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.  

From 2014-22, a few projects each year were awarded the designation of "Exemplary Master's Project," and marked as such in these records.  Search for the word "exemplary" to find them.  Exemplary projects were highlighted as particularly good models for students contemplating master's projects of their own.  A video showcase featuring some of our 2019-20 winners may be found here.

Starting in 2022-23, all students completing projects are invited to present their work in a public year-end Master's Project Showcase. Projects whose authors choose to present at this event are designated "Showcase Projects."

Enrollment Growth and Equity of Access: A Critical Analysis of the University of North Carolina's Strategic Plan
Spring 2019
Author:
Jessica Levitt
Supervisor:

The University of North Carolina System’s strategic plan contains initiatives to increase access for low-income and rural students, improve student outcomes, and close achievement gaps. A complete assessment of UNC’s strategic plan will consider increased enrollment against the demand of the state’s economy, the cost of education, and institutional resources. Enrollment growth carries the risks of lowering academic standard or oversaturating North Carolina’s economy with college-educated workers. However, the low educational attainment of the state’s underserved populations supports expanding access. A more detailed investigation of demographics at each of the campuses is necessary to understand the scope of underrepresentation within the system. The resulting calculations show that in addition to underrepresentation, there is also unequal distribution of minority, low-income, and rural students across UNC institutions. While the system has identified a number of programs and methods for achieving its priorities, it is also worth examining other models that may have application in North Carolina. In its current form, UNC’s strategic plan is insufficient to drive state-wide improvements. The aims produce only minimal gains, overlook important gaps, and lack the coordination between campuses necessary to best utilize system resources. There is unmet need and significant opportunity for innovation in North Carolina’s public institutions, but more ambitious goals will have to be implemented to result in any meaningful impact.

The Evolution of Chimpanzee Sanctuaries in the United States
Summer 2016
Author:
Gloria Lloyd
Supervisor:

Chimpanzees are native only to the jungles of equatorial Africa, but for the last hundred years, they have also lived in captivity in the United States, most commonly in biomedical research laboratories, but also at Air Force bases for experiments for the space program, at accredited and unaccredited zoos, at circuses, as performers in Hollywood and even in private homes and backyards as pets. But that has been gradually evolving over the last few decades, as more and more chimpanzees move to newly-established chimpanzee sanctuaries. That transition was already underway even before the announcement by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) last year that it will retire all of its remaining chimpanzees from labs to sanctuaries. By thoroughly examining the evolution of these sanctuaries leading up to that seminal decision, along with the many challenges they face, including money, medical care, conflicting philosophies on the treatment of animals and the pitfalls that have led other sanctuaries to the brink of ruin, we can take away a better understanding of why chimpanzee sanctuaries are needed and why caretakers of other animal species are now looking to the chimpanzee sanctuary movement as a model to show how animals can be cared for in retirement.

The Common Landscape: A Case for Using Participatory Strategies to Improve Management of the Blue Ridge Parkway Viewshed
Summer 2018
Author:
Anthony Thomas Piacenza
Supervisor:

The most popular site in the National Park System, the Blue Ridge Parkway—long-promoted as a key to the region’s economic and environmental well-being—generates billions of dollars in tourism-related activity in western North Carolina and Virginia. However, an exploration of the conservation and economic history of western North Carolina before and after the Parkway’s construction reveals a complex and often controversial relationship between the Parkway and the surrounding region. In this paper, I investigate whether the National Parks Service’s management of the Parkway is fulfilling both its own mandates and its promise to adjacent communities outside the park’s borders. This exploration reveals that regional land-use trends are putting at risk the key resource which sustains the Parkway and related tourism activity: the scenic viewshed. In North Carolina, the persistence of these threats necessitates an assessment of Parkway-related policies which guide efforts to grow the regional economy and protect the Blue Ridge Mountains’ natural and cultural heritage. I find that existing plans and initiatives lack the scale and scope needed to address viewshed threats. Because of the region’s checkerboard land-management and overlapping public-private lands, increasingly, private and non-profit conservation tools might represent the best available means for improving viewshed preservation. Implementing these strategies at a landscape scale requires convincing regional landowners and environmental organizations to work with government agencies with a frequency and in a way that promotes compromise and communication regarding best practices for maintaining the balance between land-use priorities. Ultimately, I suggest that planners consider the Parkway viewshed as a landscape-scale, common-pool resource and emphasize rural stakeholder participation in a comprehensive viewshed preservation initiative.

Who am I in English? Language as the Face of Identity in Bilingual Individuals
Summer 2018
Author:
Andrea J. Larson
Supervisor:

**Designated as an Exemplary Master's Project for 2018-2019**

How does switching to a life in a foreign language and culture affect one’s identity? Specifically, I ask: Do I have a true self unaffected by language and culture, or am I merely a construct of my environment? Studies in sociolinguistics overwhelmingly point to our sense of self as being largely informed by our place in the world: language, culture, gender and society weave together the intricate fabric of our being. The social and linguistic constructs available to us at any given time form the margins to who we think we are. For bilinguals like me, life in a foreign culture and language stretches these margins, as new experiences and linguistic concepts gradually alter accessible constructs and impact our sense of self. To many of us immigrants, living in an unfamiliar place and speaking in a foreign tongue can also pose a threat to our identity: the fabric of our being comes apart, forming gaping holes where cultural and linguistic concepts have fallen away and new ones have yet to be discovered. This two-part project examines the connection between language and identity creatively as well as academically. In an extended personal essay, I consider how my immigration experience and linguistic assimilation affected my sense of self. Loosely connected memories and reflections weave together into a cohesive storyline of being and changing and becoming, thus documenting the simultaneous sense of lightness and loss, of reinvention and confusion frequently felt by immigrants. The second part of this project consists of an academic research paper examining the unique qualities and struggles of bilingual individuals’ identities and how they are echoed in literature by immigrant, exiled and translingual writers.

The Rebirth of a Medieval Pilgrimage Route: A Study of the Modern-day Via Francigena Pilgrims
Summer 2018
Author:
Kathryn Armentrout Daily
Supervisor:

**Designated as an Exemplary Master's Project for 2017-2018**

Today, the long-neglected Via Francigena, a 1,180-mile medieval pilgrimage route between Canterbury, England, and Rome, is attracting an increasing number of 21st-century visitors. Between the 4th and 16th centuries, streams of pilgrims traveled this path to the Eternal City; however, after the 17th century, pilgrim travel waned. In contrast to the situation 500 years ago, during the past 20 years, a significant number of trekkers and cyclists have followed the footsteps of the medieval pilgrims. Surprisingly, little research has been conducted on the profiles of the contemporary Via Francigena travelers and their motives for undertaking a pilgrimage. Incorporating quantitative and qualitative research methods, this study explores the modern-day Via Francigena travelers’ demographics and their reasons for embarking on such a journey. The Autoethnographic research explored the experience of today’s pilgrim, as the author walked 200 miles (322 km) of the route in the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018. The results of a survey (N = 208) conducted for this study suggests that the pilgrims of today are connected spiritually with the route; however, the majority did not consider themselves religious. Since the vast majority of the study subjects confirmed that their Via Francigena journey was a positive experience, the Council of Europe and the Via Francigena’s governing councils within the route’s 29 stages should incorporate these travelers’ motives and their profiles in future development and promotion planning.

Obeying an Evolving Cultural Value: Influences of Filial Piety and Acculturation on Asian-Americans
Summer 2018
Author:
Michael Choy
Supervisor:

Elder care is a concern for adult children with aging parents in Asia, America or practically anywhere else in the world. Yet, it is a particularly acute issue for members of the Asian-American community due, in no small measure, to the profound influences of the Asian cultural value of filial piety and acculturation. After all, filial piety dictates an expectation grounded in moral principles that children must care for their parents in old age; however, as Asian immigrants and their children face acculturation, they are exposed to new and different American cultural influences relating to parental elder care. Drawing on this author’s personal family story as inspiration and as an anecdote, this paper explores the ways in which the notions of filial piety and acculturation, ostensibly at odds, affect Asian-Americans’ expectations and behaviors relating to elder care responsibilities for aging immigrant parents. In doing so, this exploration seeks to inform questions about the extent to which filial piety and acculturation create cultural conflict in managing cultural expectations of elder care, and how such conflict might be reconciled. Based on a review of the literature discussed in this paper, filial piety and acculturation may not necessarily be at odds, based on the idea that expectations of caregiving affecting Asian-Americans are evolving in ways that reflect the dual influences of traditional Asian culture and American culture on both parents and adult children in ways seemingly compatible to both. As a result, it seems fair to suggest that Asian-Americans can gain a sense of comfort in knowing that elder care need not be the subject of cultural conflict and angst because cultural expectations of care are evolving as their cultural values are evolving.

Microbe Farmers: How Fermentation Artisans are Bringing Peace to the War on Microbes
Spring 2018
Author:
Max P. Sinsheimer
Supervisor:

*Designated as an exemplary master's project for 2017-2018*

In the nineteenth century the French scientist Louis Pasteur proved that the proliferation of certain microorganisms in a host body causes most diseases. His “germ theory” catalyzed twentieth century antimicrobial attitudes, which in the gastronomic realm meant reducing or eliminating microbial activity in food products. Fermentation artisans object that this ongoing “War on Microbes” devalues culturally important food traditions, and misses exciting discoveries that have transformed our understanding of the microverse. Microbes are no longer simply the enemy of food safety – they are the solution to better food. As one cheesemaker put it, “We say that we milk cows, but what we are really doing is farming the microbes.” This paper presents case studies of science-minded artisans helping Americans move beyond the Antimicrobial Age. Chapter One contextualizes the War on Microbes; whereas fermentation is arguably our oldest food technology, the relatively recent discovery of a microbiological basis for fermentation moved production practices away from the home or farm and into the factory. Chapter Two introduces artisans and their laboratory collaborators, and describes the genomic analytical tools they are using to sequence individual microorganism DNA and RNA (such as for brewing yeast), or to map an entire microbiome (such as for raw milk used in cheesemaking). Chapter Three focuses on wild craft beers, and suggests that lab-domesticated “wild” yeasts are an apt metaphor for the American environmental imagination. Chapter Four profiles a biotech company producing a specialty coffee to illustrate how fermentation is bleeding into biotechnology. Chapter Five visits a creamery in upstate Vermont, where the microbiology of the whole cheesemaking system is essential to an ecological conception of American terroir. The paper concludes with a meditation on the nature of disgust, and a final nudge in the direction of microbial delight.

Immigrant Children Despair: The Central American Minors Program (CAM) as the U.S. Response to the Humanitarian Crisis of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
Spring 2018
Author:
María Soledad Silva Benítez
Supervisor:

As the daughter of a migrant, I no doubt know what it means to leave my home country behind. In this experience underlies my passion for a topic that sadly for many is better to be avoided. The unprecedented surge of unaccompanied migrant minors at the U.S. border in 2014 finally put the spotlight on the brutal reality faced by children crossing the border. Consequently’ a humanitarian crisis was declared urging the governments of the Northern Triangle countries as well as the U.S. to take immediate action. This paper holds the result of a research project that aimed to analyse, evaluate and bring understanding to how the Obama Administration faced this crisis, its approach to the situation and the overall outcome through the execution of the Central American Minors Program (CAM). The primary sources that I use are nationwide data from the agencies involved during the CAM program, as well as press coverage, which serve to analyse the performance and impact of the program. In addition, published academic material and documentary films on the issue of unaccompanied minors and youth migration comprise secondary sources. Finally, the voices of local North Carolinian workers in governmental agencies, NGOs, churches, and schools, together with migration advocates and researchers were decisive to comprehend the reality of the situation. These invaluable interviews exposed the harsh measures taken to avert a crisis that morphed from being a human emergency to a national security issue that prompted the government to shut the borders to those in desperate need.

New Agricultural Gospel: Protestant Agricultural Missions in China in the Early Twentieth Century
Spring 2018
Author:
Mengliu Cheng
Supervisor:

An agricultural mission was a mission undertaken by Protestant missionaries to improve people’s livelihood and, at the same time, to preach the Gospel, typically through applying modern science to the improvement of farming.This mission could be taken directly by an American missionary, or, more commonly, indirectly by a Chinese rural worker trained in agricultural education. In this project, I aim to address a seemingly paradoxical aspect of agricultural missions in China with a more comprehensive understanding of the movement: how did the missions combine agriculture and Christianity? The project consists of five chapters. The first chapters is a brief introduction to agricultural missions, and the second chapter is a chronological review of the missions’ early development in China. In the third chapter, I discuss the challenges that agricultural missions faced, and the missionaries’ theoretical attempts to combine Christianity and agriculture. The fourth chapter is an attempt to discuss how their rhetorics and theories were applied to rural churches in practice. I will conclude by suggesting that a missionary rhetoric and a Christian theology emerged in the process of the movement to bridge the “spiritual” and “material” side of the movement. Even so, the combination of agriculture and Christianity served to defend the pursuit of secular interests in China, and agricultural missions may represent more of broadening the boundary of Protestant missions into secular realms than a Christianization of China’s rural communities. This is a key question that I will leave unanswered in this project, as an invitation for further conversation and research.

Caught in Between: The Japanese “Men of High Purpose” of the Nineteenth Century and Their Ambiguous Position Between Assassin and Terrorist
Spring 2018
Author:
Yiming Zhao
Supervisor:

*Designated as an exemplary master's project for 2017-2018*

For a long time, the mid-nineteenth century Japanese shishi, or “men of high purpose,” have been considered terrorists for their violent campaign under the banner “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians.” As a result of a series of assassination plotted by the shishi in the 1860s, scholars often refer to them as terrorists without always providing a detailed assessment. Following the three criteria of historian Martin A. Miller (The Foundations of Modern Terrorism, 2013) in differentiating terrorism from other genres of political violence—“fear,” “violent entanglement,” and “contestation over state legitimacy”— this paper attempts to shed further light on our understanding of the shishi violence in Tokugawa Japan. This project investigates both individual shishi like Ōshio Heihachirō and Yoshida Shōin as well as collective shishi movement in the early 1860s. It pays special attention to both shishi and the state’s justification in using violence. This project also argues that the shishi cannot be collectively defined as either terrorists or non-terrorists. Although they appeared unified in fighting for the same political course, a deep investigation reveals some notable differences among them. For example, some shishi attacked foreigners, whereas others assassinated statespersons; some shishi chose violence as the last resort, while others preferred it over available peaceful means. Furthermore, the author argues that there existed a disjuncture between the overarching shishi ideology on top and individual shishi’s motives in practicing the terror and violence. All these variations complicate one’s understanding of shishi’s political identity.

Pages