In Search of Objectivity: Understanding and Mitigating Ethnocentrism’s Influence on Historians (Abstract)

A fundamental distinction is often drawn between the natural sciences as objective and the humanities and social sciences as subjective.  I believe that the relation between fields of study and objectivity is far more complex.  My Freshman Monroe Research Project will attempt to discover the conditions under which the study of history can be objective.  For this project, I will focus primarily on the role of ethnocentrism in causing bias in historical thinking and writing.  My inquiry will be divided into three main components.  The first part of my research will be devoted to understanding the different psychological and neurological processes that are the causes of ethnocentric thinking.  I will then analyze the effects ethnocentrism has on historians by comparing and contrasting the views of a multitude of historians on the subject.  The final third of my project will involve the outlining of superior means of conducting historical research by recognizing the underlying causes and impacts of ethnocentrism.

Abstract: The Dynamic Relationship Between Food Deserts and Health Statistics Over Time in Virginia

Studies show that individuals of low socioeconomic status may face barriers that impede them from being able to live a healthy lifestyle. Low-income and inner city neighborhoods are often in the center of “food deserts:” places that lack healthy food options and tend to be filled with fast food restaurants. Various data are used in order to classify food deserts, including directories and census data, food store assessments, and surveys and interviews. The presence of food deserts may be hindering individuals from leading healthy lifestyles and thus they are more likely to have higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and other medical issues. However, there have many efforts to rectify the negative impacts of food deserts, such as the creation of organizations such as Lynchburg Grows: non-profit urban farms that aim to deliver fresh produce to local areas that lack amenities filled with nutritious food. In this study, I will collect data in order to identify the locations of food deserts in Virginia, and determine if there is a relationship between the location of food deserts and health statistics in that area over time. If there are observable changes in health statistics over time in certain areas, I will identify local organizations, such as Lynchburg Grows, as well as recent policy initiatives that address food scarcity to see if there is a correlation between health statistics and efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of food deserts. In addition, I plan to volunteer with a local farm in the Williamsburg area to experience first hand how they address the issue of the local food desert.

Abstract: Chiaroscuro Then and Now

I will explore the revolutionary technique of chiaroscuro as utilized by artists during the Renaissance. The project will involve analyzing the use of chiaroscuro by both Renaissance painters and modern photographers in a literature review and subsequently creating my own photography series. By performing a visual case study on the employment of this technique, I will ultimately elucidate the ways in which the attention given to light and dark by these artists remains relevant today as seen through contemporary black and white photography. The chiaroscuro technique, specifically as used by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Caravaggio, will be evaluated in regards to its history, methodological implementation and its impact on the evolution of painting as an art form throughout the review. In addition to analyzing the use of the chiaroscuro during the Renaissance, I will analyze the work of contemporary photographers so as to draw definitive parallels in technique between the differing times and styles of art. Capitalizing on the contrast between light and dark is an essential mainstay of black and white photography. Therefore, I will focus my research on the contemporary work of Ralph Gibson, who utilized light in his documentary photography, and Ansel Adams, who was devoted to the details of light in black and white photography in his effort capture natural forms. The relevance of this research concerning the large-scale impact of the chiaroscuro technique, as emphasized by da Vinci and further embodied by other Renaissance artists, is the importance of attributing the successes of modern art forms, such as photography, to their roots in earlier established techniques.

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Abstract: Is Star Wars Racist?

In reference to college students today, Jerry Seinfeld said, “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist’; ‘That’s sexist’; ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what they’re talking about.” Am I and my fellow college students prone to incorrect accusations of racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination? Tension surrounds issues of discrimination in American culture today. Historically, few movie series have had as great an impact on American culture as Star Wars. However, at the release of The Phantom Menace, some critics accused George Lucas of writing a character in Jar-Jar Binks that exhibits historic racial tropes dating back to black minstrelsy. Jar-Jar received the most attention, but smaller characters such as Watto and the Neimoidians also appeared to exhibit various racial stereotypes. My research will examine Star Wars closely and present the arguments both for and against a reading of Star Wars as racially insensitive. Through this, I hope to clarify the reasoning for both sides which can often be informal and implied. In this way, Star Wars will serve as a way into broader consideration of polarization surrounding political correctness in today’s culture.