Oberlin Blogs

Winter Term, Research Term

January 10, 2015

Emily Wilkerson ’15

On Wednesday I returned to Oberlin after spending winter break in Niskayuna. This semester was a difficult one for the Oberlin community and for me personally, so I was glad to have a bit of time away from campus. After finishing up my finals, I spent most of my time in New York relaxing. I read Americanah and Bad Feminist, watched season one of Broadchurch, saw a couple of movies, and tried to catch up on sleep. In between naps I got to celebrate my mom's birthday, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and my birthday with family and friends, reminding me that I am a very lucky person indeed.

Now that I've had that time off, I'm ready to start work on my on-campus winter term project. My project is simple, to produce an annotated bibliography of possible sources for my comparative literature capstone. That means I'll be spending quite a lot of time in the library getting well-acquainted with our online search features and databases, combing the stacks, taking lots of notes, and of course, readingreadingreading. Compared to... well, any of the projects mentioned in these posts, a month of capstone research in Mudd probably doesn't sound too exciting or glamorous. Honestly, that doesn't bother me at all. More than anything else, my winter term plans arose from a desire to be practical and to plan ahead.

Although the requirements for capstones vary from department to department, a capstone always requires a lot of work. In fact, Oberlin students often go part-time while they're working on their capstones because it gives them more time to get that work done. I have to produce a capstone for my comparative literature major, but unfortunately I can't go part-time because I have to finish the requirements for my German major. That realization made me pretty worried about how I'd budget my time during spring semester, but luckily, winter term came to the rescue. As soon as I found out I could spend the month doing research for my capstone for credit, I was committed to the idea.

So what am I writing my capstone on? Well, during the spring of my sophomore year, I took a class called Literature and Exile in Spain and Latin America. That same semester, I translated about a dozen poems by the German writer Hilde Domin, who began writing while in exile in the Dominican Republic. This coincidence got me interested in the idea of exile literature, in particular exile literature written by German-speakers who left Europe due to the rise of Nazism and found refuge in the Americas. Although my literature classes in the time since have spent hardly any time on exile literature, much less this specific aspect of it, I've remained interested in it and decided to make it the topic of my capstone.

Exile literature is essentially the perfect subject for comparative inquiry. It deals with the coming-together of (at least) two cultures and often (at least) two languages. Furthermore, it leads the reader to question their ideas about identity, home, nationality, and the place of the individual in history. The particular variety of exile literature I've decided to focus on allows me to explore connections between Spanish- and German-speaking cultures, something I've wanted to do ever since I started learning German but have never had the chance to. More than ever before in my Oberlin career, I'll be setting my own reading list, deciding what I want to learn, and finding my own way. I find that incredibly exciting. And who knows? With enough lipstick, maybe I can even make it glamorous.

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