RESEARCH PAPER FOR LIT. 400, SENIOR SEMINAR            Click here to return to the Syllabus.

The major project for this seminar is a 12-page research paper on any one of the topics below.

If in the course of your reading, you come upon a character or topic that fits one of the categories below and that I have not included, discuss it with me for your research project. Pick a topic you want to work on. Research on something that truly interests you is exciting, but research on someone else’s passion is closer to drudgery. Also keep in mind that a topic that does not seem at all interesting at first can become so once you know something about the subject. Look over the entire syllabus when thinking about topics because we encounter some of the most interesting female characters in April and May.  We will also discuss the range of topics in class.

Whatever topic you choose, you must include at least one literary text as a primary source. You may find that you will need to examine several primary texts for the evidence you need to make a strong argument. Secondary sources should not include websites unless you are citing a scholarly article appearing online. Diotima at , for example, contains several scholarly articles. Use online resources, especially those available through the college library, to help you get started in your research and to mine databases like JSTOR for useful journal articles. But once you have familiarized yourself with a subject by reading material online, move on to articles and books written by named scholars. Besides online databases, search the bibliographies of books and articles on your subject for further readings. You may use online resources for images that you want to refer to, but search carefully for the best image of the art object available. Museum websites often provide the best images of objects in their collections.

We all realize that John Jay’s library is not strong in books about literature. But all the books you’ll need ARE available somewhere within the vast CUNY library system. You should therefore expect to use Interlibrary Loans (ILL) frequently. This CUNY system is reliable and efficient. Once everyone has chosen a topic, students researching the same topic may want to pool their ILL resources. Good scholars share their work openly in the spirit of free inquiry. Be generous, therefore, with the books you find useful, and share them with your classmates.

Compose your research in the following stages. Expect to hand in each stage for feedback by your fellow seminar members and by me. Members of each study group will present and discuss each research proposal in their group on the day the proposal is due. Expect to present your major conclusions orally to the entire seminar during final exam week.



A. Then and Now: If you choose one of  these topics, you would examine attitudes toward your subject in the ancient world, and then attitudes toward that subject in present-day America. Narrow your topic by choosing a specific aspect of the subject or a specific place and era in the ancient world (for example, Israel in the time of the biblical kings or fifth-century Athens or Sparta).  Consult with me on this narrowing.


B.  Whatever Happened to .........? If you choose one of these topics, you would examine how your chosen character is presented in ancient literature and art, and then you would examine later versions of the same character from the Middle Ages to modern times. What issues does the ancient text raise around this character? Do the later texts raise the same or different issues? How is the female character presented in the ancient text? How is she presented in the later one(s)? Why? For example, Euripides created the ancient version of Phaedra in his play Hippolytos, Jean Racine produces a different version in 17th century France, and then there are several modern "takes" on Phaedra, including the Melina Mercouri film. Each of these discusses the issue of incest and infidelity, but from the point of view of the time in which it was written.


C.  What Does ........... Look Like? For this topic, you would choose one of the female literary characters below frequently portrayed both in ancient and later art and examine several of these pieces of art to determine what aspects of her story are emphasized. One of your purposes would be to explain each portrayal of your chosen character according to the historical period in which it was created. For example, why are there so many Eves (and Adams) painted and drawn in Renaissance Europe? Why the different kinds of Eves?


D.  Comparisons: If you choose one of these topics, you would compare and contrast the portrayals of the literary women in one pair below. You would need to read the literary texts in which they are portrayed as well as several modern scholars’ criticism concerning them and the works in which they appear. Writing a comparison essay also requires special attention to thesis and organization. See my short discussion of the problems at Comparing.


E.  For the Adventurous:  Create a podcast of about 30-40 minutes for college students on the lives of ancient Egyptian, Greek, OR Roman women, using art objects on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This project would involve reading literary texts and histories on your chosen women, going to the museum and choosing the art objects that you think illustrate their lives, and then researching these objects so you can inform your listener about them and what they show about the lives of women in your chosen area.  The museum has a wonderful library to which I could gain you access.  I myself have written three podcasts for a project called Making Objects Speak, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  These are for students in Literature 230, two on Homer (Iliad and Odyssey) and one on the Rome of Augustus and Virgil.  In the process, I have learned a great deal about how to make such a podcast.  I would of course share what I have learned with you.  Have a listen to my podcasts and those of my colleagues on other literary and historical periods at Making Objects Speak.  Or go to the iTunes U store and type "Making Objects Speak" into the search box.  Then click on its icon (a gold lion) and choose the tab for the podcast you want to hear.