Dissertations and Theses Year-in-Review, 2019-20

Each year, as we close out the spring semester and celebrate our GC graduates, the library’s Dissertation Office produces a round-up of dissertations, theses, and capstone projects to highlight the incredible work being done by our students. In a semester marked by disruption, by the sudden closure of our CUNY campuses and shared spaces, our intellectual work at the Graduate Center has carried on—students defended their dissertations over Skype and Zoom, and after a flurry of emails and electronic approvals they were cleared to deposit their work with the library.

That last milestone is an academic rite of passage that has traditionally been met with trepidation (and, likely, exaggerated tales of a taskmaster brandishing a ruler and a magnifying glass). Luckily, at the Graduate Center we’ve already modernized our deposit procedure and, in 2015, moved to an online self-submission system. Students no longer need to scramble for an appointment; they no longer need to take a paper from office to office gathering signatures to clear the way for graduation. So when our beloved building closed in March, the ability to deposit a dissertation or thesis was never in question. Like much of the library, the Dissertation Office was well-positioned to provide its services to students entirely remotely.

It was, and remains, a year unlike any other. But like years past, we can marvel at the quality and breadth of scholarship being completed by our students, both at the doctoral and master’s level.

This year, the library accepted 541 new graduate works into our collection: 396 doctoral dissertations, 14 doctoral capstone projects, 114 master’s theses, and 17 master’s capstone projects. We welcomed graduate works for the first time from two new programs this year (not all master’s level programs require library deposit): four M.A. in Digital Humanities capstones, and five M.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience theses. Many wondered whether the number of deposits would decrease this year, but it appears to have been relatively flat, with the usual distribution across degree programs. The Ph.D. Program in Psychology once again had the most dissertations deposited (56), followed by English (35), Music (27), and Biology (26). Among the master’s programs, graduates in Liberal Studies deposited 79 theses and capstones, followed by Linguistics (12) and Political Science (12).

Many of the dissertations and theses collected in CUNY Academic Works are immediately available to read and download, while others are embargoed for up to two years. (Researchers wishing to access embargoed dissertations and theses may place an interlibrary loan request with the Graduate Center Library.)

The archive, both literal and figurative, has always loomed large among our graduates, and this year’s graduates are no different. Rachiel Daniell (Ph.D., Anthropology, February ’20) examined access to U.S. government records in “The Afterlives of Government Documents: Information Labor, Archival Power, and the Visibility of U.S. Human Rights Violations in the ‘War on Terror,’” while Jamie Coan (Ph.D., English, June ’20) attends to the challenges of documenting performance in “Corporeal Archives of HIV/AIDS: The Performance of Relation,” while Patrick James (Ph.D., English, June ’20) uncovers the complicated entaglements of the queer archive in “Hermeneutics of Residue: Archival Slime and Queer Literacy.”

Land and labor are points of departure for many, with works ranging from railroads and the Mexican revolution to flexible labor and Chinese restaurants and land use in the “luxury city”; from a history of NYC through four factories to an examination of the welfare rights movement; from class and consumption in Queens to “cost stickiness” and supply chains; from faunal analysis in Northern Iceland to genetic variation in ecological communities.

We saw fascinating explorations of sound and audio from Maria Edurne Zuazu (Ph.D., Music, September ’20) in “Ruin Sound: Audio Afterlives, Reenactment, and Remembrance in the 21st Century” and Elizabeth Newton (Ph.D., Music, June ’20) in “Audio Quality as Content: Everyday Criticism of the Lo-fi Format.”

It’s no surprise that education and liberation are recurring sites of study at the Graduate Center. From City College composition programs to the Black Panthers’ community school; from privacy and cloud-based computing in K-12 to productivity in higher education and a linguistic analysis of online professor reviews, our graduates continue to interrogate the systems that make up our everyday lives. Graduate Center dissertations address today’s urgent concerns on topics like stop and frisk; the Ferguson effect; the Freddie Gray uprising; and the relationship between the police and the democratic state from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

And, now, our favorite data points to note:

Longest dissertation: Deborah Charnoff (Ph.D., History, September ’19), “MEN SET ON FIRE. Algernon Sidney & John Adams: Remodeling Anglo-American Republicanism” at 1,212 pages (!!)

Shortest dissertation: Jaleh Hamadani (Ph.D., Psychology, September ’19), “The Impact of Mentalization and Self-Compassion on Psychological Adjustment in Adolescents” at a mere 55 pages

Longest title: Maria-Christina Necula (Ph.D., Comparative Literature, September ‘19), “Unlearning Don Carlos: Historical and Fictional Elements of Innovation in César Vichard de Saint-Réal’s Dom Carlos, nouvelle historique, Friedrich Schiller’s Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien, and Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos

Shortest title: Sabina Pringle, (M.A., Digital Humanities, June ‘20) “DH in Prison

There are too many wonderful examples of the kind of rigorous, socially engaged scholarship that we’ve come to expect from the Graduate Center, it’s impossible to name them all! I’ll close by highlighting a personal favorite that pushes the boundaries of format: Lauren Kehoe and Jenna Freedman’s co-authored digital capstone project, “The Zine Union Catalog,” (M.A., Digital Humanities, February ’20) and its accompanying white paper, which itself took the form of a zine.

Now, be sure to watch the video tribute to the Graduate Center Class of 2020 as we say congratulations to all of our 2019-20 graduates!

About the Author

Roxanne Shirazi is the Dissertation Research Librarian at the Graduate Center Library.