Hurston certainly did, and Thurman briefly was enrolled in medical school). I tracked down the obscure films Thurman wrote and waded through Hurston’s personal letters. Finally, we compiled Prezi presentations about Toomer, Thurman, and Fisher for Professor Davis to utilize, should she choose to, during her lectures.
In 500 words or less, it is impossible to list all I have learned or taken from the project. Suffice to say that I now consider myself a seasoned researcher who is keenly looking forward to taking on a project of my very own. For no matter how satisfying it was to work with Professor Davis, the key success of the project is, I think, that I took away a desire to continue pursuing research.