Departmental Honors and Awards

The Elsie M. Carper Prize for Outstanding Senior Research Essay

The Carper Prize is awarded annually to a graduating American Studies major who has exhibited extraordinary research and writing abilities. The prize is taken from the Carper Endowment, which was amassed through a series of gifts from alumna Elsie M. Carper (BA '41) and other individuals.

2017-2018 Winner

Samantha Gonzalez's thesis, "The Sum Of The Whole: The Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project," is first and foremost interested in the story of the nation's first and only federally funded theatre program under the Works Progress Administration and, specifically, the units within it dedicated to employing African American theatre practitioners across the country. However, after combing through existing scholarship and archives both digital and physical I found that although several units existed nationwide in rural and urban settings alike, the majority of information available on the "negro units", as they were referred to, was concentrated on the flagship Harlem unit. Recognizing the value of the rest of the units as equal to that of Harlem in New York City, my thesis worked to decentralize scholarship on the units to better understand the political and social nuances of each region.

2016-2017 Winner

Ciaran Lithgow's thesis, "Constructing the Conservative Vision: Housing Policy in the Cold War," examines conservative ethics during the Cold War Era through the lens of housing policy. By deconstructing popular myths, the paper provides a nuanced vision of conservatism’s evolution, illustrating the ideology’s contradictory principles and exposing the racially driven foundations of conservative housing policy preferences.

2015-2016 Winner

Ariel Amaru's thesis, “From Legal to Social Authority: Black Women's Reporting of Domestic Violence,” examines how social media becomes an unofficial site for black women to "report" domestic violence and find emotional support outside of legal authority. Amaru reports: "This past year I worked extensively on my research project to investigate the uniquely marginalized position that Black survivors of domestic violence often find themselves. Though I found the subject matter emotionally difficult, it was rewarding to focus on a population that is too commonly understudied. My research wouldn’t have been possible without the American Studies Department and I feel extremely proud to call myself an American Studies major."

2014-2015 Winner

Altaire DeLeon's thesis, “On Negotiating Latino Vernacular Housescapes: The Spatial Performance of Mexican/Mexican-American Citizenship in East Los Angeles,” is a study of Latino vernacular architecture in East Los Angeles. Drawing from the work of James Rojas and Gloria Anzaldúa, Altaire’s thesis examines what she describes as “Latino Urbanism,” a hybrid architecture that mixes United States and Mexican conceptions of public and private space. East Los Angeles homes, she argues, are an architectural “borderlands.” Latino Urbanism, she writes, is “a spatial performance of braided, trans-border citizenship utilizing a colloquial lexicon of architectural pochismos appropriate for a third space of belonging.”

2013-2014 Winners

Rachel Holbreich’s “First Do Harm” examines a little-known and troubling episode in American medical history: the plutonium injection experiments of the 1940s. In the years after World War II, as the United States began to build the first nuclear weapons, scientists became concerned about the safety of workers handling radioactive materials. In a shocking series of medical experiments on humans, doctors at Strong Memorial in Rochester, N.Y., injected 11 patients with radioactive plutonium to see the long-term effects of exposure. Through examining the letters and documents written by doctors about the patients, Holbreich uncovers a shockingly "lax attitude" of American scientists in the 1940s about conducting experiments on humans. Holbreich ends with a call for an American Studies approach to medicine in which doctors use the humanities to continually question the profession and interrogate discourses of medical practice. The doctors of the 1940s were so confident that they were right about practices we find abhorrent today. This begs the question: What accepted discourses and practices of today will future generations find unjust?
Taryn Ferguson’s “New Opportunities or New Slaves?: Representing America’s Penal Labor System” is a fascinating study of prison labor in the United States. With approximately 2,194,404 inmates in American prisons (up from 200,000 in the 1970s), the United States has surpassed China to have the largest penal labor system in the world. Yet despite the economy becoming increasingly dependent on prison workers, prison labor remains largely invisible in the public imagination. Examining a wide array of primary sources, Ferguson examines the multiple ways prison labor has been represented by proponents, critics and prisoners themselves.

Departmental Honors

Special honors in American Studies are awarded to graduating majors who receive a grade of A on the senior research essay written for AMST 4500W, maintain a GPA of 3.7 or higher in the major, and meet the special honors requirements of the University.

Graduates who received departmental honors in May 2016 are Ariel Amaru, John Cannavo, Constantine Goudelias, Polly Gregory, & William Near