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Office of Undergraduate Research

Research Opportunities by Department

Undergraduate Research in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures


All upper level courses in Modern Languages and Cultures introduce undergraduates to scholarly research and prepare them to carry out more extensive, independent research. In addition, the CLT 389 course required of all students majoring in any program in MLC is focused on scholarly theories, methods, writing, and students complete this course by writing a research paper.

How to get started:

After completing the MLC Major Seminar, students with strong records of scholarship, linguistic and cultural skills may be invited to pursue an Honors Project during their senior year. In consultation with an advisor from the specific program, the student proposes, researches, and develops an original project related to an area of personal intellectual interest. This may stem from a variety of areas, including literary, cinematic, digital, or translation fields.  Students who are conducting research abroad to support their Honors project may also apply for Burton funding.

Through the Certificate in Literary Translation Studies, undergraduates may combine their skills in other languages and cultures, and in linguistics, with their interest in creative writing in English. In both collaborative environments (workshops) and individual projects (with an advisor), students work with source texts in all genres (including novels, stories, poetry, plays and videogames) to produce original translations or retranslations of texts from diverse world cultures. Students collect a portfolio of their translation and creative writing for the certificate.

At the annual MLC Undergraduate Research Day in April all students who have produced an Honors thesis present their work.  Students who have completed impressive research papers in CLT 389 and excellent translation projects through the LTS program are invited to present their work.

Students can find additional information about Honors, CLT 389, Literary Translation Studies, and individual language programs on the MLC website:

Research Examples

Below are a few recent examples of research done by Modern Languages & Cultures majors. In spring of 2013 the following students presented their Honors, research, and translation projects.

Liza Maizel, "The Ambiguity of Dreams and the Feminine Experience."

I look at two short stories, La última niebla by María Luisa Bombal and De noche soy tu caballo, by Luisa Valenzuela, and attempt to demonstrate how in these two stories the authors use dreams to create a "woman's space".  I talk about how language and society in general is dominated by the male voice, and through their dreams, the women protagonists are able to escape this male oppression.  I use the ambiguous and pre-lingual natures of dreams to further explain how this reality belongs strictly to the female, as it defies the norms constructed by males in literature and their depictions of reality. 

Veronica Price, “Indistinct Distinction and Blurred Blurriness: Boundary Dissolution and Identity Formation in Toni Morrison’s Sula.”

The abundance of blurred boundaries throughout Toni Morrison’s Sula (i.e., between man and woman, past and present, etc.), forces attention upon discourses of binaries in society, highlighting the problematic nature of binary thinking.  However, another significant theme in Sula is identity formation, which typically necessitates separation or “othering,” rather than a process of fusion.  A unique combination of these two seemingly opposing ideas serves to challenge the typical definition of identity as the creation of one self, or of a stable self, and presents it instead as a constantly changing and fluid process that can be described but never completely defined.

Lucian Mcmahon,  “Subservience: Female Empowerment in Jean Rhys’ After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie.”

The paper reinterprets Jean Rhys’ novel about a woman abandoned by the last of a long list of wealthy lovers. Superficially, the novel reads like any other tale of betrayal and loss, but using modern gender theory, I argue in the paper that the protagonist, Julia, actually sheds her artificial gender imposed upon her by men and becomes, in a sense, liberated from the shackles of patriarchy. In other words, in abandoning the company of lustful men, she rejects the masculine expectations of her body and of her comport.

Kristen Scherb, “That's news to me: The challenges of translating La dieta de las malas noticias/The Bad News Diet.”

La dieta de las malas noticias is a multi-voiced novel about strained family relationships published by Argentine novelist Raquel Robles in 2012. I will focus on my experience with the challenges and triumphs of translating the language and culture of this narrative into U.S.-English for an audience not necessarily acquainted with a middle-aged woman's life but perhaps with some of her personal and family experiences.

Olivia Earle, "Looking at Horror: Why We Find Ourselves Obsessed with Our Fears."

Taking the works of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Julia Kristeva as a starting point, we examine why we are continually obsessed by the things that repulse us most, and how this obsessive fear may be represented and felt in contemporary film. Presentation will include an overview of the theories of the uncanny and the abject, as well as new work on how the obsessive gaze functions to provide a platform for our anxieties and fears about our own capabilities for control and self-identification.

Peter Kalal, “To Be and Not To Be: The Haunting of Kafka's ‘Das Urteil.’”

My presentation explores the temporal and ontological ambiguities of Kafka's story by utilizing Derrida's Specters of Marx, focusing especially on his concept of hauntology and his commentary on Hamlet, which he uses as an intertext throughout his book. By exploring all three works alongside one another, it becomes clear that the complex relationship between Georg and his father in "Das Urteil" is the cause of time and ontological distinction being, to quote Hamlet, "out of joint."

Leslie Gordon, “Cat and Mouse and the Nazi Past: The Struggle between the Repression of Memory and a Need to Write.”

Through the narrator's retrospective account of his adolescence in Germany during the war years, Günter Grass demonstrates in his 1961 novella Cat and Mouse a tension between a need to subdue traumatic memories and a compulsion to write and recognize the truths of his past. This paper explores why Grass's novella is, on the surface, so silent on the themes of war, how the narrator actively creates this silence through recollections of his and a companion's coming of age in wartime, and what this silence reveals about the process and problems of coming to terms with Germany's Nazi past.

Research Opportunities by Department—Main List