Introduction to Research and Building Scholarly Resilience
Mellon Mays Summer Research Institute
Wesleyan University
June-July 2015

Instructor: Lilian G. Mengesha

Course Overview and Philosophy
This research seminar is designed to attend to the range of research projects and interests of the Mellon Mays Fellows. The readings, assignments and discussions aim to sharpen students’ analytical and critical thinking skills as well as their public-speaking abilities. Primarily, we will focus on developing nuanced research questions, determining the appropriate methodology for a particular question, evaluating and analyzing scholarly texts, and confidently entering into the intellectual conversation of a given field through persuasive writing and speaking techniques. My role as an instructor is to guide the conversation and contextualize the readings in their particular historical moments and schools of thought. Each week, students will be able to map the intellectual terrain of how to do ethnographic, historical and/or literary research by attending to the readings and course assignments. The term “academic resilience” is at the heart of this course—in the spirit of encouraging unbounded curiosity despite foreseen and unforeseen challenges. In the face of the arduous task of re-search—literally asking and searching again—the participants will articulate and strengthen their respective abilities to surmount academic, structural, political, and personal roadblocks. There are two ways to build this resilience: the first is through learning and understanding the methods of research for literary analysis, historical inquiry and ethnographic study; the second is through building intellectual and academic confidence by mastering persuasive speaking skills. These two modes of building resilience and academic prowess will culminate in the Fellows’ assertively presenting their detailed research projects as persuasive, academics-in the making.

Students will come to class twice a week with thoughtful responses, questions or insights into the assigned readings. Seminar participation is essential for success. Asking questions is essential: if specific academic jargon or intellectual concepts are unclear, I expect students to come forward with questions for clarification, either before, in or after class. We will treat each other as intellectual colleagues in the seminar, challenging ideas and theories, and not individuals or personal experiences. For this reason, it is crucial that students pay close attention to the readings and use the texts as the foundation for discussion. This research seminar should benefit the students’ individual research projects, as the Fellows become experts on their own topics. Students are expected to bring these insights into the classroom.


I expect students to attend every session unless there is a personal or medical emergency.

1 Oral Presentation with a Partner or Group
Pairs of students will present on a set of scholarly readings for a seminar day. We will decide these presenters on the first day of class. You will have a shared total of 15 minutes (5-7 minutes each). You must designate parts of the presentation to one person or the other, and work to complement and bolster your partner’s insights. This is not 5-7 minutes of cobbled-together thoughts! Make a clear point related to the author’s thesis and support your reading of the author’s work with ample evidence from the text. This is a crucial skill in textual analysis. We will work together to strengthen this skill throughout the course.

2 Required Office-Hour Visits
This research seminar is meant to provide you with the skills to successfully conduct your own original research project. You will need to schedule two (or more if you so choose) office-hour appointments with me to discuss your project one-on-one. I will send around a sign-up sheet the first day of class.

3 Written Assignments

            Assignment 1: Locate your question in your field, 3-5 pages
Due Friday June 26th via email

Using your reference librarian for help, as well as academic encyclopedias for which I have listed links at the end of the syllabus, begin to articulate the concepts of interest and your theoretical investments in your project. This field of interest may or may not be related to your academic major. For example, your major might be American Studies, and your project may focus specifically on “Feminist Theory,” which is the keyword under which you will search in the library guides. Briefly paraphrase the summaries from the online encyclopedia and detail what texts you’ve read, and some texts you plan to read. At the end of this summary, articulate where you see your project emerging in this field of thought by explaining your research question(s).

Assignment 2: Primary Source Analysis, 5-6 pages
Due Friday July 10th via email

Examine a primary source text for your research project. This can be a novel, performance, monument, film, poem, object, etc. If you are conducting fieldwork and that will be your primary source material, choose a representative primary source that is related to your fieldwork. Use the CoR as a guide to analyze primary sources (see below).

Assignment 3: Research Prospectus, 8-10 pages
Due Wednesday July 15th email and hard-copy

The Research Prospectus is the culmination of the course while also operating as the template for your next academic year.

  • Introduction to research topic and your specific sub-questions
  • Define terminology
  • Methodology (primary sources & interpretation)
  • Theoretical framework
  • Your contribution or interventions to the framework and your field (which might include the limitations of the field that you want to address or expand)
  • Literature review (this can include books you have and have not read)
  • Logistics (timeline and schedule)
  • Conclusion (significance)
  • Bibliography

Weekly Blog Posts (5 Total)

Every Sunday evening by 10 PM, please respond to the question posted on the blog related to the upcoming week’s readings. The prompt will ask for a thoughtful and specific question related to the readings or for the insights you have gained from a text or a field trip, specifically the Claudia Rankine reading and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Cite from the texts abundantly. Be brave in your writing! Ask bold questions, make well-supported claims, and take risks (with textual citations!). We will then use your responses to guide the seminar discussions.

Course Texts

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric
Mays, Benjamin. Born to Rebel: An Autobiography
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Dover Thrift Editions)
Kimberley TallBear, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science
(CoR) Wayne C Booth, Gregory Colomb and Joseph Williams. The Craft of Research, 3rd Edition

Week 1—How do we know what we know?

Monday June 15th
Chandra Mohanty, “Under the Western Gaze: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial
Discourses” in Feminism Review

Homi K. Bhabha, “The Commitment to Theory” in New Formations, N. 5, Summer 1988

“Academia is Not a Meritocracy” on the blog Aware of Awareness by Crystal Fleming

Tuesday June 16th
Patricia Hill Collins, “Black Epistemology” in Black Feminist Thought

Claudia Rankine Citizen Subject, Part I-V (pgs 5-79)
I highly recommend finishing this book before Saturday’s field trip to see Rankine’s presentation. Please bring at least one question or comment about the text for this class session.

Week 2—Textual Analysis
“Locating Your Question” Due Friday June 26th

Monday June 22nd
Claudia Rankine, Citizen Subject, Part VI-VIII (Pgs 79-160)

Rey Chow, “Keeping Them in their Place: Coercive Mimeticism and Cross-Ethnic
Representation” in The Protestant Ethnic & The Spirit of Late Capitalism. NY: Columbia UP, 2002. Pgs. 95-127

Booth et al., Ch. 3 “From Topics to Questions” and Ch. 4 “From Questions to Problems” in the CoR

Wednesday June 24thGroup 1 Presents
Sianne Ngai, “Animatedness” in Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2008. Pg 89-125.

The PJ’s “How the Supa Stole Christmas” Follow the Link on Blog (23 Minutes)

Booth et al., Ch. 7, “Making Good Arguments: An Overview” pgs. 108-119 in CoR

Week 3—Ethnography and Fieldwork

Monday June 29thGroup 2 Presents
D. Soyini Madison, “Introduction to Critical Ethnography,” in Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics and Performance, 2nd Ed. Sage Publications, 2012

Kimberley TallBear, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.    

Mendi and Keith Obadike’s “American Cypher”, Follow Link on Blog

Wednesday July 1stGroup 3 Presents
Angela Garcia, “The Elegiac Addict” in The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession along the Rio Grande. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

 Week 4—Historiography and Archival Research
Primary Source Analysis Due July 10th

Wednesday, July 8thGroup 4 Presents (3-person group)
Postlewait, Thomas “Historiography and the Theatrical Event: A Primer with Twelve Cruxes” in Theatre Journal, Vol 43., No. 2 157-178

Excerpts from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Novel  and *Act V, Scene II from George Aiken’s play adaptation of UTC

Salamisha Tillet, “The Milder and More Amusing Phases of Slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Black Satire” in Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in Post-Civil Right’s Imagination

Friday, July 10thGroup 5 Presents
Robin Bernstein, “The Scripts of Black Dolls” in Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights. New York and London: NYU Press, 2011.

Sadiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts” in Small Axe, June 2000

Week 5—Building Academic Resilience and Finding your Place

Monday July 13th
Benjamin Mays, Born to Rebel, Excerpts TBD

Sa’ed Atshan, Darnell Moore “Reciprocal Solidarity: Where the Black and Palestinian Queer Struggles Meet” in Biography Volume 37, Number 2, Spring 2014

Bring in Self-Reflection Questionnaire (Assignment will be posted on the blog)

Wednesday July 15th
8-10 Page Prospectus Due

Social Text Periscope Exploration,

Please choose a “Periscope in Retrospect” Topic and one essay from that topic. Bring in a 1-page reflection on what you found most interesting and important about the article you chose. We will discuss these in class.

Week 6 – Presentations and Feedback

Monday July 20th
Group feedback on prospectus

Wednesday July 22nd
Rehearsal for presentations

Thursday Jul 23rd

Important Resources for your assignments:

John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism

The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism is an indispensable resource for scholars and students of literary theory and discourse. Compiled by 275 specialists from around the world, the Guide presents a comprehensive historical survey of the field’s most important figures, schools, and movements and is updated annually. It includes more than 300 alphabetically arranged entries and subentries on critics and theorists, critical schools and movements, and the critical and theoretical innovations of specific countries and historical periods.”

JH Encyclopedia of American Studies

“Published by Johns Hopkins University Press for the American Studies Association (ASA), the Encyclopedia of American Studies covers the history, philosophy, arts, and cultures of the United States in relation to the world, from pre-colonial days to the present, from various perspectives and the global American Studies movement. With over 800 online, searchable articles and accompanying bibliographies, related websites, illustrations, and supplemental material, the Encyclopedia of American Studies is the leading reference work for American Studies. Access to content on this site is open to the public and is subject to copyright protection.”

Keywords Series by NYU Press

“The books in the Keywords series collect essays by authors across the humanities and social sciences, with each essay focusing on a single term and set of debates.  The Keywords website provides access to online essays selected from each of the volumes, as well as preview text for all of the print-only essays.” Explore at


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