2010 Dissertation Sampler

Art History

Sarahh Scher
Clothing Power: Hierarchies of Gender Difference and Ambiguity in Moche Ceramic Representations of Human Dress, CE 1-850
Adviser: Rebecca Stone
, Associate Professor

Sarahh ScherSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Clothing communicates a great deal about who we are, and representations of people and their clothing often present idealized identities to the world. I analyzed the representation of people and their clothing in the art of the Moche of Pre-Columbian Peru, and found they had created idealized categories of men, women and a third category of ambiguous gender. The relationship among the genders was reflected in hierarchies of ritual power.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
This research shows that in all situations it is useful to question our culture's categories of social identity, and to look for the ways in which ancient cultures depicted themselves and their ideals.

What I'm doing after graduation


Ronald E. Hunter Jr.
Analytical Methods for Pesticides in Food and Residential Dust
Adviser: P. Barry Ryan, Professor

Ron HunterSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Due to widespread use of pesticides, Americans are exposed to insecticides by ingestion of commonly consumed foods and house dust daily. Consequently, we developed analytical methods for measuring amounts of pesticides in food and house dust and applied the methods to food and dust samples collected from an adult population of 12 in the Children's Environmental Exposure to Pesticides Pilot Study to evaluate persons' total pesticide exposure.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
Because of the pilot study with adults, our lab coordinated the Children's Environmental Exposure to Pesticide Study and was able to determine pesticide exposure in 30 preschoolers in Atlanta, Georgia. This study gives a small look into children’s daily exposure to pesticides through food and house dust ingestion. The study may also serve as the basis for similar, future studies. Ultimately, this work is important because there is (1) a shortage of methods for assessing pesticides in food and house dust, (2) an increased consumption of imported food in the U.S., and (3) a harmful effect of insecticides at all stages of life.

What I'm doing after graduation
Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Comparative Literature

Dan Leshem
The Language of Suffering: Writing and Reading the Holocaust

Adviser: Jill Robbins, Professor

Dan LeshamSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
My work contributes to Holocaust scholarship. I study Holocaust testimonies written in French, German, Hebrew and Italian. Using ethics, psychology (specifically the psychology of trauma), philosophy and Jewish ethical philosophy, I argue for a new way of approaching Holocaust testimonies. Rather than reading these texts as strictly historical statements of facts or memoirs, I maintain these testimonies constitute their own genre, almost speaking in their own language. I argue against using testimonies as proofs of any ideological or theoretical discussion; instead, our responsibility to the testifier obliges us to listen to the story they intend to tell, to bear witness to what they are trying to transmit to us.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
In recent years, the Holocaust has become popular ground for scholars in a variety of disciplines. I argue that competing claims about the Holocaust's contemporary relevance -- using the victims' experience to understand contemporary lives, situations and societies -- obscure the victims' suffering. In many ways, this cacophony of voices, with the ever-evolving complexity of Holocaust scholarship and memory, has allowed contemporary readers, viewers and hearers of Holocaust testimony an alibi that protects them from responsibility for the voices of the victims. My dissertation articulates a novel ethical hermeneutics for interpreting the silences, gaps and other intricacies of testimonial texts, ideally allowing them to speak about the inconceivable.

What I'm doing after graduation
Program Manager, Holocaust Denial on Trial website, Emory University


Jennifer Hughes
Telling Laughter: Hilarity and Democracy in the Nineteenth-Century United States
Adviser: Barbara Ladd, Professor

Jennifer HughesSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
My research took me into the world of nineteenth-century ideas about the meanings of laughter. Who a person was as a member of American culture -- according to one's gender, race or age -- affected how other people understood that person's laughter. Knowing this helps us understand why a widow's laughter would be considered insane in a piece of literature, or why African American laughter in stories was sometimes meant to suggest animality. My dissertation suggests that the meaning of laughter itself is not merely to signify the presence of humor, but also to signify the social status of the laughing individual.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
My research illuminates 19th-century texts ranging from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (with the hysterical laughter of little Pip) to Henry David Thoreau's Walden and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance. These works of literature, as well as others, are better understood if we understand the significance of the authors' uses of hilarity.

What I'm doing after graduation
Assistant Professor of English, Young Harris College

French & Italian

Michael Kazanjian
Portraiture as Frame and Portal in La Bruyère
Adviser: Dalia Judovitz, Professor

Michael KazanjianSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
I analyzed the main work of 17th-century French writer Jean de la Bruyère. Published during the height of Louis XIV's reign, the book both reflects and critiques the dominant culture. I discovered that his written portraits served as portals opening up larger questions about his society. Through his method of describing specific characters, a method which melds practices from other genres and painting, La Bruyère attempted to better understand and to transform his society's relation to time, its conception of language as a system of signs and its relation to its subjects as human individuals.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
I believe my work contributes our understanding of both an important historical moment and how literature attempts not merely to reflect but to participate in cultural transformation. Such reflection on past human experience and expression deepens our present engagement with our own culture and society.

What I'm doing after graduation

Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts

Susan T. Chen
Living with "Tibet": The Local, the Translocal, and the Cultural Geography of Dharamsala
Adviser: Anna Grimshaw, Associate Professor

Susan ChenSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Different from the popular representation that Tibetan exiles are either victims of the lasting Sino-Tibetan standoff or patriots driven by stubborn nationalist sentiment, my dissertation first demonstrates the intricacy and normalcy of everyday life of Tibetan neighborhoods in Dharamsala, north India. Second, while Dharamsala is typically referred to as the home-in-exile of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama and the capital of the Tibetan polity-in-exile, I find these reified descriptions of the place to be highly inadequate. Explicated in my research is instead the ways in which the life worlds of Tibetans in Dharamsala and beyond have been generating the locale's new and evolving Tibetan meanings.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
The Tibetan sentiments, emotions and experiences documented in my dissertation serve as a reminder that the Sino-Tibetan tension is no longer merely an issue of real politics, and that more sensitive and eventually more effective attempts to end the tension should take into account the ways in which ordinary Tibetans envision their future. Second, Tibetans I have studied are not alone in enduring the lasting impact of forced migration. In contrast to the assumption that involuntarily displaced populations are deprived of forms of normalcy in life, my research shows the processes through which forced migration can over time evolve into the sociocultural substance of impacted people.

What I'm doing after graduation
Postdoctoral fellowship, National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan

Mathematics & Computer Science

Pawel Jurczyk
Towards Scalable and Privacy-Preserving Integration of Distributed Heterogeneous Data
Adviser: Li Xiong, Assistant Professor

Pawel JurczykSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
With the trend of cloud computing, data and computing are moved away from desktop and are instead provided as a service from the cloud. We designed and developed a platform that enables access to a wealth of data across distributed and heterogeneous data sources in the cloud. The system also allows access to data that is private and needs anonymization. Users do not need to be aware of the fact that data is distributed or needs anonymization. They simply write a query for data they need, and the system performs data integration from distributed sources, as well as data anonymization if private data is requested.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
The research had a significant impact in the fields of distributed systems and data privacy. The work has contributed to the topic of distributed query processing in cloud computing systems. We presented a novel approach to query optimization where the decision about optimal execution strategy for each sub-query is made just before this sub-query is executed. The research on data anonymization for distributed data has led to novel protocols for anonymization of horizontally partitioned databases and accessing distributed private data. We were among the first to present protocols that protect not only data itself but also anonymity of data providers.

What I'm doing after graduation

Molecular & Systems Pharmacology (GDBBS)

George A. Rogge
Regulation of cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript expression by cyclic AMP response element binding protein
Adviser: Michael Kuhar, Professor

George Rogge

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Drug addiction is a worldwide epidemic. A major focus of drug abuse research is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms responsible for addiction and to develop anti-addiction medications. My research identified a regulatory mechanism for increases in a neuropeptide that is a component of the "anti-reward pathway," which contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety during drug withdrawal and thus drug craving, which can lead to a return to drug use. By understanding the molecular mechanisms of drug craving, pharmacotherapies may be developed to prevent a negative emotional state during drug withdrawal that can lead to relapse after drug abstinence.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
The philosophy of addiction has changed drastically from early misconceptions that addicts are "simply unable to control themselves." It has become clear that the long-term intake of abusive substances fundamentally alters the neurochemistry of an addict such that he/she becomes dependent on the drug for either physical or mental well-being. Thus a complete understanding of the persistent neurological changes underlying drug dependency may reveal novel and specific pharmacotherapy targets for addiction treatments. My work on determining how a neuropeptide involved in addiction is potentially regulated by cocaine contributes to identifying potential anti-addiction drug targets.

What I'm doing after graduation
Post-doctoral fellowship, University of California, Irvine

Neuroscience (GDBBS)

Rebecca Rosen
Characterization of naturally occurring, pathogenic and benign Aβ multimers; Why don't monkeys get Alzheimer's disease?
Adviser: Lary C. Walker, Professor

Rebecca RosenSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Alzheimer's disease is caused by the abnormal accumulation of certain proteins in the brain. Of these proteins, Aβ ('A-Beta') is particularly toxic. Surprisingly, Aβ also accumulates in the brains of aged nonhuman primates, yet Alzheimer's has never been reported in any species of monkey or great ape. To understand why humans are uniquely susceptible to Alzheimer's disease, I studied the similarities and differences between aggregated Aβ in humans and old nonhuman primates. I discovered that the toxic Aβ aggregates in the brains of Alzheimer patients have unique properties that are absent in monkeys, which may help to explain why only humans get Alzheimer's disease.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
The identification of structural differences between toxic and benign Aβ aggregates in human and nonhuman primate brains may help to explain the uniquely human susceptibility to neurodegenerative diseases. Like Alzheimer’s, many other neurodegenerative diseases are initiated by the abnormal aggregation of specific proteins in the brain. My studies have found that these protein aggregates are not all the same. Importantly, molecular probes can differentially bind to structurally distinct aggregates of the same protein. This information suggests enticing new targets for treating or preventing Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases caused by protein aggregates in aging humans.

What I'm doing after graduation
AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, Office of Science Policy Analysis, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Washington, D.C.

Political Science

Amanda Murdie
Signals without Borders: The Conditional Impact of INGOs
Adviser: Dan Reiter, Professor

Amanda MurdieSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
I study non-governmental organizations that have an international focus and reach. My dissertation looks at the motivations these organizations have and how effective they are within different countries.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
First, my research shows on a large scale that these organizations actually impact human rights and development outcomes within a country. This is pretty important for the organizations themselves. Second, my research offers implications for how these organizations can traffic or police themselves.

What I'm doing after graduation
Assistant Professor, Kansas State University

Psychology (Clinical)

Pavel Blagov
Personality Constellations in Incarcerated Men Who Scored High on Psychopathy

Adviser: Drew Westen, Professor

Pavel BlagovSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
The psychopathic personality is a constellation of features linked to having a chaotic and violent life, ending repeatedly in prison, failing to learn from one's mistakes and causing suffering to others. Laboratory studies of the emotional life and brain functions of "psychopaths" have been inconsistent. We conducted a study of 91 incarcerated men who met conventional diagnostic criteria for psychopathy. Using comprehensive personality assessments and a rigorous classification techniques, we found evidence for two personality subtypes within this group: one that was more narcissistic, fearless, dominant, planful and predatory, and one that was more depressive, anxious, angry and explosive. These results suggest two different pathways to becoming "a psychopath."

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
Individuals who score high on psychopathy are notoriously difficult to treat clinically and to rehabilitate in correctional settings. We think that knowledge of the two subtypes we identified may lead to developing differential prevention, treatment and correctional rehabilitation strategies. We also hope our research will contribute to psychiatric diagnostic practices that are more closely rooted in the empirical reality. Finally, "psychopaths" can be difficult to spot, because they are excellent liars and manipulators, and we hope our findings will contribute to improved prevention programs for potential victims.

What I'm doing after graduation
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Whitman College


Benjamin Stewart
The Role of Baptismal Water at the Vigil of Easter in the Liturgical Generation of Eco-theology
Adviser: Don Saliers, Professor Emeritus

Benjamin StewartSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Given the earthy and cosmic imagery in Christian baptism at Easter vigils, some theologians claim it can help participants connect their renewal in baptism to ecological renewal. I researched how water functions in cognition (using the field of cognitive science), and spent months observing a congregation preparing six people for baptism at Easter. I was able to confirm and qualify some of what the theologians claimed, and able to make suggestions about ritual practice for congregations hoping to nurture ecological orientation. Emory was a great place to do such interdisciplinary work, involving ecology, cognitive science, theology and ethnography.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
A number of other scholars have begun using my cognitive scientific research in their teaching and writing about the role of water in ritual. My work is contributing to the wider discussion of the how the whole body -- and the earth -- shape the way we construct ideas, theological and otherwise. A number of local congregations have used my research in their own practices. Some have called more attention to the element of water, made their baptismal fonts look more like living oases, and have, at baptisms, given thanks in prayer to God for local bodies of water, by name.

What I'm doing after graduation
Assistant Professor of Worship and Dean of the Chapel, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago


Charity Crabtree
Redefining Medicine: Boundary Work and Legitimating Claims Among Physicians and Acupuncturists
Adviser: John Boli, Professor

Charity CrabtreeSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
Licensed acupuncturists, physicians, and medical acupuncturists make efforts to delineate between their own chosen practices and the practices of others. Interactions between the groups are frequently limited. Practitioners often make distinctive claims about their own practice and healing paradigm, usually justifying it as equal to or better than other healing paradigms. As groups have begun to work together in an integrative capacity, however, each type of practitioner must move towards acceptance and understanding in the interest of patient care, and there is strong evidence this is occurring.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
Physicians and acupuncturists frequently seem to speak different languages. Certainly their understandings of the working of the human body come from different traditions. However, there is real recognition of the benefits of cooperation, and especially integration of the two paradigms, and my research highlights ways in which practitioners can work together in the best interest of the patients' health.

What I'm doing after graduation
Emeritus College, Emory University


María del Mar Rosa-Rodríguez
Religiosities in transit: The Aljamiado simulacra in 16th Century Spain

Adviser: María Carrión, Professor

Maria Rosa-RodriguezSimplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research
I focus on the literature of Muslims, Jews and Christians in 16th Century Spain. It is a very hybrid literature called Aljamiado written in one language with the alphabet of another language. These multilingual texts also portray the hybridity of religion in Spain's 16th Century melting pot, where the powerful are declared "righteous," and the "heretical" religious minorities resist in hybridity and complicity.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact
Mostly by bringing it into the classroom. Just talking about how Past Empires (1492-Spain) did or did not resolve their issues towards "the other" helps us understand the discourse of our present "empires" toward our "others." For me, the bottom line of my research is about religious tolerance and political understanding.

What I'm doing after graduation
Assistant Professor of Spanish, Purdue University-Calumet