English Senior Seminar Presents Semester-Long Research

December 22, 2021

Students in the English Senior Seminar course spent their fall producing an original piece of literary criticism on a primary text of their choice for their senior thesis. In late November, that hard work paid off when the nine seniors presented their research in a symposium-style event organized by their professor, Dr. Jonathan Shelley.

Nine students in the English Senior Seminar presented their work during a symposium.

The research project requires students to consider the cultural and historical contexts of the works they are analyzing as well as the existing critical conversations around their chosen works. Texts ranged from nineteenth century English novels to twentieth century American novels and short stories.

“It's a project that requires an extensive amount of original and independent thinking,” Shelley said. “No project is alike. There is no determined set of readings I or anyone can give them. They are blazing their own path into this material.”

To successfully complete their thesis, students applied all the skills they have cultivated in their earlier English classes, including close reading, attention to context, focused research, and clear written communication.

“I want the students to leave appreciating the fact that they really know something—more than a majority of the world—about the texts they have chosen to study,” Shelley added.

Vanessa Conte, a senior English major with a concentration in literature, chose to focus on The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison because of the way it resonated with her the first time she read it. Her research was centered around Morrison's use of the word “ugly” and how that specific word within the novel impacted the characters it was used against.

“I learned through this project that the emotionally hardest novels to read are often the most significant, and when doing such thorough research, it is incredibly important to understand the history of the concept that you are discussing,” Conte said. “I will take what I learned from this project and apply it to my personal life by continuing to write about things that truly matter. Writing has always been a huge passion of mine and Toni Morrison captures that idea for me that writing is so powerful and informative.” 

Senior Mathew Polemni, who is an English language and literature major, has read The Great Gatsby several times, but until his senior thesis, didn’t realize how prevalent topics of race and masculinity were within the book.

“I learned that the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, seemed to incorporate what was happening within society in the 1920s into this book by showing how characters could be displayed as white supremacists,” he explained. “Professor Shelley did an amazing job preparing us and holding individual conferences which later on led to the success of completing our thesis.” 

This article was written by Leslie Noble ’21, a marketing major and PR Writing Intern with the Office of Marketing and Communications.