Undergraduate Research Colloquium

The College's 2020 Chicago Studies Undergraduate Research Prize Colloquium was held via Zoom live-stream on Tuesday, May 26 from noon-2:30 PM (CDT).  Almost 40 students submitted papers to the competition, representing 15 different academic disciplines.  The Colloquium was sponsored by the College, with collaboration from the Program on the Global Environment and the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation.

Six finalists were invited to present in the final colloquium.  Based on the high quality of their presentations and papers, the College has elected to publish ALL this year's finalists in the 2020 volume of Chicago Studies.  The 2020 Chicago Studies Research Prize was awarded to Alexandra Price (HIST/REES).

To watch the entire Colloquium (2.5 hours), click here.  Individual paper and presentation links can be found below.

Colloquium welcomes from:

  • Christopher Skrable - Director, Chicago Studies & Experiential Learning
  • Daniel Koehler - Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
  • John W. Boyer - Dean of the College

Watch the welcomes

“Chicago’s ‘Harmonious Forgetfulness’:  John Cox Underwood and the Meaning of Reconciliation at Confederate Mound, 1885-1896”

Using the development and commemoration of the Confederate monument at Oak Woods Cemetery as a case study, this paper turns to the man behind the monument, John Cox Underwood, to explore how the ceremonies in Chicago both reflected and engendered manifestations of reconciliation between ex-Confederates and Unionists and emboldened Southerners to leave a material reminder of the Lost Cause in the heart of Union territory. Drawing from contemporary newspaper articles, Underwood’s own records, and modern scholarship, this paper examines Underwood’s failed effort in Philadelphia, analyzes the major themes that emerged in the ceremonies at Chicago, and surveys the most prominent backlash to the monument. Ultimately, Underwood positioned reconciliation as a cultural and economic force that could not only engender stronger business relations between the North and the South, but also advance a dominating vision of “harmonious forgetfulness,” the possibility of a collective silencing of the evils of the causes for which the South fought and the North condoned.

Read Jarrett's Paper  |  Watch Jarrett's Presentation

Jarrett Shapiro

“Taking the Skeletons Out of the Closet:  Contested Authority and Human Remains Displays in the Anthropology Museum”

Museum exhibits, as showcases of what is deemed worth seeing at a period in time, reflect societal biases, political influences, and authority-making processes. The museum’s ability to confer social authority is especially important in the communication of scientific meaning through displays of human remains. Exhibits of human remains in anthropological collections have posed numerous contentious issues in representation, with debates centering around who can claim ownership of the body on public display, and the narrative underlying those bodies. Claimants in this debate include descendants of displayed individuals; scientists who assert their right to generate knowledge on behalf of humanity by studying and displaying these bodies; museums who defend their position as stewards of cultural heritage; landowners or nation-states in which these bodies were found; and lawmakers that preside over these bodies, who hold the authority to broker compromise between the other claimants. Through personal interviews with a variety of claimants, this thesis traces anthropological displays of the human body at the Field Museum, starting from the World’s Fair of 1893 to repatriations and paleoanthropological exhibits of the current day. This examination aims to ground the global debate in one specific site of contestation. Towards that aim, this thesis culturally contextualizes human remains displays, examines tensions between public spectacle and scientific communication, and discusses how authority is expressed through the medium of the body. These themes reflect how human identities, both social and scientific, are shaped by the bodies on display at the anthropology museum.

Read Iris' Paper  |  Watch Iris' Presentation

Iris Jacobs

“Finding Yiddishland in America:  Chicago’s Yiddish-Language Press and the Challenges of Americanization, 1918-1932”
2020 Chicago Studies Research Prize winner

This thesis explores the ways in which Chicago’s Yiddish-language press responded to the challenges posed by assimilation between 1918-1932. Focusing on two specific Chicago dailies, the Orthodox and Zionist Daily Jewish Courier and the secular and socialist Chicago Jewish Forward, this thesis highlights the diversity of opinions represented in the press and the variety of their responses to the question of Americanization. This thesis ultimately argues that despite their differences in orientation, the Courier and the Forward alike played a dual role in the lives of immigrants; by constructing unique Yiddish-speaking spaces for the immigrant community, Chicago’s Yiddish-language press both challenged the demands of Americanization and facilitated the process of Yiddish speakers becoming “at home” in America. In this way, this thesis adds to the long-standing historiography on role the Yiddish press played in Americanization and provides a much-needed close examination of the Yiddish press in Chicago, which is largely absent in studies of the American Yiddish press.

Read Alexandra's Paper  |  Watch Alexandra's Presentation

Alexandra Price

“Renters, Buildings, and Scale:  A Spatial Analysis of Urban Tree Cover in Chicago”

In this study, I found that considering aspects of the built environment, including single family housing, housing age, and transit use, erases the apparent relationship between rentership and tree cover. While a "traditional" model using the socioeconomic indicators commonly used in the literature shows a negative relationship between rentership and tree cover in Chicago, I found that this relationship between rentership and tree cover may, in fact, be the product of other factors in the built environment. This finding indicates that previously-accepted explanations for the relationship between tree cover and rentership — residential mobility, housing maintenance, and the increased political influence of homeowners discussed by Landry & Chakraborty (2009) — have to be reevaluated in the light of this new evidence. While additional research is necessary to firmly establish that the observed relationship between rentership and tree cover is the product of urban form, these results provide a preliminary indicator that previous explanations for the spatial distribution of tree cover may not fully reflect all drivers of that distribution, requiring a reevaluation of the broader literature around the distribution of environmental amenities.

Read Sam's Paper  |  Watch Sam's Presentation

Sam Joyce

“Walking Toward Recognition:  Performance, Embodiment, and the Pursuit of Realness within the Chicago House and Ball Scene”

The house and ball scene is a unique subcultural space in which members of the queer and trans community gather to engage, compete, and celebrate in the dramaturgic creation of identity. The scene is dynamic and multifaceted; a multitude of ball house communities provide differential support and resources for their members, and these members structure their involvement in the scene via Vail’s (1999) processes of group self-incorporation––affinity, affiliation, and signification. Members are driven to demonstrate their authentic engagement in the scene and endeavor to do so by embodying social roles including family positions and occupations. To perform, members cultivate a personal front and acquire social and cultural capital; these work in tandem to generate recognition––the symbolic subcultural capital par excellence of the house and ball scene. Recognition capital is applied towards personal and mutual benefit, and participants are motivated to achieve recognition so as to overcome the pervasive structural violence experienced by the house and ball scene’s members beyond the ballroom doors. When a member of the scene accumulates a sufficient amount of recognition, she is awarded with realness––a specially designated status that designates its possessor’s authenticity and commitment to the scene. Even the application of this capital, however, is judged according to its authentic use following the internal value system of the house and ball scene. Evaluation and understanding of the house and ball scene provides insight into how identity is created and assumed within hierarchized social space.

Read Jared's Paper  |  Watch Jared's Presentation

Jared Kerman

“Shaping the Electoral Connection:  Understanding and Mediating Public Preferences on Mental Health Clinics in Chicago”

This thesis examines the way local elected officials understand and interpret public opinion. I aim to explain how local officials make decisions in an environment where public opinion polling is limited or nonexistent. I draw on contemporary statements and primary documents, secondary accounts of behind-the-scenes deliberations, and interviews with activists, officials, and other political actors, to analyze the public and private debate over mental health clinic closings in Chicago. I find that early structural and institutional advantages allowed Mayor Rahm Emanuel to limit the long-term impact of activists opposed to his agenda. At the beginning of their terms, mayors may enjoy greater latitude than executive officials at other levels of government. This pattern may be explained by the limited capacity of legislative officials and advocacy groups at the local level. This suggests additional institutional capacity for policy analysis and public opinion polling could empower city councils and reduce the latitude of mayors.

Read Andy's Paper  |  Watch Andy's Presentation

Andy Hatem

Panel discussion facilitated by Sabina Shaikh, Faculty Director of Chicago Studies and Director of the Program on the Global Environment.  2020 Research Prize presented by Associate Dean Dan Koehler.

Watch the Panel Discussion