Students are Scholars

One of the greatest and most terrifying moments of my undergraduate career took place in a slightly dusty room in Tribble Hall.  Dr. Escott, Reynolds Professor of History and my honors seminar professor, asked for my opinion as a historian on the book we were reading.  My response, instant and instinctive, was a rapid rejection of my abilities and authority as a “historian.”  I was only a student.  Wasn’t I?

Three months later I left Wake Forest for the summer empowered to speak with the voice of a historian.  Although I had not completed a dissertation or earned my PhD, I had, through my classes and interactions with professors and other students, learned to examine an issue and articulate my position using the perspective of my discipline and my own expertise.  I was confident in claiming, with a clear view of how much I had still to learn, the title of scholar.

Every year other Wake Forest students experience, in a myriad of forms, this same empowerment.  They are encouraged by their teachers and peers to examine the world from a humanistic perspective and to rigorously support their ideas as budding scholars.  A select number of those students are challenged even further, asked to not only claim their knowledge internally but to export their expertise to edify the wider scholarly community.  The following profiles highlight Wake Forest students from across humanistic disciplines who have already or will soon present their work at a regional or national conference.

– Beth Ann Williams, ’11

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Michele Ferris, Senior, Religion

“Nineteenth-Century Chinese “Pollution” of Mormonism’s American Zion”

NC Religious Studies Association’s Annual Convention

The Paper

I examined Mormon attitudes towards Chinese immigrants in Salt Lake City, specifically the concept of the Chinese as a polluting presence.  In the late 19th century, prejudice towards the Chinese was running high throughout the United States, and the Mormons were no exception.  They viewed the Chinese as pagan, unable to convert to Mormonism, and actively tried to drive them out of Salt Lake City to remove their pestilence.  This tension-filled period is a really interesting example of the adjustments that people have to make in the face of movement and change.  When people encounter different groups it makes them think about what they believe, and you can learn a lot about who they are by how they react to that pressure.


As I prepared for the conference the first thing I had to do was shorten the paper.  I also practiced presenting it verbally.  The piece was more of a narrative than a point-by-point presentation, so I wanted it to be natural and interesting to listen to.


I’m hoping to get my PhD, so this was in some ways a test run to see if I liked the reality of presenting to a group and fielding questions.  I did, so I’m still on track.

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Stephen Langford, Junior, Spanish (English major)

“Communicating with the Audience: the Development of Melodrama from Nosotros los pobres to Amores perros

Carolina Conference on Romance Literatures — panel on Mexican cinema with Wake Forest professors Dr. Price and Dr. Hartcastle

The Paper

My paper was the final study for a Mexican cinema class I took last fall.  The two films I considered were both melodramas.  The first, Nosotros los pobres, was filmed in 1948 during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.  The second, Amores perros, was released in 2000.  Both films use a distinct mode of cinematic melodrama to relate to the audience.  I compared them to examine how that particular melodramatic technique has developed through time.


I’m really looking forward to watching a scholarly conference in action.  I’ve been to a few conferences at Wake, but never as a participant.  It’s going to be a totally new experience for me.  I’m also thrilled to be able to present something I’ve produced to a group of scholars.  I think it will be extremely fulfilling.

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Eleanor Davidson, Senior, History

“Winston had its Mob: Textiles, Tobacco, and Race in the Industrial South”

Phi Alpha Theta Biannual Conference

The Paper
My paper examines the Winston-Salem race riot of 1918.  This was a period of increasing racial tension in New South cities, primarily between poor white textile mill workers and poor black tobacco workers.  Winston-Salem was a great case study because of the strong presence of Reynolds Tobacco.  The town’s tension culminated in a riot sparked by the alleged rape of a white woman by a black man (who was probably innocent).


Racism waxes and wanes. It’s a malleable phenomenon and it can be appropriated for different purposes, political, economic, etc., whenever convenient.  Poor whites and poor blacks had similar situations and struggles, yet they were divided by race.  White elites had reinvented racism as “tradition” of the South when in fact it was not. It was an unfortunate change, one that still causes problems today.


I’m really looking forward to the conference.  There are such a wide range of topics being presented; it will be great exposure to other people’s ideas.  I’m also excited to present my work.  It’s one thing to write my thoughts down.  It’s another entirely to explain them to someone who is standing in front of me and to field questions I may not have anticipated.

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Laughlin Kane, Senior, Spanish (Math major)

Por vs. Para in Authentic Texts”

FLANC (Foreign Language Association of NC) Conference

The Paper

I compared Spanish usage of por and para with the English use of for.  To do this I conducted a textual analysis, first of the well-known Cien años de soledad (100 years of solitude) and later of an additional four sources.  Extrapolating examples of both forms, I classified each according to predetermined categories. My ultimate finding was para in 98% of its uses, falls under one category which I classified as “goals, purpose or final objective.”  It is very concrete.  Por, on the other hand, is much more evenly distributed in its usage.


When most textbooks teach por and para they present two lists that students memorize in order to know when to use which form.  This can be misleading and is much more confusing than it needs to be.  If we can give the concept a more general framework, for example, using para when talking about a purpose or goal and por in most other situations, then students can more easily decide which word to use.


I’m very interactive so I enjoyed presenting at the conference.  I found that talking to other people allowed me to be more emphatic and personal than writing.  I was also very well received by the attending crowd which asked thoughtful questions and treated me like a full scholar.  It was a great experience.