Thursday, May 15, 2014

English Major Wins Prize for Best Honors Capstone Project

English major Naomi Eberly's Honors Capstone Project, “Manning the Empire: The Pedagogical Function of Sherlock Holmes and Phileas Fogg in the Late Victorian Period,” was recognized at the Honors Program Cording Ceremony with the Howard O. Rowe Scholarship for best Honors Capstone project.  According to Dr. Chris Swanson, Director of the Honors Program, "The award is given to the student whose Honors Capstone Project is considered to be the best among his or her peers."

Eberly wrote the following reflection on her experience with the project.

As a member of the Honors Program, I knew two things: 1) I had to do a Capstone Project and 2) I wanted to love my topic so much that a year of studying and writing about it would not dampen my enthusiasm for it.  When looking at past projects, examples from past English majors were sorely lacking, so I drew on my previous English classes for inspiration.  The three most influential classes on my project were Literature & Film, the Victorian Period, and Women’s Literature.  My film class introduced me to the show Sherlock, which sparked an obsession with Sherlock Holmes that involved an entire summer of reading Holmes’ stories and watching numerous film and television incarnations of the great detective.  The Victorian Literature class introduced me to Dr. Sharleen Mondal, who taught me how to craft well-written scholarly arguments and that the social issues surrounding texts are important to consider when working with literature.  The syllabus initially included a Holmes novel, which proved to me that it was possible to look at Holmes critically.  Finally, Women’s Literature emphasized taking an intersectional approach to novels by looking at how race, gender, and class work together within a narrative, in order to fully understand the world the novels were published in.

I decided to compare two of my favorite literary characters: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.  I began by wanting to look at why these characters were popular when they were written, as well as continued to intrigue readers (and viewers of films and television shows).

Combing through databases and requesting dozens of books from the library that dealt with my characters was only a start for this paper.  Scholarly articles, post-colonial theory, author biographies, you name it; if it referenced the Victorian period, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne, cultural studies, or detectives, I tried to read it.  I got to work closely with Dr. Mondal, who graciously let me borrow numerous books and pointed me in the direction of other sources.  As I read, I met with her biweekly to talk about common themes throughout the sources and how they connected with Holmes and Fogg.  These meetings were work, but we managed to have fun with the material as well.  After several months, we organized common themes and began to chart out how to approach the writing.  The fifty to 100 page limit was daunting, but by breaking it down into chapters that had several points to argue, it suddenly became a very reasonable range to aim for. 
Entitled “Manning the Empire: The Pedagogical Function of Sherlock Holmes and Phileas Fogg in the Late Victorian Period,” my project argued that Holmes and Fogg taught readers lessons about the British Empire as it faced crises at home as well as in colonial possessions abroad.  I examined how Holmes and Fogg fashioned themselves as unique in England and how that allowed them to “protect” the Empire through detection and travel, respectively.  My second chapter looked at how women in the stories supported the colonial masculinity advocated by Holmes and Fogg.  My final (and favorite) chapter examined Dr. Watson and Passepartout and how their role as the sidekicks also supports colonial masculinity.

The defense was not as terrifying as I had imagined.  By the time I finally presented my project, I understood my topic, my argument, and how it fit within current scholarship.  This doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous, but once I started I knew it had all come together.  Even the questions afterwards were not as daunting as I had imagined them to be.  I’m so glad I had the chance to spend a year with one of my favorite professors and some of my favorite books.  And yes, I still adore my topic!