The Center for the Humanities advisory board awarded eight Wesleyan seniors with a Student Fellowship for 2011-12. These fellows will explore the themes “Fact and Artifact” and “Visceral States: Affect and Civic Life.”
Four Student Fellowships are awarded by the center’s advisory board each semester.
Alexandra Wang ’12
During the fall semester, fellows Conan Cheong, Kevin Donohoe, Bridget Read and Alexandra Wang will will explore the theme “Fact and Artifact.” They will examine the career of the modern fact and its uncomfortable companion, the artifact. The fellows will question, “Under what conditions can facts be created?” “How do efforts to pin down empirical reality gain access to the material world?” “How do they depend upon symbolic or aesthetic logics of representation or produce such representations?” “What light can the study of artifacts shed on the status and function of facts in our world?”
Wang is using the “Fact and Artifact” theme as a springboard for her senior thesis on diabetes.
“I’m researching how the facts we now know of the manifestations, complications, and treatment of the disease can be considered artifacts of societal and cultural influences on scientific research,” she explains. “From the other student fellows, lectures and professors, I hope to develop existing ideas and gain new perspectives on my research.”
Read hopes to complete her honors thesis in English as a CHUM Fellow. During the fall semester, she will write a biography of the late Fred Millett, professor of English, emeritus, who taught at Wesleyan from 1937 to 1958. From childhood to his death in 1979, Millett kept meticulous written records, assembling his correspondence as well as self-publishing small books that chronicled different times in his life, including his years as a teacher and retiree. Read will use materials arrived at Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives as primary sources for her project.
“Throughout his life, Millett existed in a delicate balance between propriety and passion, restraint and expression, and his navigation of this tension provides valuable insight into mid 20th century social upheaval in the United States,” Read says.
Bridget Read ’12
“Yet it is what Millett omitted in the recording of his life that intrigues me as much as what he did include, and what inextricably ties my project to the theme of ‘Fact and Artifact. According to those close to him, Fred Millett was gay, but he left no trace of his sexuality in the archive except for a collection of magazines that was destroyed by his family.”
Millett’s archive, including the undocumented story of his sexual orientation, call into question the very nature of “fact” inherent in the dissection and study of an “artifact,” and begs a question of what can we actually learn from artifacts of the past, when the indisputable or objective “facts” they point to may or may not exist at all, Read explains.
“I hope to challenge conventions about the materiality of a human life that posit a single, unidirectional line between ‘artifact’ and ‘fact,’ the written word and the objective reality it explains,” she says.
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