Dissertations and Theses Year-in-Review, 2016-17

dissertation office signToday is Commencement Day at the Graduate Center!

As we celebrate our graduates from the 2016-17 academic year at the 53rd annual commencement exercises, I’d like to offer this round-up in celebration of the works submitted to the library during that time.

This was, no doubt, an eventful year—a new Provost and Senior Vice President, Joy Connolly, joined the Graduate Center, and we formally welcomed the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) to the GC. It was also one in which President Chase Robinson reaffirmed our “shared commitment to knowledge as a public good.” And it is in that spirit that we look to our dissertations, theses, and capstone projects as a reflection of the knowledge created and, ultimately, shared with the public by our students.

The graduates celebrated today include recipients of degrees conferred in September 2016, February 2017, and, of course, June 2017. Their culminating works are all on view in CUNY Academic Works; some are immediately available to read and download, and some become available after an embargo period set by the author. (For those wondering, about 54% of this year’s graduates immediately released the full text, while 46% opted to withold their work from the public for anywhere from six months to two years.)

This year, the library accepted a total of 517 graduate works: 420 doctoral dissertations, 10 doctoral capstone research projects, 74 master’s theses, and 13 master’s capstone projects. Thirty-five programs were represented, with Psychology producing the most doctoral dissertations this year (66), followed by Music (27), English (23), and Urban Education (21). Among the master’s programs, Liberal Studies again led the way with a total of 68 theses and capstone projects, followed by Linguistics (9) and Political Science (5).

I have the privilege of seeing each and every one of these dissertations, theses, and capstone projects, and as always I was so impressed with the breadth and depth of the research undertaken here at the Graduate Center. I’ll confess that my interests skew heavily towards the humanities and social sciences, so what follows is necessary limited to those areas. (But, please—go see for yourself the astounding range of works that were submitted this year.)

Our graduates are engaging deeply with the world around them, whether it’s through studying pension fund evictions in East Palo Alto, the production of Argentinian self-identity, or the back-and-forth of migrant garment workers on the Chinese coast.

Most topical, perhaps, are two from the criminal justice program: “The Fear Factor: Exploring the Impact of the Vulnerability to Deportation on Immigrants’ Lives,” (Shirley Leyro, February ’17), and “Local Immigration Enforcement Entrepreneurship in the Punishment Marketplace (Daniel Stageman, February ’17).

This year we saw further investigations into bilingual education; a look at pedagogical experiments in California; a history of privacy in the U.S.; an examination of politics in Arabic rap; the effects of multimodal hip hop dance communities on adolescent development; a sociological theory of denial; an inquiry into the political thought of 21st century evangelism; and an exploration of copyright in Colonial America.

The role of “the archive” necessarily looms large in the humanities. Sean Gerrity (English, February ’17) describes his work on literary representations of marronage as a “counter-archive,” while Meredith Benjamin (English, September ’16) treats the archive as both source and subject in “Genres of Feminist Lives: Autobiography, Archives, and Community, 1970-1983.”

We saw studies of black artistic performance in “Dark Stars of the Evening: Performing African American Citizenship and Identity in Germany, 1890-1920,” by Kristin Moriah (English, June ’17) and Will Fulton’s “Reimagining the Collective: Black Popular Music and Recording Studio Innovation, 1970-1990” (Music, June ’17), while Adrienne Lotson (Anthropology, June ’17) turned the lens towards the black female spectator in “Like A Natural Woman – Black Women’s Theatre Aesthetics: Agency & Resistance on the Chitlin’ Circuit.

There continues to be a rise in the number of digital components submitted with graduate works—audio/video files, software code, and companion websites increasingly accompany the written manuscripts. Digital projects such as “Clara Lemlich Shavelson: An Activist Life,” “Visualizing Slavery in Craven County, North Carolina,” “Early American Cookbooks,” and “Lyrical Mysticism: The Writing and Reception of Catherine of Siena” are just a few examples of these pathbreaking works.

The library has adapted our procedures to accomodate the preservation of digital projects, and we expect these sorts of submissions to continue to evolve. An excellent demonstration of the possibilities that have opened up is in Sara Paar’s “Between Speech & Song: Clarifying the Sprechstimme of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire” (Music, June ’17). In addition to including the musical notation for the vocal performance she discusses, Sara uploaded her mp3 audio files to the Internet Archive, and linked to the files directly from her document alongside the notation (in addition to submitting the files directly to the library). The end result is a seamless, multimodal reading experience that is highly tailored to the subject of her work.

And, now, the milestones:

Longest dissertation: This most coveted distinction goes to Peter-Christian Aigner (History, June ’17), for his tome of 712 pages, “The Politician and the Professor: Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Strains of Modern American Liberalism.

Shortest dissertation: Once again, the Ph.D. Program in Business picks up this one, with Liora Schulman’s 64-page dissertation, “Do Tax Directors Face Consequences from Tax Avoidance?” (June ’17).

Longest title: José Magro (Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures & Languages, September ’16), had the longest title, with 226 characters: “Lengua y racismo-motivación, competencia y conciencia lingüística en la clase de español como segunda lengua: Integración de contenidos relacionados con la dimensión socio-política del lenguaje en un acercamiento content-based.

Shortest title: Here we have a tie, between two master’s theses in the Liberal Studies program. Dagmar Rothschild (February ’17), with “Imperial Butterfly,” and TaraRose Macuch (February ’17), with “Queering Addiction.” As for dissertations, the shortest title distinction goes to Kaethe Minden (Mathematics, June ’17) for her masterpiece of concision: “On Subcomplete Forcing.”

I always lament that I can’t give the same justice to the sciences, in which I’m sure there are several outstanding works! But I can leave you with an anecdote, a special coincidence that was remarked upon by a graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Biology. Her dissertation is on the p53 mutation in breast cancer research, and she noted the significance of that number, fifty-three, in her life. When I told her that this would be the 53rd Commencment Ceremony she just about fainted.

Perhaps this could be our reminder of the passion, the dedication, and the urgency surrounding our research and our teaching here at the Graduate Center.

About the Author

Roxanne Shirazi is assistant professor and dissertation research librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she also serves as project director for the CUNY Digital History Archive and oversees the college’s institutional archives.