Sample Dissertation Abstracts

Amy K. Anderson, 2014

“Image/Text and Text/Image: Reimagining Multimodal Relationships through Dissociation”

Abstract:

“W.J.T. Mitchell has famously noted that we are in the midst of a “pictorial turn,” and images are playing an increasingly important role in digital and multimodal communication. My dissertation addresses the question of how meaning is made when texts and images are united in multimodal arguments. Visual rhetoricians have often attempted to understand text-image arguments by privileging one medium over the other, either using text-based rhetorical principles or developing new image-based theories. I argue that the relationship between the two media is more dynamic, and can be better understood by applying The New Rhetoric’s concept of dissociation, which Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca developed to demonstrate how the interaction of differently valued concepts can construct new meaning. My dissertation expands the range of dissociation by applying it specifically to visual contexts and using it to critique visual arguments in a series of historical moments when political, religious, and economic factors cause one form of media to be valued over the other: Byzantine Iconoclasm, the late medieval period, the 1950’s advertising boom, and the modern digital age. In each of these periods, I argue that dissociation reveals how the privileged medium can shape an entire multimodal argument. I conclude with a discussion of dissociative multimodal pedagogy, applying dissociation to the multimodal composition classroom.”

 

Holly F. Osborn, 2014

“Apparitional Economies: Spectral Imagery in the Antebellum Imagination”

Abstract:

Apparitional Economies is invested in both a historical consideration of economic conditions through the antebellum era and an examination of how spectral representations depict the effects of such conditions on local publics and individual persons. From this perspective, the project demonstrates how extensively the period’s literature is entangled in the economic: in financial devastation, in the boundaries of seemingly limitless progress, and in the standards of value that order the worth of commodities and the persons who can trade for them.  I argue that the space of the specter is a force of representation, an invisible site in which the uncertainties of antebellum economic and social change become visible. I read this spectral space in canonical works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman and in emerging texts by Robert Montgomery Bird, Theophilus Fisk, Fitz James O’Brien, and Edward Williams Clay.  Methodologically, Apparitional Economies moves through historical events and textual representation in two ways: chronologically with an attention to archival materials through the antebellum era (beginning with the specters that emerge with the Panic of 1837) and interpretively across the readings of a literary specter (as a space of lack and potential, as exchange, as transformation, and as the presence of absence). As a failed body and, therefore, a flawed embodiment of economic existence, the literary specter proves a powerful representation of antebellum social and financial uncertainties.”

 

Michael Todd Hendricks, 2014

“Knowing and Being Known: Sexual Delinquency, Stardom, and Adolescent Girlhood in Midcentury American Film”

Abstract:

“Sexual delinquency marked midcentury cinematic representations of adolescent girls in 1940s, 50, and early 60s. Drawing from the history of adolescence and the context of midcentury female juvenile delinquency, I argue that studios and teen girl stars struggled for decades with publicity, censorship, and social expectations regarding the sexual license of teenage girls. Until the late 1950s, exploitation films and B movies exploited teen sex and pregnancy while mainstream Hollywood ignored those issues, struggling to promote teen girl stars by tightly controlling their private lives but depriving fan magazines of the gossip and scandals that normally fueled the machinery of stardom. The emergence and image of the postwar, sexually autonomous teen girl finally began to see expression in mainstream melodramas of the late 50s, and teen girl stars such as Sandra Dee and Natalie Wood created new, “post-delinquent” star images wherein “good girls” could still be sexually experienced. This new image was a significant departure from the widespread belief that the sexually active teen girl was a fundamentally delinquent threat to the nuclear family, and offered a liberal counterpoint to more conservative teen girl prototypes like Hayley Mills, which continued to have cultural currency.”

 

Emily A. Dotson, 2014

“Strong Angels of Comfort: Middle Class Managing Daughters in Victorian Literature”

Abstract:

“This dissertation joins a vibrant conversation in the social sciences about the challenging nature of care labor as well as feminist discussions about the role of the daughter in Victorian culture.  It explores the literary presence of the middle class managing daughter in the Victorian home.  Collectively, the novels in this study articulate social anxieties about the unclear and unstable role of daughters in the family, the physically and emotionally challenging work they, and all women, do, and the struggle for daughters to find a place in a family hierarchy, which is often structured not by effort or affection, but by proscribed traditional roles, which do not easily adapt to managing daughters, even if they are the ones holding the family together.  The managing daughter is a problem not accounted for in any conventional domestic structure or ideology so there is no role, no clear set of responsibilities and no boundaries that could, and arguably should, define her obligations, offer her opportunities for empowerment, or set necessary limits on the broad cultural mandate she has to comfort and care others.  The extremes she is often pushed to reveals the stresses and hidden conflicts for authority and autonomy inherent in domestic labor without the iconic angel in the house rhetoric that so often masks the difficulties of domestic life for women. She gains no authority or stability no matter how loving or even how necessary she is to a family because there simply is no position in the parental family structure for her.  The managing daughter thus reveals a deep crack in the structure of the traditional Victorian family by showing that it often cannot accommodate, protect, or validate a loving non-traditional family member because it values traditional hierarchies over emotion or effort.  Yet, in doing so, it also suggests that if it is position not passion that matters, then as long as a woman assumes the right position in the family then deep emotional connections to others are not necessary for her to care competently for others.”

 

Virginia B. Engholm, 2014

“The Power of Multiplying: Reproductive Control in American Culture, 1850-1930”

Abstract:

“Prior to the advent of modern birth control beginning in the nineteenth century, the biological reproductive cycle of pregnancy, post-partum recovery, and nursing dominated women’s adult years. The average birth rate per woman in 1800 was just over seven, but by 1900, that rate had fallen to just under than three and a half. The question that this dissertation explores is what cultural narratives about reproduction and reproductive control emerge in the wake of this demographic shift. What’s at stake in a woman’s decision to reproduce, for herself, her family, her nation? How do women, and society, control birth?  In order to explore these questions, this dissertation broadens the very term “birth control” from the technological and medical mechanisms by which women limit or prevent conception and birth to a conception of “controlling birth,” the societal and cultural processes that affect reproductive practices. This dissertation, then, constructs a cultural narrative of the process of controlling birth. Moving away from a focus on “negative birth control”—contraception, abortion, sterilization—the term “controlling birth” also applies to engineering or encouraging wanted or desired reproduction. While the chapters of this work often focus on traditional sites of birth control—contraceptives, abortion, and eugenics—they are not limited to those forms, uncovering previously hidden narratives of reproduction control. This new lens also reveals men’s investment in these reproductive practices.  By focusing on a variety of cultural texts—advertisements, fictional novels, historical writings, medical texts, popular print, and film—this project aims to create a sense of how these cultural productions work together to construct narratives about sexuality, reproduction, and reproductive control. Relying heavily on a historicizing of these issues, my project shows how these texts—both fictional and nonfictional—create a rich and valid site from which to explore the development of narratives of sexuality and reproductive practices, as well as how these narratives connect to larger cultural narratives of race, class, and nation. The interdisciplinary nature of this inquiry highlights the interrelationship between the literary productions of the nineteenth and twentieth century and American cultural history.

 

Amber M. Stamper, 2013

“Witnessing the Web: The Rhetoric of American E-Vangelism and Persuasion Online”

Abstract:

“From the distribution of religious tracts at Ellis Island and Billy Sunday’s radio messages to televised recordings of the Billy Graham Crusade and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, American evangelicals have long made a practice of utilizing mass media to spread the Gospel. Most recently, these Christian evangelists have gone online. As a contribution to scholarship in religious rhetoric and media studies, this dissertation offers evangelistic websites as a case study into the ways persuasion is carried out on the Internet. Through an analysis of digital texts—including several evangelical home pages, a chat room, discussion forums, and a virtual church—I investigate how conversion is encouraged via web design and virtual community as well as how the Internet medium impacts the theology and rhetorical strategies of web evangelists. I argue for “persuasive architecture” and “persuasive communities”—web design on the fundamental level of interface layout and tightly-controlled restrictions on discourse and community membership—as key components of this strategy. In addition, I argue that evangelical ideology has been influenced by the web medium and that a “digital reformation” is taking place in the church, one centered on a move away from the Prosperity Gospel of televangelism to a Gospel focused on God as divine problem-solver and salvation as an uncomplicated, individualized, and instantaneously-rewarding experience, mimicking Web 2.0 users’ desire for quick, timely, and effective answers to all queries. This study simultaneously illuminates the structural and fundamental levels of design through which the web persuades as well as how—as rhetoricians from Plato’s King Thamus to Marshall McLuhan have recognized—media inevitably shapes the message and culture of its users.”

 

Devjani Roy, 2013

“Randomness, Uncertainty, and Economic Behavior: The Life of Money in Eighteenth-Century Fiction”

Abstract:

“My dissertation argues that fiction produced in England during the frequent financial crises and political volatility experienced between 1770 and 1820 both reflected and shaped the cultural anxiety occasioned by a seemingly random and increasingly uncertain world. The project begins within the historical framework of the multiple financial crises that occurred in the late eighteenth century: seven crises took place between 1760 and 1797 alone, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and creating a climate of financial meltdown. But how did the awareness of economic turbulence filter into the creative consciousness? Through an interdisciplinary focus on cultural studies and behavioral economics, the dissertation posits that in spite of their conventional, status quo affirming endings (opportunists are punished, lovers are married), novels and plays written between 1770 and 1820 contemplated models of behavior that were newly opportunistic, echoing the reluctant realization that irrationality had become the norm rather than a rare aberration. By analyzing concrete narrative strategies used by writers such as Frances Burney, Georgiana Cavendish, Hannah Cowley, and Thomas Holcroft, I demonstrate that late eighteenth-century fiction both articulates and elides the awareness of randomness and uncertainty in its depiction of plot, character, and narrative.”

 

George Micajah Phillips, 2011

“Seeing Subjects: Recognition, Identity, and Visual Cultures in Literary Modernism”

Abstract:

Seeing Subjects plots a literary history of modern Britain that begins with Dorian Gray obsessively inspecting his portrait’s changes and ends in Virginia Woolf’s visit to the cinema where she found audiences to be “savages watching the pictures.” Focusing on how literature in the late-19th and 20th centuries regarded images as possessing a shaping force over how identities are understood and performed, I argue that modernists in Britain felt mediated images were altering, rather than merely representing, British identity. As Britain’s economy expanded to unprecedented imperial reach and global influence, new visual technologies also made it possible to render images culled from across the British world—from its furthest colonies to darkest London—to the small island nation, deeply and irrevocably complicating British identity. In response, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, and others sought to better understand how identity was recognized, particularly visually. By exploring how painting, photography, colonial exhibitions, and cinema sought to manage visual representations of identity, these modernists found that recognition began by acknowledging the familiar but also went further to acknowledge what was strange and new as well. Reading recognition and misrecognition as crucial features of modernist texts, Seeing Subjects argues for a new understanding of how modernism’s formal experimentation came to be and for how it calls for responses from readers today.”

 

Aparajita Sengupta, 2011

“Nation, Fantasy, and Mimicry: Elements of Political Resistance in Postcolonial Indian Cinema”

Abstract:

“In spite of the substantial amount of critical work that has been produced on Indian cinema in the last decade, misconceptions about Indian cinema still abound. Indian cinema is a subject about which conceptions are still muddy, even within prominent academic circles. The majority of the recent critical work on the subject endeavors to correct misconceptions, analyze cinematic norms and lay down the theoretical foundations for Indian cinema. This dissertation conducts a study of the cinema from India with a view to examine the extent to which such cinema represents an anti-colonial vision. The political resistance of Indian films to colonial and neo-colonial norms, and their capacity to formulate a national identity is the primary focus of the current study.”

 

Kenneth Carr Hawley, 2007

“The Boethian Vision of Eternity in Old, Middle, and Early Modern English Translations of De Consolatione Philosophi”

Abstract:

“While this analysis of the Old, Middle, and Early Modern English translations of De Consolatione Philosophiandamp;aelig; provides a brief reception history and an overview of the critical tradition surrounding each version, its focus is upon how these renderings present particular moments that offer the consolation of eternity, especially since such passages typify the work as a whole. For Boethius, confused and conflicting views on fame, fortune, happiness, good and evil, fate, free will, necessity, foreknowledge, and providence are only capable of clarity and resolution to the degree that one attains to knowledge of the divine mind and especially to knowledge like that of the divine mind, which alone possesses a perfectly eternal perspective. Thus, as it draws upon such fundamentally Boethian passages on the eternal Prime Mover, this study demonstrates how the translators have negotiated linguistic, literary, cultural, religious, and political expectations and forces as they have presented their own particular versions of the Boethian vision of eternity. Even though the text has been understood, accepted, and appropriated in such divergent ways over the centuries, the Boethian vision of eternity has held his Consolations arguments together and undergirded all of its most pivotal positions, without disturbing or compromising the philosophical, secular, academic, or religious approaches to the work, as readers from across the ideological, theological, doctrinal, and political spectra have appreciated and endorsed the nature and the implications of divine eternity. It is the consolation of eternity that has been cast so consistently and so faithfully into Old, Middle, and Early Modern English, regardless of form and irrespective of situation or background. For whether in prose and verse, all-prose, or all-verse, and whether by a Catholic, a Protestant, a king, a queen, an author, or a scholar, each translation has presented the texts central narrative: as Boethius the character is educated by the figure of Lady Philosophy, his eyes are turned away from the earth and into the heavens, moving him and his mind from confusion to clarity, from forgetfulness to remembrance, from reason to intelligence, and thus from time to eternity.”

 

Douglas Larue Reside, 2006

“The Electronic Edition and Textual Criticism of American Musical Theatre”

Abstract:

“For many, contemporary theatre is represented by the musical. The form remains, however, virtually unstudied by literary scholars. In part, this may be a result of the difficulty of accessing the texts. Reading a musical from a traditional codex is no easy matter. The integration of text and music in a musical make it inappropriate to separate the two. One can try to follow along with a cast recording. In most cases, though, this is awkward. Many cast albums record a significantly modified version of the score and lyrics and few include the entire work. Further, musical theatre texts often exist in many different versions. This work begins with a summary of the problems one encounters when editing a multi-authored text (musicals often have a lyricist, librettist, and composer) which may be revised for practical (rather than aesthetic) reasons. The merits of restoring the material changed during the production process are debated. In this discussion some attempt is made to identify who should be considered the dominating collaborator (or auteur) of a musical. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that the notion of trying to restore an "authorial Ur-Text" makes little sense given the multitude of collaborators involved in the process of making musicals. Instead, an electronic variorum edition is presented as an alternative means of studying and teaching musical theatre texts. The study concludes with a narrative of the authors own work on an electronic edition of the 1998 Broadway musical Parade and ends with a critical introduction to this text.”

 

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