600 students to graduate from UCI Humanities
About half of UCI Humanities' graduating seniors are first-gen
Today at noon, around 600 students will graduate from the UCI School of Humanities, nearly half of them the first generation in their families to graduate college. Eleven of these students will graduate from the Humanities Honors Program (HHP) at a separate convocation held the same day.
The Humanities Honors Program, launched over 40 years ago, is a two-year, upper-division program designed to challenge exceptional undergraduates in the School of Humanities during their junior and senior years. In their first year, students complete a three-quarter series of “proseminars” that explore a core problem or idea. In their senior years, the honors students pursue an independent research project under the joint supervision of the director of the Honors Program and a faculty mentor of their choosing. The program’s collaborative setting allows students to workshop their research with one another, gain insight into the various disciplines of the humanities through the research of their peers, and hone their skills as thinkers, writers, and citizens of the world. The independent research projects culminate in the completion of a thesis presented at a colloquium in the spring and inclusion in the program’s digital archive. This year’s graduating seniors shared their projects with the first-year students in the program at a colloquium held on June 8th.
Jayne Lewis, professor of English, has directed the program for two years.
"This is an extraordinary cohort," says Lewis. "HHP students are always exceptionally bright and motivated, and this group certainly fits that bill. But they are also extraordinarily warm, mature, and loving. They are also deeply engaged with the world, many of them involved in political and social justice projects that have shaped their theses. I have learned a great deal about how to be from them and marvel at their courage, their forthrightness, their tenacity, and their right use of great intellectual gifts."
Learn more about the Humanities Honors Program’s graduating seniors below.
Jack Anderson, history major
Thesis title: “The Imagery of Military Policy: How Depictions of Japanese People Informed Military Decisions during WW2”
Advisor: Sarah Farmer, Associate Professor of History
In his thesis, Jack builds on historian John Dower’s War without Mercy, whose readers are introduced to disturbing American cartoons that render Japanese people as devious insect-like creatures and hulking apes. Dower concludes that for the U.S., the Pacific arena of WWII was a race war, where ideas about race informed military strategy. Jack finds, however, that War without Mercy neglects to address the American media that also humanized Japanese people between 1941 and 1945, and overstates the extent to which imagery of the Japanese as monsters influenced the decision to use atomic weapons. He thus attempts to fortify Dower’s argument where needed by introducing and analyzing images and texts that humanize, dehumanize, and erase Japanese people. This new body of evidence provides for a more nuanced understanding of racist caricatures and texts regarding Japanese people, and further demonstrates that U.S. attacks on Japanese people helped inform and justify military policy.
After graduation, Jack will study environmental law at U Oregon Law School.
Kayla Boyden, English and African-American Studies major
Thesis title: “‘I Know that We the New Slaves’: Recurring Tropes between 21st-Century Rap Music and Antebellum Slave Hymns in the U.S.”
Advisor: Frank Wilderson, Professor of African American Studies and Program Director, Culture & Theory
Black music in the United States has maintained itself as an important staple of Black life in the United States. In her thesis, Kayla traces a direct line from the lyric and experiential formations typical of slave hymns to today’s rap music. Exploring recurring tropes of theft and magical language, she argues that Black subjugation has not gone away, but merely has shifted as illuminated through different genres of Black production. After offering a rich historiography of Black music the U.S., Kayla places four songs in conversation with each other, comparing Princess Nokia’s contemporary rap song “Brujas” to the slave hymn “When I Fall on My Knees (Wid My Face to De Risin’ Sun)” and Isiah Rashad’s “Ronnie Drake” to the slave hymn “Steal Away to Jesus.” Each of these pairings exemplifies a continuity that has persisted since slavery, disrupting the idea that Black people in the United States have gained complete liberation from their initial subjugation.
Jessica Bullard, English majorThesis title: “Apparitions of You and Me”
Advisor: Amy Gerstler, Professor of English
Jessie’s memorable, richly imaged collection of poems explores a young woman’s coming to consciousness and achievement of self within a complex web of social expectations and romantic paradigms that seldom stand the test of truth.
Ryan Howe, History and English major
Thesis title: ''The Thought of Him I Love': Mystical Drifts in Whitman's /Leaves of Grass/"
Advisor: Virginia Jackson, Chair in Rhetoric and Communication, English
In 1860, Walt Whitman released what he called the “new American Bible.” This claim scandalized American readers of the day though, since then, much more than the small circle of intellectuals has recognized its importance. The 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass was also the first edition (of seven) in which he claimed to inaugurate a new religion. The centerpiece of this new religion was the mystical experience in which poet and reader embarked together. Through printed text, poet and reader, individual and cosmos, citizen and the democratic would unify. Or, at least, the poet would lead the reader through a mystical journey that may or may not have a destination. The character of this journey changes, like Leaves of Grass itself, from edition to edition. Ryan traces the unstable and multifaceted character of this mysticism with a special emphasis on its blossoming as a mysticism of death. In doing so, he complicates an often-overlooked facet of Leaves of Grass and vindicates Whitman’s status as a mystic, which has been a subject of both debate and embarrassment for Whitman scholars.
Jenny Ji, Philosophy majorThesis title: “Making Sense of Plato’s Sophist”
Advisor: Casey Perin, Associate Professor of Philosophy
A rigorous analysis of Plato’s long misunderstood dialogue 'The Sophist,' which finds it to define the philosopher’s other, the sophist, through the figure of the Visitor and his complex interaction with the reader. Threading the Visitor’s indeterminacy through the theories of expertise, imitation, and language use that are expounded in the dialogue, Jenny finds less a definition than a chilling enactment of the sophist’s power. Plato’s readers experience deception first-hand.
Jaimie Joo, Art History major
Thesis title: “Visibility: An Examination of the Modern Cosmopolitan Korean Woman through Kimsooja, Nikki S. Lee, and the Korean Beauty Industry”
Advisor: Joseph Jeon, Professor of English
Jaimie examines the contemporary Korean artists Kimsooja and Nikki S. Lee, both of whom use their physical bodies in their work. Jaimie interprets this as a means to deploy a feminized Korean-ness to reach and probe universal audiences. She finds that the international discourse that surrounds the South Korean cosmetic surgery industry follows this pattern as well, such that the iconicity of the cosmopolitan Korean woman is engaged by international audiences. The ways in which Kimsooja, Nikki S. Lee and the Korean beauty industry utilize women’s explicitly Korean bodies exemplify the emergence of the inherently cosmopolitan “new Korean woman”—a woman who, problematically, is also the colonial figure of a modernized Korean woman that was brought forth by Japan’s occupation.
Jaimie will pursue a M.A. in art history at UCI through the 4+1 Program.
Aya Labanieh, Comparative Literature, Philosophy and French major
Thesis title: “The Intellectual and the Torturer: The Role of Emotion, Aesthetics, and Politics in Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians”
Advisor: Nasrin Rahimieh, Professor and Chair, Comparative Literature
Aya takes up Antonio Gramsci’s figure of the traditional intellectual who attempts to establish his distance form society and politics and applies it to the figure of the Magistrate in Coetzee’s novel. Reading the intellectual as an iteration of the torturer analyzed in Elaine Scarry’s Body In Pain, Aya elaborates the political nature of the Magistrate’s emotional and aesthetic investments. These are implicated in Coetzee’s own investments, as well as in those of the language arts in modernity.
Aya received the HHP Thesis Prize for this project. She will pursue a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Columbia.
Tiffany Lee, Drama and English major
Thesis title: “Fire tamer: A Contemporary Adaptation of Euripides’s Hippolytus”
Advisor: Jayne Lewis, Professor of English
Tiffany created a contemporary adaption of Euripides’s play "Hippolytus," set in today’s United States that uses modified characters and settings to explore three central themes: individual identity, family, and power. Tiffany asks some important questions about the presence of the past and the perdurability of social judgment.
Miroslava Guzman Perez, Spanish majorThesis title: “Deconstructing the Mythology of Cultural Identity: Literary Structuralism in Octavio Paz’s 'El Laberinto de la Soledad' and Aimé Césaire’s 'Discours sur le colonialism'”
Advisor: Viviane Mahieux, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Miros reads Octavio Paz’s El Laberinto de la Soledad (1951) and Aimé Césaire’s Discours sur le colonialisme (1955) through the lens of semiology to argue that Paz and Césaire demythologize historical events and figures as a way of deconstructing and then reconstructing the language used to think about their own culture’s past. Two prominent the theorists of the 1950s – Roland Barthes and Claud Levi-Strauss – postulate that language structure is highly influenced by different factors, such as culture (Levi-Strauss) and power dynamics (Barthes). Reading Paz and Césaire in dialogue with these structuralist models of language, Miros finds that while Octavio Paz utilizes already established historical myths to determine the potential of the mestizo community’s cultural independence, Césaire focuses on the historical self-image created by France that is based on portraying blackness as its opposite.
Anderson Vereyken, English and Philosophy major
Thesis title: “Gears Turning Gears”
Advisor: Michelle Latiolais, Professor of English
Bolstered by technological advances in automation and artificial intelligence, industry is marching towards the future – and we are being carried with it. We stand on the brink of an economic transformation that promises less jobs, more commodities, and more inequality than ever before. With this potential fate looming in front of us, it becomes increasingly critical to consider issues beyond those that can be addressed with calculation or impartial analysis, delivering results that have more personal force than is provided by abstract numerical figures. Gears Turning Gears uses fiction to explore the humanistic consequences of our possible economic destiny. The work is composed of nine connected short stories, each of which centers on an individual who occupies a different role within a fictional society. This format provides the reader a complex and multi-dimensional experience of the work’s world. It also inspires the work’s title; like a gear in some great machine, every story both acts upon and is acted upon by the other stories in the collection. By producing these pieces, Anderson acknowledges the very real benefits economic progress can bring while also convincing readers that our current direction demands severe physical, psychological, and spiritual sacrifices.
After graduation, Anderson will study at the Duke University School of Law.
Caytlin Yoshioka, History major
Thesis title: “Making Mililani: A Historical Analysis”
Advisor: Adria Imada, Associate Professor of History
Mililani is a planned community that was built on the central plains of the Hawaiian island of O‘ahu in the sixties. Beyond this short description, it is not clear what exactly Mililani is. As an inanimate collection of buildings, Mililani itself cannot claim an identity—its identity must be ascribed to it by those who gaze upon it. This means that the context of the viewer will influence what he or she perceives Mililani to be. The purpose of “Making Mililani” is to identify how Mililani’s unique historical context has inspired the creation of its various identities. Mililani stands at the crossroads of topics like urban development, agricultural conservation, and native land rights, thus one’s view of each of these issues will necessarily impact one’s view of Mililani. Yoshioka encourages the reader to develop their own historically informed understanding of what Mililani can be said to be and hopes to inspire readers to question their own preconceptions about something as unassuming as a residential planned community.
Caitlin received the HHP Research Prize for her project.
To learn about Sona Patel '16, our 2018 commencement speaker, click here.
To learn about the seniors who graduated from HHP in 2017, click here.
UCI Humanities’ commencement is June 15 at noon. To watch live, or for more information, visit commencement.uci.edu