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.

Single-Sided NMR of Paint Films After Climate Cycling

The aim of my research will be to use single-sided nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study the mechanical properties of water-mixable oil paints. Single-sided NMR is a method of analyzing samples by applying a magnetic field which interacts with the magnetic spins of certain atoms, providing information about the cross-linkage between molecules. Generally, the amount of cross-linkage in a sample is proportional to the brittleness and hardness of the sample. Water-mixable oil paint is a relatively new, environmentally-friendly type of paint which has different physical properties from traditional oil paints. Museums need information about how the physical properties of water-mixable oil paintings differ from those of traditional oil paintings so they can store and treat water-mixable oil paintings without damaging them. In my research, I will measure the mechanical properties of water-mixable oil paint films before and after the films are exposed to different environments, specifically different temperatures and relative humidities. I will compare my results with measurements done on traditional oil paint films. This research will provide information about the optimum environment to store and transport paintings and will help to develop NMR as a tool for examining paintings.

Abstract: Studying the Psychological and Physical Benefits of Outdoor Sports and Recreation

Both physical and mental health are a growing problem in the United States. With obesity and depression levels on the rise, it is essential for Americans to assess their current ways of life, and to make immediate (and often quite simple) changes. I have personally found that my mood on any given day is directly correlated with how much time I have spent outside, or how much time I have spent exercising my body. I want to find out if this is true for others.

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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.

Words, War, Women and More

My research now concluded, my understanding of England’s literary landscape in the first half of the twentieth century has changed dramatically.

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Summary on Latin Squares

This project was quite an adventure from the beginning.  While it was difficult, and ultimately impossible, to find the true formula that I was looking for at the beginning, I learned a lot about the implications of sequences and prime numbers in the grand scheme of mathematics. To recap briefly my project, I began with a numerical analysis of several different sizes of Latin square, including 3×3, 4×4, 5×5, 6×6, and 7×7.   The number of possible Latin squares at each size increased rapidly, and after 7×7 it was much too large to realistically calculate.  I was able to break these numbers down and apply a few different types of tests to these in order to find a pattern leading from one to the next, but the large primes which appeared in the prime factorizations of the numbers prevented any conclusive pattern from appearing. After spending a lot of time working with those numbers, I turned to the second stage of my project.

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Last Buffy Update

I’m finally wrapping up my data collection for my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s dialogue, and I can already see that the scope of this project turned into something far larger than I had anticipated. My binder contains hundreds of entries, each with an invented word or an unconventional turn of phrase. I’ve also given a lot of thought to the impact this dialogue has on the show. Each season, for at least the first five seasons, seems to follow a pattern–the first several episodes are lighter in fluffier in tone, and there are several more noteworthy moments in the dialogue in these episodes. The casual, inventive dialogue used creates a sense of familiarity both among the characters and between the characters and the viewers. It’s a language that is different from the way we generally speak, but similar enough to be easily understood, so it feels like the viewer is a part of this intimate group of friends shown on TV. In the show’s very first episode, when all the main characters are first introduced, I recorded 21 separate entries. Later in each of these seasons, once the characters have been established and the show gets much darker and more dramatic in tone, the entries in my unofficial Buffy dictionary generally decrease. For example, the episode “Becoming, Part 2,” which is season 3’s finale and one of the darkest episodes of the show, has no entries. The fun, inventive quotes like “Pretty juicy piece of clue-age, don’t you think? (season 4, episode 8)” add a lot to the lighthearted tone of goofy monster-of-the-week mysteries, but they would seem inappropriate and out of place in those later, much more serious episodes.

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Lab Work, Literature, and Finishing Up

Upon returning to Williamsburg, around June 16th, I began the process of interpreting the data I collected in the field. With the help of my advisor, I spent the day organizing data, preparing samples, and setting up what I was to work on for the rest of the summer, until I returned to campus again.

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