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Katrina Jones '05
Katrina Jones '05
Katrina Jones ’05
Berkeley, California
Major Art History
Project Title Privileging the “Uninhabited” Wilderness: Ansel Adams, Native Americans, and Depictions of Yosemite National Park

“My project is not necessarily novel in its discussion of Adams—many people have attempted to explain the absence of people in his photographs—or of Yosemite Indian dispossession—Spence’s Dispossessing the Wilderness is an excellent source—but it may be unique in its treatment of the combination of these two issues, in how it aims to address the ways in which federal policies and iconic images have both influenced and reflected people’s attitudes and understandings of Yosemite and its history.

“I became interested in this topic when I took my first geography class at Vassar and read Roderick Neumann’s article ‘Nature-State-Territory: Toward a Critical Theorization of Conservation Enclosures.’ Neumann asserts that the worldwide standard for preservation is based upon the U.S. national park model and that this model perpetuates the fallacy that ‘pure’ wilderness is uninhabited. I was fascinated by Neumann’s ideas, so I used his bibliography to investigate the issue further. In doing so I became interested specifically in exploring Ansel Adams’ depictions of the Yosemite Valley in relation to Neumann’s argument.

“Researching and writing this paper has changed the way I think about Yosemite and its history.”

Talia Vestri '05
Talia Vestri '05
Talia Vestri ’05
North Easton, Massachusetts
Major English
Project Title “I am of the devil’s party, and I know it”: Discovering Self-Consciousness in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

“Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, which rewrites Milton and the myth of the Fall, first came into my hands during sophomore year, when I read The Amber Spyglass, the final book of the series, following study of Paradise Lost. After subsequently reading all three books, I decided to write my thesis on the trilogy so I could further explore the ways he adopts and adapts other fantasy stories and mythic texts. The books draw largely on Milton and Blake and allow me to explore more traditional texts like these alongside new works.

“To enhance my own readings, I met with Pullman over spring break in Oxford, England. During the interview, we discussed his own vision of the text in association with my interpretation. This opportunity to speak with Pullman adds a living dimension to my essay that would not be possible with a more conventional project.

“In researching Pullman’s sources—some literary, others scientific and philosophical in nature—I drew from my earlier studies in other departments, while also meeting with Vassar faculty when my own knowledge was lacking. Although I do hope to pursue graduate study in children’s literature and eventually find a career in either academia or publishing, the experience I gained through working on the senior essay—from the techniques of independent research to the value of networking and of exploring new territory—will continue to influence the way I live and work, regardless of my future profession.”

Alex Stein '05
Alex Stein '05
Alex Stein ’05
Wellesley, Massachusetts
Major Economics
Project Title Patent Rights Pending: Court Error and the Defense of Intellectual Property Rights

“I decided to examine the rate and bias with which courts err in adjudicating intellectual property law. Few legal scholars have studied court error to any great degree before. Court errors are inherently unobservable, and thus very difficult to study. Some scholars have devised models relating the probability that a case will be selected for litigation or appeal that incorporate court error as a factor. Intellectual property law by its nature presents a rare opportunity to study court error with a new precision.

“Throughout this project, Assistant Professor of Economics Alan Marco has been a constant inspiration. My room was constantly littered with graph paper, scribbled with flawed economic models and other failed attempts. He has shown me that with economics, no matter how much you think you understand what is going on, there is always some other dimension to the problem that has not yet been explored. Whenever I stop by his office, we end up meeting for hours—something I’m sure would rarely happen at a large university.

“Even though I have submitted my thesis, the real adventure has yet to begin: Professor Marco and I plan to refine it as co-authors into a publishable article. I am indebted to the Vassar environment for an opportunity like this.”

my Knight '05
my Knight '05
Amy Knight ’05
Berwyn, Pennsylvania
Majors Cognitive Science and English
Project Title Punctuation in the Brain

“I wondered if you could interpret a comma directly as the end of a clause, or if your brain first needed to translate it into a pause in your inner speech. So I created an event-related potential (ERP) study in which I record people’s brainwaves as they read sentences that use commas. I compare brainwaves recorded when people were reading normally, while emphasizing inner speech, while counting out loud (which disrupts inner speech), and while being distracted by a tactile game with jacks (to rule out distraction as a cause of any differences I may find). I’m doing research that no one has done before.

“I’m trying to apply evidence that neuroscientists have gathered to programs developed by reading teachers, and use what we know about the evolution of language to explore how kids learn to read. These fields have a lot to teach each other, but these different researchers don’t often work together, and few people are well-versed in the research occurring in such disparate areas. I’m trying to draw them all together, because I think we have a lot more answers than we realize. It’s just that the puzzle pieces are scattered all around the academic map.

“I’m rejoicing in the feeling of contributing something to the general body of human knowledge while only twenty-two years old. The thesis requirement is almost like Vassar telling me I have to give something back. They’ll give me a degree, and I’ll give the scientific community some new bit of understanding it may not have had before.”

Shweta Kamdar '05
Shweta Kamdar '05
Shweta Kamdar ’05
Bombay, India
Majors Economics and History
Project Title Household Resource Allocation and Adolescent Girl Literacy: A Case Study in Rural Rajasthan

“The dataset with which I’m working makes a very interesting case study because it challenges preconceived assumption and notions. The results I’ve gleaned show that a mother’s literacy is very significant in determining a daughter’s literacy in a rural Indian village, implying that family decisions can be made using the cooperative model, and the mother’s bargaining power can be boosted through her own education, giving her a larger say in family resource allocation. This is especially surprising, given Indian society, where the husband/father makes most of the family decisions, and one would assume that the decision structure would follow the unitary model.

“Although this is a very specific case study, I believe it would be of interest to people involved in public policy, development, sociology, and even women’s studies, and that it supports the wide literature that mothers’ education is strongly correlated with daughters’ education. Mothers’ education is also important in changing family values and attitudes.

“I think it’s special here at Vassar that professors share their datasets with students and encourage them to work independently with the datasets. Very often, a senior thesis is a continuation of the adviser’s own research, and the professor then directs the shape the thesis takes. However, at Vassar we’ve all been encouraged to do our own work, with the professors there to guide but not to decide.”