2016-2017 Thesis Award Winners Announced

Congratulations to the 2016-2017 MAPH Thesis Award Winners! Preceptors nominated student theses written in 2016 or 2017 that stood out to them in some way. The nominations were reviewed by the MAPH Directors and staff to determine seven thesis award winners:

  • Meghan Angelos (MAPH ’16)
  • Elizabeth Vinyard Boyle (MAPH ’16)
  • Isabeau Dasho (MAPH ’17)
  • Jill Ingrassia-Zingales (MAPH ’18)
  • Yun Ha Kim (MAPH ’17)
  • Nigel O’Hearn (MAPH ’17)
  • Natasha Russi (MAPH ’17)
  • Annie Williams (MAPH ’16)
  • John Winn (MAPH ’17)


Meghan Angelos | Advisor: Joel Snyder | Preceptor: Jennifer Sichel

“Reconsidering Barbara Morgan: Experimentation, Documentation, and Narrative
in Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs

American artist Barbara Morgan (1900–1992) is best known for her 1940 photograph of modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (1894–1991), Martha Graham in “Letter to the World”, or Kick.  Morgan photographed Kickduring a five-year collaboration with Graham that culminated in the 1941 photobook Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs—a book that calls into question Kick’s status as the trademark of Morgan’s photographic practice.  Unlike other dance photographers, Morgan drew upon multiple techniques in her efforts to convey the richness of Graham’s dances. Her varied approaches to documenting dance make the book both a photographic record of Graham’s choreographic legacy and a rich exploration in how to represent dance in photographs. The book stands as evidence of Morgan’s broader photographic practice, and it introduces a new and unique way to preserve and present the ephemeral art of dance. When viewed together, the photographs in Sixteen Dances expand our understanding of how photography can be used to emphasize dance’s emotions, themes, and narratives, in addition to isolated, frozen moments.

Preceptor Jennifer Sichel on Meghan’s thesis:

Meghan's thesis is exemplary for the way it grew out of her sustained curiosity and visual analysis of Barbara Morgan's photo book Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs, a difficult object that bridges two distinct media--dance and photography. After spending months describing the book, Meghan built a careful historical analysis to answer key questions that arose from her descriptions of how the photos were lit, staged, cropped, sequenced, and superimposed, as well as an incisive historiographical analysis of the role Beaumont Newhall (MoMA's first curator of photography) played in shaping Morgan's reception and legacy. Her thesis demonstrates how an object can engender a robust analysis (instead of the other way around, ie. how an analysis can be brought to bear on an object) --and it represents well the slow, careful work of art history.

Elizabeth Vinyard Boyle | Advisor: Elizabeth Helsinger | Preceptor: Agnes Malinowska

“Poetic Thinking in Print: Songs, Sonnets, and the Lyrical Book”

This paper examines Songes and Sonettes, written by the right honorable Lorde Henry Howard late earle of Surrey, and other – known colloquially as Tottel’s Miscellany and widely considered the first printed English anthology – as a fulcrum in the history of lyric subjectivity and the fiction-making of the printed book.  Offering a model both of and for its own emulation, the miscellany tells a version of the history of which it itself becomes a part, enacted across a set of nested relations from the author and his language, to the poem and its voice, to the book and its story.  This paper takes up each of these layers in turn, meditating on the ways in which they intersect to form a volume that becomes many things at once: constructed biographical history, playfully chivalric lyric sequence, grammar book and prescription manual for a standardized (poetic, courtly) English, and a particular kind of self-replicating history-telling through our experience of the literary and the lyrical, the subjective and ephemeral.

Preceptor Agnes Malinowska on Elizabeth’s thesis:

Lizzie Vinyard Boyle’s exceptional thesis, “Poetic Thinking in Print: Songs, Sonnets, and the Lyrical Book,” makes a forceful argument for the significance of Songs and Sonnets, Richard Tottel’s 1557 printed anthology, to the origins and development of the English lyric, of a critical reading public, and indeed of the English vernacular itself. Lizzie’s thesis masterfully weaves together a sophisticated formal analytic and a compelling historicism. The project makes exciting claims about the Miscellany’s function in constructing, codifying, and generalizing the poet and poem, both on the levels of topic and trope, but also on those of lyric form and book construction. Moreover, it tracks the printed anthology’s participation in the development and codification of the English language itself—its function as a prescriptive force for word use, pronunciation, orthography, and grammar. Lizzie’s project is unusually ambitious in scope, but one gets the sense that Lizzie has a real mastery over both her topic and her argumentative voice throughout. Her prose is sophisticated and elegant, but also remarkably clear and effective in conveying a layered and complex argument. Most people—and perhaps most literary scholars—have never heard of Tottel’s Miscellany. In reading Lizzie’s thesis, one gets the sense that this is a major oversight: She convinces you that in the Miscellany we find both an exciting meta-generic meditation on the lyric and a true origin story for every feature of English-language poetics.

Isabeau Dasho | Advisor: Hilary Strang | Preceptor: Megan Tusler


Isabeau Dasho’s Breach is a science fiction novel primarily engaged with concerns of colonization, exploitation, and the moral implications of the Anthropocene. The protagonist Captain Eden Murray is forced to confront the ethical limits of a new technology that is predicated on the extraction of another species’ life force. Breach explores questions of culpability through the prism of Captain Murray’s experience as a cog in the machine of war, as she is forced to acknowledge and come to terms with the moral implications of her choices. Ultimately, this work is concerned with ideas of resistance in a system designed to exploit and oppress all physical and biological resources.

Preceptor Megan Tusler on Isabeau’s Thesis:

Isabeau Dasho’s dynamic thesis Breach is the beginning material for a work of feminist science fiction that asks exciting questions about animality, ethics, technology, and women in leadership. Captain Eden Murray helms the Siege Frigate ship the Rappahannock in a universe where space whales are held captive by humans for their interconnected communications capabilities. The novel concerns the Captain’s increasing discomfort with and ethical crisis over the forced holding of animals for human space exploration and military dominance. Murray is a beautifully developed character in the work: complicated, brilliant, and hardheaded, and an important figure in the literary science fiction tradition of woman leaders. The novel has sophisticated world-building and rich characterization, and situates itself in the field of feminist science fiction in a highly appealing way.

Jill Ingrassia-Zingales | Advisor: Christine Mehring | Advisor: Darrel Chia

“An Art Collection Focused on Inquiry: The Case for an Archive

In this paper I argue that the art collection at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago needs—and deserves—an archive.  I support my argument by citing examples from my preliminary groundwork--groundwork that forms a basis from which to create a solid and thorough archive for the Booth Collection.  Although the collection consists of works that are conceptually challenging and therefore question prompting, without an archive the collection is unable to maximize its ability to emulate the mission of its namesake institution and promote inquiry.  I claim that the Booth Archive would be the stimulus that converts spontaneous observations about individual works in the collection into informed deliberation, and thereby would transform the collection as a whole into an object of inquiry.

Preceptor Darrel Chia on Jill’s Thesis:

For this creative thesis, Jill developed the groundwork for a comprehensive digital archive for the University of Chicago’s Booth School Art Collection. From the beginning, this project generated a lot of excitement in our discussions because of its relevance, purpose, and imaginative problem-solving. Jill identified where she could make useful contributions, and despite the painstaking archival work involved in the process of assembling and collating detailed records, took it all in stride.

In this, she drew on the expertise of her faculty advisor, Christine Mehring, as well as a number of curatorial experts on campus, to develop a resource that could benefit both the university community and the wider public. What impressed me about this project was its ability to move between grappling with the finer points of database architecture, and a keen vision of how this data could be presented most meaningfully for curators, scholars, and casual visitors.

In her critical component, Jill makes a compelling case for the significance of this archive in a way that combines case studies, oral history, art historical research, and analysis of broader implications. She persuasively highlights the particular interest of this important Collection right at our doorstop, both in terms of the inquiry that specific works could provoke, and of the Collection itself as an object for study.

Jill executed this project with superb analysis, practical acumen, and responsiveness to feedback from different stakeholders. I know that Jill would also want me to thank the members of our precept and her thesis workshop for their intellectual camaraderie.

Yun Ha Kim | Advisor: Lisa Ruddick | Preceptor: Tristan Schweiger

“The Art of Making Beckett Difficult”

Samuel Beckett’s figures are frequently identified as antiheroes of the post-modern world and there has always been a temptation to read Beckett in due existential seriousness. Such identification, however, overshadows the critical distance required to debunk the hyperbolic austerity that characterizes so many of Beckett’s protagonists. While his trilogy novels—Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable—have been popularly read as an allegory for the difficulties of being and narrating, this paper pays attention to how the harrowing conditions of the narrator’s existence are in fact made difficult by the act of narrating. Focusing on the first of the trilogy novels, Molloy, this paper will engage with both its narrative structure and philosophical themes to illustrate how the novel is so much more than a pensive report on the impossibility of novel writing.

Preceptor Tristan Schweiger on Yun Ha’s Thesis:

Yun Ha’s thesis, “The Art of Making Becket Difficult,” explores one of the most difficult (and least studied) works of a notoriously challenging author. A narratological analysis of Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy, the thesis discusses the tension between the narrative and interpretive voices that structure the text. In dialogue with (and at times pushing against) a prominent line of criticism that sees Beckett as after something like the impossibility of stable meaning, Yun Ha argues that the novel is as invested in drawing out the difficulties in the very act of narrating this instability. The thesis is beautifully argued, compelling advanced through nuanced and highly perceptive close reading, and, impressively, has some important new things to say about how we might read Beckett. It is a superlative critical project, and it richly deserves this honor.

Nigel O’Hearn | Advisor: Mickle Maher | Preceptor: Tristan Schweiger

Song We Forgot to Sing: a play in several scenes and poems

Nigel O’Hearn’s Song We Forgot to Sing: a play in several scenes and poems is a verse dramatization of a pilot scientific study, which gauged the cognitive impact and benefits of collaborative poetry creation and recitation on dementia patients and their primary caregivers. The play takes as its theme the loss and reformulation of personal identity that accompanies the experience of living with, and caring for someone with, a neurodegenerative disease. The play’s method juxtaposes verse dramatizations of the study's session work, portrayals of individuals and couples coping with dementia, and poetic interludes that teach different forms of poetry and aspects of neurocognitive function.

The study Song We Forgot to Sing is based on – “Transformative Poetry: Applications in Alzheimer’s Disease” – was developed by Nigel and Tiara Starks (MA, Psychology, UChicago,) in collaboration with both the University of Chicago’s Memory Center and the Memory Lab for Neuropsychological Study, and was funded by UChicago Arts’ Arts, Sciences + Cultural Initiative Graduate Collaborative Grant (2016-17).

Preceptor Tristan Schweiger on Nigel’s Thesis:

Nigel’s project, Song We Forgot to Sing, is a compelling, provocative, and moving play, and one of the best creative theses I’ve had the pleasure of advising. The play builds on Nigel’s experiences researching poetry as a means of therapy to help Alzheimer’s patients slow the progress of memory loss and cognitive impairment (he won a grant to study this intriguing area), and it explores a range of themes spanning aging, living with a terminal illness, memory and identity, the potentialities and limitations of art and literature, and the challenges, possibilities, and limitations of medicine. Clearly, that’s a lot for any thesis to take on, but Nigel’s play unites those various threads beautifully and convincingly. The critical piece, discussing the relationship between theories of sympathy and theories of theatrical performance and audience reception, opened up further implications of the creative work (and vice versa). In short, this was a fantastic project, and I was delighted to recommend it for this award.

Natasha Russi | Advisor: Malynne Sternstein | Preceptor: Dustin Brown

“Making a Break for It: Awkwardness’ Potential Toward a Theory of Care in The Lobster

In “Making a Break for It,” I argue that Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2015 film The Lobster reifies an affective landscape significant to considering awkwardness as an affect uniquely responsive to contemporary conditions of mass precarity, and with the potential to engender novel forms of care. Drawing a parallel to social stratification and anxiety’s pervasiveness under neoliberal austerity, I read awkwardness in The Lobster as proposing opportunities to deviate from the law’s demands, allowing for forms of intimacy that resist normalization and escape hegemonization. Through close formal analysis of the film and its paratexts that engage affect theory and theories of space, “Making a Break for It” aims to consider the stakes of breaking with normalizing, punitive social forms in search of emotional engagement and intimacy, if slightly awry.

Preceptor Dustin Brown on Natasha’s Thesis:

Dazzling in its incorporation of affect theory, philosophies of space and rigorous formal analyses, Natasha Russi’s Making a Break for It: Awkwardness’ Potential Towards a Theory of Care invites readers to consider the possibilities for solidarity and intimacy latent in the awkward moments of everyday life under neoliberalism. The central case of the project is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015), a film usually read by critics as a straightforward allegory of contemporary dating culture. Russi breaks with this reductive interpretive tendency by attending to the conditions of social precarity and norm-governed space that supercharge the stakes of achieving and maintaining the couple form--in Lanthimos’ weird world as well as our own. The virtuosic engagement with filmic particularities of sound and image breathes life into the sophisticated theoretical concepts that structure the argument of Making a Break for It. It is a truly impressive piece of scholarship.

Annie Williams | Advisor: Maud Ellmann | Preceptor: Megan Tusler

““A Case of Atmosphere” in Virginia Woolf’s “Kew Gardens,” Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts

This thesis considers three Virginia Woolf texts to consider the “case of atmosphere” in her work. Putting “Kew Gardens,” Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts in conversation with affect theory, trauma theory, feminist theory and psychoanalysis, I argue that Woolf’s narratives create affective atmospheres. Through these atmospheres, we gain a better sense of how her characters experience and transmit affect among each other. By examining the climactic scene of Mrs. Dalloway, in which Clarissa learns of Septimus’s suicide, we see that Woolf’s atmospheres obstruct affective connections between proximate characters, but also allow these connections between physically distant characters. Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts, can then be understood as a development of the functions of atmosphere present in “Kew Gardens” and Mrs. Dalloway

Preceptor Megan Tusler on Annie’s Thesis:

Anne Williams’ innovative work “’A Case of Atmosphere’ in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Kew Gardens,’ Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts” is a conceptual reevaluation of three of Virginia Woolf’s major works: Mrs. Dalloway, “Kew Gardens,” and Between the Acts. It produces the rare achievement in a master’s level work: the confluence of theoretical inquiry and rich readings of primary text. Anne’s engagement with works in affect theory like Theresa Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect allow her to rethink how these works produce affective atmospheres – for example, she details the interplays of sonic activity, meticulous texturing, and shifting color to demonstrate how the novel’s sensorium produces its characters. The project maintains a meticulous formalism while showing many new interpretations made available through detailing the works’ structures of feeling.

John Winn | Advisor: Bill Brown | Preceptor: Megan Tusler

"Medial Conversations: Phylum McTeague"

In my thesis, I analyze the various medial actualizations of McTeague, arguing that the common attribute bringing the McTeagues (specified here as Phylum McTeague) together is not so much a shared narrative, but rather a reflexive concern with various mediating technologies. By offering a lineage of Frank Norris’s novel, Erich von Stroheim’s film Greed, Robert Altman and William Bolcom’s opera McTeague, and Altman’s TV program The Real McTeague, I aim to excavate this common concern with mediation, which evolves with each actualization. After outlining the medial interplay conditioning and shaping these actualizations, I provide a close reading of The Real McTeague. This section maintains that the formal arrangement of the television program articulates and informs the temporal dynamics of McTeague’s intermedial lineage. I conclude with a brief discussion of the medial anxiety suffused throughout Phylum McTeague. This paper will cultivate a processual approach to medial interactions, granting temporally and spatially discontinuous media, concepts, and things the space to be considered along a common lineage.

Preceptor Megan Tusler on John’s Thesis:

John Winn’s thesis project, “Phylum McTeague,” is a work that exceeds the usual expectations of a Master’s thesis. A truly interdisciplinary work, “Phylum McTeague” considers an assemblage object in order to assess the very nature of how cultural forms come into meaning. The project traces the genealogy of the opera McTeague, the Norris novel of the same name, the Von Stroheim film Greed, and the Robert Altman-directed PBS airing of the opera as an assemblage. The work evaluates how the object, the Phylum McTeague, constitutes itself at the formal and theoretical levels – concerned both with remediation and incorporation of its composites, the project constructs a version of the object that illuminates its compositional specificity. The strength of John’s formal analytic allows for a number of exciting, even provocative claims, like the assertion that the televisual aspect of the McTeague broadcast opens the possibility for “domesticating” the original object. When reading the thesis, its audience is thoroughly convinced that the object becomes much more interesting for John’s having analyzed it.