Past Master's Projects

The variety of master's projects produced by our students testifies to the interdisciplinary nature of the Duke GLS program.  Some take the form of a traditional master's thesis, but explore issues from a perspective that requires stepping back from disciplinary boundaries or combining the methods of different disciplines.  Others combine traditional academic analysis with other modes and genres -- whether creative, documentary or practical.   Each of them represents the culminating efforts of a student in achieving the MALS degree.  

Each year, a few projects that are especially noteworthy are given the designation of "Exemplary Master's Project," and are marked as such in these records.  Search for the word "exemplary" to find them.  Exemplary projects make particularly good models for students who are contemplating master's projects of their own.  A video showcase featuring some of our 2019-20 winners may be found here.

The World of Eurydice
Spring 2021
Author:
Suiyuan Jin
Supervisor:

A creative project with an exhibition as its final presentation, my graduation project is a series of explorations of people trapped in private space, memory, and daily prayer psychology under the epidemic situation. My project consists of two parts. The first part, including drawings on paper and a foam sculpture, is the construction of the hell of memory, which explores the relationship between mourning and consumption. The second part is about the relationship between human spiritual desires and everyday objects. It is mainly an installation work, including some paintings, sculptures, and a short film played by a projector. Through the transformation and sanctifying of everyday objects, I explore the early witchcraft consciousness of human prayer rituals, restore religion and witchcraft rituals to the original prayer paradigm, and suggest the metaphorical connection between private apartment space and the closed spiritual world of individuals under the epidemic.

Swaying between Grace and Pomposity: The Imagined Modernity of Soong Mayling
Spring 2021
Author:
Qianyu Thea Liu
Supervisor:

This paper is centrally concerned with the inconsistencies between the practices of the Orientalized modernity and the Chinese indigenous sociocultural situation in the Republic of China. I focus on Soong Mayling, the first lady of Generalissimo and President Chiang Kai-shek, by tracing her early education in the US, marriage life, as well as her political involvement after returning to China. I examine Orientalized figures’ attempts and possibilities to reconcile the discrepancies that existed between western countries and China. I argue that Soong and her husband endeavored to take outer forms of the West to construct their imagined naive modernity. Their ignorance of Chinese culture and a complete adaptation of linear (evolutionary) ideology cut their reforms off from Chinese people’s sentiments. Their reforms were inconsistent with China’s socio-cultural situation and found no echo in people’s hearts. Failure was inevitable. For sources, the core of the paper is mainly drawn from the speeches, written works, and diaries of Soong Mayling and Chiang Kai-shek, while a major portion of this paper includes news from both China domestic and worldwide newspapers and magazines. I have also supplemented this information with the works and diaries of several intellectuals such as Hu Shih, Sun Yat-sen, and Lin Yutang to enrich my portrait of Soong Mayling.

Making and Unmaking of Guiyu: The Global Center of E-waste
Spring 2021
Author:
Yuqiao Feng
Supervisor:

As the industry of electronic devices rapidly develops, the disposal and recycling of e-waste become an issue at stake. Despite the constant effort of both governments and Non-Governmental Organization, exportation to developing countries remains one of the major approaches for the first world to dispose their hazardous e-waste. Developing countries in Asia and Africa are such perfect destinations for e-waste dumping for their cheap labor and the lack of environmental regulation. Without adequate precaution and proper handling guide, human health and environmental integrity are under threat in these areas. China, being the largest electronics manufacture country, aside from dealing with the considerable amount of domestic e-waste, also faces multiple challenges in regulating the importation of e-waste. In addition to discuss the historical background, current situation, and possible future of e-waste trading on a global level, this project focuses on Guiyu, China, a small southern town which is considered one of the largest e-waste centers in the world. Taking Guiyu as an example, this paper aims to reveal the complexity surrounding the disposal and recycling of e-waste and the potential harm on human health of informal recycle activities. Tracing back the history of e-waste trading in Guiyu helps understand the how did the business become dominant industry. The economic and social context and the shared cultural belief of Chaoshan people also play key roles in the local e-waste recycle development. The paper suggests possible upstream and downstream solutions as well. The paper relies on secondary sources including academic journals, local newspaper, and public documents. Visual and audio material such as documentaries and interview footages are also important resources for the project. Related works that had been conducted within the Chinese language sphere are important sources for this project. To combine local perspective in the process of research, the paper largely depends on articles and official reports that are written in Chinese. Due to the difficulty in obtaining reliable and objective report on the result of the industrial park in Guiyu, the future of Guiyu and its e-waste business remains uncertain.

The Emperor’s Two Bodies
Spring 2021
Author:
Olivia G. Merli
Supervisor:

In the early third century, the body of the emperor came to play an increasingly important role in the dynastic politics of the Roman empire. But the role or, better, the function of the emperor’s body became in the short reign of Elagabalus (218-222) a highly contested issue. For the Severan house Elagabalus’ beautiful, youthful body was seen as a “natural” body that would support the dynastic claim. At the same time, Elagabalus himself and perhaps his mother built a new conception of the emperor’s body that was characterized by Elagabalus’ quest to merge with his god. In this quest Elagabalus sought to transform his body and the imperial body in ways that certain powerful groups in Rome viewed as a religious and political danger for the empire. In this thesis I combine diverse types of sources, such as coins, inscriptions, portraits, and literary accounts, to reconstruct the representation of the body of this emperor. I show how the cross-gender and the cross-behavior that the literary sources ascribe to Elagabalus’ unrestrained sexuality helps to explain his immersion into worship, seeking unity with his god. This brought the relation of Elagabalus’ natural and imperial body to a breaking point, leading to his destruction. 

Russian Literary Conflicts over the Antinihilist Novel, 1861-1881
Spring 2021
Author:
Muhammad Ali
Supervisor:

**Designated as an Exemplary Master's Project for 2020-2021**

This thesis examines the representation of nihilism in antinihilist and radical novels written in post-emancipation Tsarist Russia, between 1861 and 1881. During this period, nihilism emerged as a social and political phenomenon and contributed not only to the emerging differences between the generation of the “superfluous men” (1840s) and of the prominent literary critics (1860s), but also to the radicalization of a segment of society. As a result, it was actively discussed and debated in most of the literature produced in this period. I have limited my analysis to three of the major works written during this time: Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done?, and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Demons. Through my analysis of literary conflicts within these novels, I have explicated connections between the novels, identified influences over the authors, and explored how representations of nihilism evolved within Russian society during the 1860s and the 1870s.

An Analysis of the Shaping of Female Characters in Films Directed by Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Chinese Diasporic Female Directors
Spring 2021
Author:
Hongyu An
Supervisor:

This thesis examines the shaping of female characters in films directed by Chinese female directors. Six films are selected as examples: The Crossing (Guo chun tian, Bai Xue, 2019), Angels Wear White (Jia nian hua, Vivian Qu, 2017), Love Education (Xiang ai xiang qin, Sylvia Chang, 2017), Dear Ex (Shei Xian Ai Shang Ta De, Mag Hsu and Chih-Yen Hsu, 2018), Song of the Exile (Ke tu qiu hen, Ann Hui, 1990), and The Farewell (Lulu Wang, 2019). The selected films are divided into three groups: those directed by mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Chinese diasporic women. By comparing the female characters with their counterparts and by analyzing the character shaping and identity formation of the female protagonists in these films, this thesis discusses the commonalities and differences among the protagonists. The project is not intended to make general and mechanical conclusions, but to show how a variety of female characters have appeared in recent Chinese films directed by female directors, and how these characters epitomize different groups of women or female identities in the current Chinese society.

Pursuit of Faith: Navigating Ethics and Self-Referential Documentary
Spring 2021
Author:
Sheridan Wilbur
Supervisor:

This Master’s Project sets out to explore the history of my Irish Catholic, French Canadian, family, using archive materials from my grandmother (super 8mm home films, scanned photographs) and more recent interviews between my grandparents (in person and via Zoom) and functions relationally, a pas de deux between a self (me) and a familial other (my grandparents) rather than an outright self-examination. Given the profound importance of healthy family dynamics in the life of the filmmaker (me), the paper includes the explorations of ethics, and four common principles; “consent, do no harm, protect the vulnerable, and honor viewers' trust” as guiding benchmarks in my own process. My goal through this project is to explore my family experience in all its complexity and place it into present day context and constraints of coronavirus, while examining other films (and literature about films) to inform the choices I make; ethically, structurally and stylistically for this autobiographical documentary. In keeping with this ambition, the essay formulates an ethics, a way, to think about the nature of autobiographical film in its possible relation to memory, the elusive ‘truth’ and understanding family religion and culture. Primarily analytical, the paper presents the ethics of my autobiographical documentary film by looking at a variety of self representations in film and literature and domestic ethnographic research. Like all autobiographical works, in writing, painting or film, my master’s project is a journey towards self understanding, and admittedly, self construction. The analytical paper focuses on my documentary, the ethical issues that arise while conducting domestic ethnography (the careful description and explication of culture) and the editing choices I drew from first person documentaries to connect those who came before us to those who come after us. Sarah Polley’s ‘Stories We Tell’ largely serves to inform me on storytelling and defining ‘truth’ whereas Alan Berliner’s ‘Nobody’s Business’ serves as a framework on editing choices. Berliner has a lot to inform about the underbelly of Kodachrome versions of family life; he reveals the importance to capture the surface rather than the depth of family life, beyond the filmed holidays, birthdays and anniversaries to fully grasp that only after this smooth facade and promenade of well-behaved children orchestrated for the occasion is where the ‘truest’ family dynamic lies. The paper both brings to the surface ethical issues in the life of a documentarian, and examines these ethical issues in the context of others autobiographical documentaries. Written to reflect the power of memory, intergenerational history and the healing power of stories, the film spotlights self-relations and self-growth, embodies the interconnections among self, other and the world, and awakens one’s own humanity in the process of sharing, telling and the process of filmmaking.

Durham, North Carolina: A 21st Century Case Study on Gentrification, Artists, and the Creative Economy
Spring 2020
Author:
Laura Jane Ritchie
Supervisor:

Artist communities both generate, and coalesce around, sites of cultural significance and aesthetic intrigue. In doing so, artists and artist-run spaces impact the cultural and socioeconomic value of place. The connection between urban transformation and artist communities is not a new concept but, as American cities adapt to post-industrial economies, economic development strategies increasingly leverage artists’ cultural capital to regenerate disinvested urban areas. Over the last decade, Durham, North Carolina was ranked as the top creative class metro in the country, exceeded national medians in arts economic impact studies, and scored in the highest percentile for arts vibrancy. Durham’s new creative economy has led to a rapid period of real estate development that now threatens to fragment and erase its local arts ecosystem. In spite of its top performance in national metrics, almost half of Durham’s independent arts venues have closed or relocated outside of the downtown core. This project investigates the history of Durham’s transformation, considers its influences, and measures its impacts on artist communities and artist-run spaces during the time period of Durham’s Cultural Master Plan, 2004-2019. Complementing current academic theories and original research with a decade of experience with Durham’s artist-run spaces, the author concludes with a series of observations and recommendations for the city’s cultural workers and policymakers.

On the Stability of Moral Judgment Over Time
Fall 2020
Author:
Paul Rehren
Supervisor:

Stability over time is often seen as a signature feature of moral judgment. Yet to date, little focused empirical examination of this assumption exists. In this study, we compare the stability over time of moral judgments about acts in sacrificial dilemmas, moral judgments about the items on the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, and moral judgments about the items on the Morality-as-Cooperation Questionnaire. We find that on three metrics of stability over time, the different types of moral judgment all performed similarly. We also found that changes in moral judgment, when they occurred, could not be easily explained by people changing their mind in light of reasons. We discuss potential implications of our findings for moral psychology and moral philosophy.

:: salt mark :: open studio :: qr.2.vv :: picando portales :: hilvanando terruño :: stitching unearthed moments into place ::
Fall 2020
Author:
Jessica Almy-Pagan
Supervisor:

A virtual open studio, :: qr.2.vv ::: picando portales ::: hilvanando terruño :: presents a multi-faceted approach to marking moments of unexpected connection, of pinning down glimpses of unanticipated affinity that arise in the midst of daily interaction, often when attention is focused elsewhere. In Puerto Rico, the saying ¡oye, hay que hilvanar eso! draws from multi-generational sewing traditions, and a formerly thriving textile export industry, to acknowledge an idea or point that pops up in conversation which needs noting… deserves its own thread… exhibits some kind of urgency or crucial underpinnings, some mutually-recognized need to revisit a place in time, literally to pick up this thread, that astounding glance, this jarring moment of realization, in the future. While the verb hilvanar generally refers to creating a loose, preliminary basting stitch with thread and needle, implying an intention to return and create a finished seam, the term also describes an act, in writing and speaking, of deliberate linking, of piecing together words and concepts. Using both these meanings, :: qr.2.vv :: stitching unearthed moments into place :: locates a space for the creation of machine-stitched fabric pieces along with quick response (QR) codes to mark ongoing investigative dialogues. Inspired by uncanny threads emerging from the artist’s lived experience, vivid dreamscapes, and previous performance work, this open studio (both in-person and virtual presentations), delves into archival cartographic research and contemporary mapping of intangible cultural heritage to link ephemeral elements and ritual gestures found in traditional knowledge systems throughout Indian Ocean and Black Atlantic diasporas. Making space for speculative meanderings to percolate and connect with sources beyond institutional inscription, the work offers alternate methods for being a visual scribe, for existing in a global moment whose contours for grounding have shifted. It explores potential for reframing elements that could populate a visual or gestural body of knowledge, in the same way a network analysis or data visualization techniques offer ways to discover previously overlooked, perhaps subtly erased, relationships among names or numerals.

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