Category Archives: Academics


Spring Break Write-In

Planning on writing during Spring Break? Looking for something to keep you motivated?

Regardless of whether you have a thesis, seminar paper, or other project to work on, Spring Break can a good moment to catch up, even while you’re taking a deep breath. At the same time, it can feel Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.45.46 AMdifficult to get motivated and isolating to work–especially when it seems like no one is on campus, and there’s no class to attend. From March 21-25, join master’s students from across programs for three hours (9AM-1PM in Classics 110) of intensive writing each day.

UChicagoGRAD will provide coffee and breakfast on Day One, and lunch every day. Lunch is from 12-1. You’re free to keep writing after, until 1:45. Put your money where your mouth is: put down a deposit of $50. If you attend every day throughout the week, you get your money back, no questions asked! Space is limited as this is annually a popular event. Bring your Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.46.02 AMdeposit to Levi Hall 224. Questions? Contact Kalee Ludeks ( To register, follow this link!

This much-loved event is not to be missed!

If you have any questions about this event or maintaining winter-quarter momentum over Spring Break, do come see the mentors.

All the best,

The Mentors

Works In Progress Conference 2016

Last Friday, eight MAPH students presented their ongoing thesis research at our annual Works in Progress Conference. Working on topics ranging from Art History to Linguistics and Music Philosophy to Cultural Studies, each of our presenters shared fascinating, nuanced projects that are well on their way to becoming impressive MA theses in the spring. You can find summaries of the conference papers and photos from the event below.

Kate Schlachter

Kate Schlachter

Kate Schlachter‘s project focuses on a tapestry and performance piece by artist Indira Allegra entitled “Saint Davis of Savannah”, and explores how we can use the concept of witnessing as a framework for considering the elastic relationship between presence and event in trauma.

Nick Rekenthaler is currently working on a creative thesis project which takes the form of a fiction novella. The analytic component to Nick’s thesis draws on the philosopher Ian Hacking’s concept of ‘making up people’, a process of creating new categories of being through assigning a specific label to a person.

Nick Rekenthaler

Nick Rekenthaler

Sam Grayck‘s  thesis is a comparative endeavor to break down the relationship between two major First World War literary texts, Undertones of War, by Edmund Blunden, and Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel. Sam argues that each ostensible “memoir” is actually a highly crafted creative work, comprised of three dominant layers: real events, artistic rendering, and collective memory.

Nic Holt focuses in his project on the video artist Juan Downey’s 1973 performance installation Plato Now, which is loosely based on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” Nic examines the ways in which Downey simulates and diverges from this source material in an attempt to provide a re-conceptualization of the Platonic Idealism the allegory was originally devised to illustrate.


Panel 1 Q&A Session, L-R: Moderator Matt Hauske, Kate Schlachter, Nick Rekenthaler, Sam Grayck, Nic Holt

Julia Gantman

Julia Gantman

Julia Gantman‘s thesis project explores images of sight and vision in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Julia considers how these images relate to language drawn from Joseph Priestley’s eighteenth-century accounts of optics and light in Vision, Light, and Colours.

Trevor McCulloch’s project looks at the visual construction and architectural spaces of two films directed by Nicholas Ray: Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger than Life. Trevor focuses on the domestic spaces represented within the two films in order to uncover how their unique visual approaches to architecture constitute and reflect the anxieties concerning gender identity in 1950s America.

Trevor McCulloch

Trevor McCulloch

Sarah Welch‘s project is an examination of a merge between gerunds and participles in the syntax-semantics subfields of linguistics. Whilst linguists agree that the two word types appear to be merging, Sarah argues that the two have certain fundamental differences.

Jake Mecham is working on a project in Music Philosophy. Jake claims that the problem of music’s capacity is what of music remains after layers of symbolism have been stripped. As part of his project, Jake dissects semantically over-determined musical examples to show how our musical outlook changes as we grow from infancy to adulthood, and, more importantly, how it stays the same.

Panel 2 Q&A Session, L-R: Julia Gantman, Trevor McCulloch, Sarah Welch, Jake Mecham

Panel 2 Q&A Session, L-R: Julia Gantman, Trevor McCulloch, Sarah Welch, Jake Mecham

Thank you to Kate, Nick, Sam, Nic, Julia, Trevor, Sarah and Jake, and to Matt, our moderator. Moreover, thanks so much to all of those MAPH students, preceptors and faculty who came out to support our presenters.

Three Spinners

An Interview with Alexandra Van Doren (MAPH ’13), CEO of Three Spinners

Alexandra van Doren (MAPH ‘13) is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Co-Founder/CEO of Three Spinners Inc., a new non-profit which works to provide food, clothing, and shelter for Syrian refugees admitted into the US. 

Alexandra kindly agreed to answer the mentors’ questions about the work Three Spinners does, her Ph.D. program in Comp. Lit., her time in MAPH and her advice to current MAPHers. You can read her responses below, and find contact information for Three Spinners at the end of the article!

Could you tell us a little about the non-profit that you recently founded, Three Spinners, and the work that it does?

In January 2016, my colleagues and I co-founded Three Spinners Inc., a charitable organization based out of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, with the purpose of advocating for human rights that are being violated amidst the chaos ravaging Syria on an unprecedented level.  Our organization provides not only the very basic needs of food and shelter, but fosters and facilitates educational opportunities such as English language instruction and job training.  Generous members of the Champaign-Urbana community are opening their doors to refugees accepted into the US and offering their homes to incoming families and individuals.  Basically, if you supply the space, we will provide the rest.  Drawing from a multitude of resources in our community and charitable monetary donations, we are creating a network of support for those in desperate need of safety.  By hosting a series of ongoing food, clothing, and item drives and working in conjunction with local businesses, restaurants, non-profit organizations, etc., we are establishing Champaign-Urbana as a self-sustaining community with the resources to provide for refugees in need.

Our foundational principles are simple: we believe that no individual should ever be persecuted on the basis of religion, race, or gender; no child should ever be subjected to violence or hunger; and no man or woman should be denied their basic human rights to food, shelter, safety, and education.  While our housing process is non-discriminatory, our first priority is families with children.


What drew you to further graduate studies in Comp Lit, and what kind of academic projects and questions are you currently working on at the University of Illinois?

 My time at the University of Chicago was ultimately what both challenged and reinforced my decision to pursue further graduate studies in Comparative Literature.  As everyone reading this well knows, the UChicago MAPH program is rigorous to say the least.  I came to Chicago from a relatively small liberal arts school in Los Angeles, so being thrown into the belly of the research beast really made me consider moving away from a career in academia.  While I loved my courses and advisors at UChicago, I wasn’t quite convinced an even more research-intensive PhD program was the right choice for me.  After I graduated from the MAPH program in 2013, I moved to Poland for a number of months to pursue some language training and independent writing projects I had begun in one of my poetry classes at UChicago.  I ended up meeting a librarian/archivist from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Lublin who ended up being a great resource since I had been considering museum work pertinent to the Holocaust.  The more we discussed career goals and trajectories, the more I found myself talking about my MAPH thesis project and related research I wanted to conduct in the future.  Whether it was museum work or a position in the professoriate I was after, it was clear to me after that conversation that my scholarship really thrived in an academic environment, not to mention if I wanted a shot at working in Holocaust archives, it would be a long shot without a PhD and three or four languages under my belt.  After my time abroad, I came back to the states, filled out my PhD applications, and eventually moved out to the cornfields in Champaign.

As a PhD student, it’s rare to be able to talk about the projects you are working on without any funding on the line, so forgive me if I’m a little over-eager to share some of my current research endeavors.  I work in Polish, Spanish, German, and American literatures and languages, but predominantly on Polish poetry.  My dissertation, entitled “‘Where foot knocks against/the unburied bones of kin’: Topographies of Memory in Mass Graves in Poland and Spain,” identifies and refashions a critical point of convergence between Poland and Spain’s national histories under the umbrella of Holocaust and Memory Studies.  My current research has landed me at an intersection between the poetry of witness that began to surface in the immediate wake of the Holocaust in Poland and more recent depictions of Franco’s mass executions in documentary and photography from modern-day Spain.  Immediately following the end of WWII and the collapse of the concentrationary universe on Polish soil, survivors began the Sisyphean task of reassembling the history of a people intended for annihilation.  Witnesses sifted through the rubble of Babel to reconstruct a language that could speak of Auschwitz, ovens, mass graves, and the mechanized murder that had ravaged the Jewish population of Europe, producing volumes of poetry that were initially met with opposition by the general populace or, at best, apathy.  Less than a decade before the Second World War in Poland, Spain faced its own internal crisis, “La Guerra” (the Spanish Civil War), with the institutionalized massacre of Republicans at the hands of the Nationalists/Rebels under Franco.  Perpetrators were mindful of the evidence of these summary executions, often concealing the corpses of victims in mass graves in both remote forest-laden areas and also in cities and towns in which the shootings took place.  Only within the last decade has the weight of “La Guerra” on the fabric of Spain’s topography become a topic ripe for inquiry with the recent excavations of these mass graves, but the process of distinguishing propaganda from scholarship has grown increasingly difficult to navigate.  The resistance to literary and visual depictions of memory in Poland and Spain poses a multitude of questions at the crux of my research, questions that revolve around the representations of the physical and metaphorical body in mass graves and the sociological, historical, and political implications of their documentation and/or exhumation.


How did your experience MAPH impact upon your career choices, both in graduate school and the non-profit sector?

As I mentioned before, my experience in MAPH helped me evaluate the right career path for me.  As far as the impact the program has had on my graduate studies, in retrospect I feel like I walked away from MAPH with a really solid foothold in critical theory that helped build the foundation for a lot of my PhD research.  Additionally, the research methodologies employed in our preceptor meetings and in the classroom set me up for success at another R-1 institution.  MAPH was my introduction to what real literary scholars and historians looked like and it gave me the tools to climb the ladder that I hope will lead me into those ranks in the coming years.

In terms of the program’s impact on my career choice in the non-profit sector, I have always been involved in community service organizations and activities and there was no shortage of them at UChicago.  There were always opportunities to get involved in Chicago communities that really benefited from local non-profit efforts and contributions, which helped keep my feet on the ground throughout the MAPH program.  I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but when you’re in the throes of your thesis, you sometimes forget to look up from your books and remember there’s a world outside the brick and ivy and the community service opportunities at UChicago gave me a productive outlet, especially since my research material topics are so heavy.

What does your role at Three Spinners look like on a day-to-day basis?

At the moment, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait.  I spent a lot of time over this last winter break brainstorming ways to provide some sort of rescue and relief effort to aid in the Syrian refugee crisis, and eventually resolved to starting with a community food drive.  After pitching the idea to a colleague in the Comp Lit Department, she and her husband jumped on board and after we saw the amount of interest expressed by fellow students and local businesses, we realized that we could do something much bigger.  We registered our organization with the Secretary of State the next day, submitted all of our paperwork to the Attorney General and IRS, and launched our website just a few weeks later.  Right now I’m really focusing on community outreach and strategizing/logistics.  A lot of state representatives in the U.S. have expressed their unwillingness to shelter refugees, so we’re working on creating a self-sustaining community independent of government funding that can support a community of refugees. The last few weeks have been a lot of phone calls, emails, and office visits to businesses and individuals that have volunteered to host food barrels, run item/clothes drop-off centers, provide housing, host fundraisers, etc.  Once we have the final approval from the Attorney General, it’s all plug and play.  The day I get that letter in the mail, we’re delivering food barrels to our volunteers and accepting, sorting, and storing material donations so that we can get a better estimate of how many refugees we can support for up to one year.  The sooner we have the resources in order, the sooner we can reach out to the Department of State and get families in need to a supportive and safe environment.

How have you integrated your academic, political and creative interests into your career?  How would you suggest that current students think about this for their future?

Honestly, I’m still figuring out how all of these things weave into the career tapestry I want to create, but that’s part of the graduate school journey.  The beauty of working in Comparative Literature is that there’s no limit to the kinds of literature, film, and information I have access to.  I read a few English translations of Tadeusz Różewicz’s poetry years ago and decided I was going to learn Polish.  Now I work on Polish poetry.  This last year I couldn’t read most of the Nazi documents I was investigating for a research project and needed translation programs just to get by.  Now I’m learning German.  While my career choices have been in flux for several years, the constants have remained: I enjoy research and historical investigation, I embrace crossing linguistic borders as a polyglot, I am deeply invested in advocating for human rights, and I can’t live without poetry.  None of these things fit neatly into a career package, so you have to write your own job description.  Working in academia as a student and teacher as well as branching out into the non-profit sector allows me to create the career I think would most contribute to the world instead of molding myself into a prepackaged one.  That is my advice for students that have not yet found a path that calls out to them or that are struggling to tailor themselves to the job market’s expectations.  Of course you have to be realistic about your prospects, but don’t carve your edges to fit into a ready-made puzzle.  If you haven’t found your niche, build your puzzle around the pieces you already have.

What advice would you give to current MAPHers interested in working in or founding a non-profit, or to those interested in a hybrid career?

You don’t need much to start a non-profit, so don’t hesitate.  Anyone pursuing that field of work, presumably, already has admirable intentions since we all know no one is going to strike it rich in non-profit work.  That’s not why we’re in this.  We’re in it to make a difference and to repair pieces of the world that perhaps we didn’t break, but need healing nonetheless. Three Spinners Inc. started out as a maybe-I’ll-start-a-food-drive-or-something kind of idea that, after a conversation with a friend over tea, became something that will change hundreds (hopefully eventually thousands) of lives.  Start building your network of resources now; you’re in the best place you could possibly be in at a university.  There is such a diversity of talents, skills, expertise, etc. among students and professors.  You can literally find at least one person in any given classroom that speaks a different language, grew up in another country, is pursuing a degree in law/medicine/education, etc.  Truly, all you need is an idea (and the ability to run without sleep for a while), and you can get your project’s wheels off the ground.  There are never too many warriors for social justice.

You can read more about Three Spinners via their website here, visit them on Facebook here or subscribe to their Newsletter here. Below are the contact details for the Three Spinners team – don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to learn more!

Alexandra van Doren

Meagan Smith

Timothy King



Works in Progress & How to Give a Talk Talk

Each year, MAPH hosts a Works in Progress Conference where a select number of students present on their ongoing thesis work and get the opportunity to answer questions and obtain feedback from their peers.  The How to Give a Talk Talk works well as a precursor to the Works in Progress Conference and also provides some insight into how exactly academics come to share their work with a larger audience. These annual and well-beloved MAPH event celebrates the newbackcollaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the MAPH thesis. Past presenters have presented on topics ranging from Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison to the American funeral industry to the logic of choice to the ideas of courtly love present in the poems of Edmund Spenser. You can read about last year’s presenters  here.

This year’s conference will begin at 12pm on Friday, February 26th in Harper 140. There will be two panels of four presenters each, with a short break in-between. Presenters will have 8-10 minutes to talk about their topics, with a Q&A after each panel. Afterwards we’ll all head over to the Smart Museum and have some drinks to celebrate the spirit of MAPH intellectualism and collegiality, and to keep the conversation going.

If you’re interested in presenting, please email a very brief description of your thesis topic to by 12pm on Friday, February 12th. The mentors, in concert with the rest of the MAPH faculty and staff, will choose 8 presenters from the submitted materials. Here are some guidelines for your submissions:

Don’t labor too hard over the description. It should be a short paragraph, probably 5 sentences max. We aren’t expecting your thesis work to be super specific or developed at this point. Just give us a topic and an interesting question or two, and we’ll go from there.

11035610_939174466107490_9095511440115763583_nHow to Give a Talk Talk

The How to Give a Talk Talk is the event to attend to both prepare for the WIP conference and to  get a sense of what it’s like to present at a conference. Several preceptors will share their tips, experiences and general know-how about presenting and attending conferences. This year’s talk will be held on Friday February 19th at 1:00pm. I had a class last year in which we had to present 20 minute conference papers and found this talk very helpful. Plus, Hauske has a special presentation not to be missed!

If you have any questions about WIP or the Talk Talk, feel free to reach out!

All the best,

The Mentors

Distinquished Faulty Lecture

MAPH Distinguished Faculty Lecture: Janice Misurell-Mitchell & W.J.T. Mitchell

We are excited to announce that this quarter’s distinguished faculty lecture will be “Image, Sound, Text: From Theory tScreen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.26.26 AMo Performance” by Janice Misurell-Mitchell and W.J.T. Mitchell. The lecture will take place at 4pm on Tuesday, January 19th in Classics 110, and will be followed by a reception.

Janice Misurell-Mitchell is a composer, lecturer, flutist and vocal artist, and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been a featured composer at Art Chicago, the University of North Carolina – Greensboro New Music Festival, the International Alliance for Women in Music Congress in Beijing, the Voices of Dissent series at the Bowling Green College of Musical Arts, the Randspiele Festival in Berlin. For many years she was a Co-Artistic Director and performer with CUBE Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. Her most recent CD, Vanishing Points, music for solo, duo, quartet was chosen by Peter Margasak of The Chicago Reader as one of the top five new music recordings in “Our Favorite Music of 2013”.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.26.50 AMW.J.T. Mitchell teaches in both the English and the Art History departments at the University of Chicago. He also edits the interdisciplinary journal, Critical Inquiry, a quarterly devoted to critical theory in the arts and human sciences. He works particularly on the history and theories of media, visual art, and literature, from the eighteenth century to the present. His work explores the relations of visual and verbal representations in the culture and iconology (the study of images across the media). At the University of Chicago this quarter, he is teaching a class entitled “Aesthetics of Media: Image, Music, Text.”

All MAPH students are encouraged to attend this exciting, one-of-a-kind event. We hope to see you there!


Anywhere but the Reg: Alternate Study Spots around Campus

Welcome back, MAPH! As winter quarter begins, we’d like to cue you into some of our favorite and not too well known study spots in and around campus.

On Campus:

The Smart Museum Café (M-Fr 8am-4:30pm; Sat-Sun 11am-4:30pm)tumblr_inline_nrla95jV8t1ql85ks_540

Stuart Café (M-Fr 8am – 3pm)

Harris School Cafe (M-Fr 8am – 5pm)

Booth Café (M-Fr 7am-8pm; Sat 7am-3pm)

Logan Café ( M–Fr, 8 am–8 pm; Sat–Sun, 12pm–8pm)

Crerar Library (Sun-Th 8am-1am; Fr-Sat 8am-10pm)

Study Room on the first floor of the Center for the study of Gender and Sexuality (M-F 9am-5pm)

Library at the Oriental Institute (Hours: Closed M; T, Th-Sun 10am-5pm; W 10am-8pm)

Law Library Cafe, if you can get in (M-Th 8am – 5pm; Fr 8am – 3:30pm)

Hallowed Grounds (M-Th 8:30am-11:30pm; Fri 8:30am-9:00pm; Sat 11:30am-9:00pm; Sun 11:30am-11:30pm)

Bartlett Commons (M-Th 7am – 8:30pm; Fr 7am – 7:30pm; Sat 8am – 2:30pm; Su 8am – 8:30pm)

Stony Island Arts Bank (T-Sat 11am-6pm)

Close to Campus:

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Making Winter Break Work

Dear MAPH,

Winter break can be the perfect time to unwind, reflect on the past quarter and have a bit of a breather before the new year starts. Winter break is also the ideal time to start preliminary research on your thesis. As veterans of the thesis process, we mentors have a few thoughts about thesis work and winter break:

  • Take advantage of this time and remember that your thesis is in the preliminary research stage. You shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking that you should be crafting an argument now; rather, take this time to follow various argumentative threads and learn about your object, field, critical conversation or intended methodology. Having the time and space away from campus can allow you to do thesis work on your own time and without the pressures of classes and other projects too.
  • Ask yourself “What do I want out of the project?” Asked early, this question can solidify the real-world scope of your project. That is, your true-to-self aim in writing a thesis. Do you want to play with the idea of Aristotle or explore the role of arts in economic and community development? Do you want to write a thesis that has both creative and critical components or would you like to ground your project in a discipline-specific topic? The answers to these questions may not be obvious, but taking the time to ask yourself truthfully what it is that you want out of this project can help bring your possible abstract ideas and thoughts about the thesis into more concrete and manageable terms. Remember the project scope too: 25-35 pages. You may come up with approximately 15 different project ideas, but remind yourself of what’s possible.

Library Patron - Reading Room (apf2-05486r)

  • Read Judiciously. You won’t be able to read everything; don’t read all of EVERYTHING. Be smart about what you choose to read. If you find early on that a specific article is not invested in the same idiosyncrasies or particular line of investigation that you are, don’t be afraid to put it down! Do write down why that particular article or book didn’t work. Jot down a few sentence that explain why you didn’t like this source or why it didn’t jive with your analysis. Also, keep a list of the articles your read!
  • Just read. Getting started can be painful, but know that the time and energy invested now will pay off later in winter quarter. Trust us.

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