Theses From Off The Beaten Path

As the deadline for submitting theses approaches, most seniors are putting in multiple all-nighters grappling with esoteric historical, scientific or literary questions. But a few of this year's thesis-writers will spend the next several weeks thinking about Disneyland and gardening.

No, it's not because they'll be procrastinating. On the contrary, these seniors, too, will be hard at work--writing theses on such unusual topics as "The Cultural Messages of Disneyland in the 1950s" and "Alexander Pope's Garden at Twickenham."

For many of these students, venturing off the academic beaten path has added an element of fun to what can often be a grueling task.

"I don't think working on my thesis has ever been a pain in the ass, even now, with it due in 10 days," says Lori J. Curcio '89, whose history thesis will examine the "white, middle-class, corporate" environment of Disneyland in the 1950s. As part of her research, Curcio spent a day touring the Anaheim, California theme park.

Many of this year's more unusual theses are those that span several fields. Lea Saslav '89, a joint Fine Arts-English concentrator, has spent nearly a year studying the connections between themes in Pope's poetry and the design of his garden.

"It's not an easy thing to bridge two very different disciplines," she says.

But just because students choose topics that are out of the ordinary, it doesn't mean they don't want their research taken seriously. Will P. Meyerhofer '89, who is writing his thesis on "Three Early American Gay Novels," says he "hopes more people will do theses on gay topics."

And Curcio says her thesis provides an in-depth look at American culture in the 1950s, a culture she says is "kind of like what you saw in `Leave It To Beaver.'"

Still, researching such a topic can force one to roam far from the familiar confines of the Widener stacks. Sharon E. Chen '89 spent three months in Taiwan to prepare for her Music-East Asian Languages thesis on "Trends in Nationalism in Taiwanese Music."

And Meyerhofer says he spent days "in the famed `X-cage' in the basement of Widener, among old copies of Playboy and the works of the Marquis de Sade. I had to wade through all this pornography to find the books I needed."

Even with such unusual theses, many of these students say that months of hard work have somewhat dulled their original enthusiasm.

"You get tired of Taiwanese music after a while," Chen says.

But Curcio says she will still enjoy visiting Disneyland, "although I'm not going there over spring break."

Now, all that remains for most of these seniors is the final crunch of writing--and then the anxiety they will face wondering whether departments will appreciate their efforts at groundbreaking research.

"I kind of have reservations about turning my thesis in to the History Department, because I know the History Department is not very progressive," Curcio says. "I hope it goes over well."

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