Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Varner Hall, Room 512A
371 Varner Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2154

Student Research

Student Research

Erin Johnson - Published MALS Student
Erin Johnson’s article "East German Nostalgia After the Fall of the Berlin Wall," has recently been published. She wrote it as a paper for her MALS class, United Germany and its Discontents: Issues of Memory, Identity, and Community, taught by Professor Barbara Mabee in winter 2008. 

Erin Johnson is about half way through the MALS program and has found it to be a good fit for her interests. She specifically enjoys classes that mix disciplines to offer a totally different perspective on a topic. She found the German class to be very interesting and since the class size was small it accommodated a lot of discussion and interaction with the professor.

The course covered an historical period that Erin was not familiar with. As she explained, “In school we learn a lot of history about the time after World War I and World War II, but after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, there wasn’t much said. Everything in this class was new to me and I really learned a lot.” At that time in history there was a lot of news coverage about the actual tearing down of the wall, but very little was said about the reunification of the East and West German territories. The world assumed that the German people were happy with unification and would just carry on their lives as usual. There wasn’t much thought about the adjustment that the East German’s would have to make. In reality, the East Germans became immigrants in their own land; it was as if their country had moved away. The East German government changed, the economy changed, the workplace changed, the social life changed for the people, and no one outside seemed to notice or care.

Erin entered her paper in the Confluence writing contest last spring. In August she received an e-mail from the editor of the Confluence journal saying that he would like to publish her paper in the October issue. 

AGLSP 2009 Writing Award Nominee Laura Zimmerman
Oakland University's MALS program nominated Laura Zimmerman's paper, "Telling Stories Without Words: The Role of Art in Charles H. Red Corn's A Pipe for February," for the first national "Confluence Award for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Writing." This award was given for the first time in 2009 by the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs (AGLSP).

Laura's paper was written for Professor Gladys Cardiff's course, Contemporary Native American Writing, in the winter semester of 2008. The abstract she wrote for her paper concisely delineates her interdisciplinary approach to understanding the place of Native American artists in America. She writes, "Interweaving the fictional Osage Indian artist John Grayeagle in Charles Red Corn's A Pipe for February with examples from Kiowa and Pueblo Indian artists as well as non-Native ones, "Telling Stories Without Words" explores the complex relationship between art, literature, anthropology, sociology, and history. As we are drawn into Grayeagle's quest to capture the essence of his people in his paintings, we are led to examine the dichotomy of classifying art by Native artists as something other than American or Western. Do curators and historians segregate art created by Indians as an exotic subclass of lesser importance and impact? Why is art viewed this way while works by respected authors such as Gerald Vizenor, M. Scott Momaday, and Leslie Silko - who happen to be American Indians - are assimilated into mainstream literary criticism?" She concludes her abstract by asserting that " 'Separate by equal' exhibitions of American Indian art perpetuate the myth that the art and artists are exotic and require special 'handling' ."

Grad student earns Provost Research Award
MALS Graduate student Angela Kayi, CAS ’00, earned a Provost’s Graduate Student Research Award this past year for her master’s thesis project, “Creativity, Appearance and Sites of Authority.” This is the first time a student in the master of arts in Liberal Studies program had won this academic honor. The program began in fall 2003.

“Research experience in the areas of the arts and humanities is extremely important,” said Tamara Machmut-Jhashi, assistant provost and associate professor, Kayi’s mentor and faculty sponsor. “Angela's work fits in exactly with the goals of supporting research that leads to academic discovery.”

Kayi’s thesis offers an evaluation of artwork as text, exploring analytical theories relating to physical appearance and gender norms. Kayi, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in art and art history from OU, said the subject appealed to her because “there’s been a lot of writing in sociology and contemporary women’s studies (on these types of issues), but it always seems to focus on literature. Plenty of visual artists are working on these issues, too.”

For Kayi, her research experience was enhanced by the opportunity to work with former professors such as Machmut-Jhashi, who helped persuade Kayi to pursue her master’s degree. “The whole idea of coming back here and working with these people was very appealing,” Kayi says. “It’s a great opportunity to study with people who love what they’re teaching.”

Machmut-Jhashi agrees that the relationships between faculty and student researchers are vital. “One area of distinction at OU is the support of faculty-sponsored student research,” she said. “It is truly one of the best aspects of an OU education. To encourage interaction between student researcher and faculty member is to support the heart and soul of academic life.”

Tournees French Film Festival at OU
Coordinated by Alyssa Hunton (2006 MALS graduate)

I knew when I started the MALS program in 2004 that I wanted to have a foreign film series as my LBS 600 project. I remember not wanting to tell other MALS students about my project for fear they would “steal” my idea and do it first before I had a chance. Silly me! The World Focus Foreign Film Series which was held this past fall at Oakland University was a lot of work, and even more anxiety, but I’m so glad I did it. I had a chance to share with others what I consider to be true works of cinematic art from great foreign filmmakers. The film series was also offered as an “enrichment” class, or elective, at the International Academy (IA) high school in Bloomfield Hills. The IA offers German, Spanish and French languages to its students, which fit in perfectly with three of the films offered in my series. 

And had it not been for my recent experience with hosting and organizing World Focus, I would not have even considered applying for a grant from the French American Cultural Exchange which twice a year offers universities and colleges $1,800 grants as part of its Tournées festival program to show French films on their campuses. But I did apply and the “Tournées French Film Festival at Oakland University” will begin January 14, 2007. Five current French films will be shown on Sundays at 2 p.m. at 124 Wilson Hall.

MALS Student Presents Research in the UK
MALS graduate student Dan Brown presented his research on "The Scapegoats of London" at the University of Gloucester, England in September, 2005. Dan traveled to an international conference hosted by the British Association of Victorian Studies in Chelstenham, England. His research focused on the figure of the scapegoat, drawing on the theories of Rene Girard and examining such diverse scapegoat figures as the housebreaker and murdered, Bill Sikes in Dickens' Oliver Twist, Holman Hunt's 1854 painting of the Biblical scapegoat, Punch and Judy street performances, and Joseph Mererick, the "Elephant Man' of late 19th century London. Dan appreciates the support of the University Research Committee, which awarded him a student research travel grant for his airfare. This interdisciplinary conference paper grew out of work completed for LBS 513, an independent study on Rene Girard with Professor Charles Mabee, and LBS 500, the City in History, Literature, Art and Film, with Professor Natalie Cole, both taught in Winter 2005. 

MALS Student Presents Research Paper
At the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Regional Academic Conference.

In March 2004, Anelia Petrova, a graduate student in Oakland University's MALS program, presented a research paper, "The World of a Christmas Carols Through the Prism of Journalism," at the Michigan Academy conference at Grand Valley State University. Petrova's paper analyzes the relationship between Dicken's techniques and social concerns in his journalism of the late 1830s and early 1840s and those he employs in "A Christmas Carol" (1843), particularly his concerns about child labor and education, allegorized in the figures of "Ignorance" and "Want" in the Christmas book. The paper was developed in Liberal Studies 511: Dickens and the Art of Performance, in the fall semester of 2003, mentored by Natalie Cole, MALS Director and associate professor of English. Petrova, a native of Bulgaria, is a journalist.
Regina Weiss and Dan Kosuth at the Michigan Academy 2014

Regina Weiss and Dan Kosuth at the Michigan Academy 2014

In late February, 2014, two MALS students spent the Friday of Winter Break at the annual meeting of the Michigan Academy. The prestigious Academy brings together scholars of virtually all academic disciplines from colleges and universities across the state, providing an ideal opportunity for interdisciplinary engagement. Regina Weiss and Dan Kosuth each read research papers in their sessions, fielded questions, and held conversations with some of the best minds of Michigan academe.

Regina began her research in the LBS 500 colloquium on Romanticism in the Fall Semester of 2013. Her main interest centers on the sociology of literature, specifically the cultural history of female writing during the late Eighteenth- and early Nineteenth Century. As the focus of her investigations, she has discovered that letters provide a great deal of content that lends itself well to an interdisciplinary treatment. Thus, she studies the epistolary exchange among women of the period as a medium for women to voice both a public and a private opinion, and therefore the letter becomes a vehicle for female empowerment. The letters Regina studies emerge from a time of great social and political change, and give a unique insight to the forces that heralded the birth of the modern Western European and North American

Dan’s take on his topic arose from a paper he wrote for Professor Eric LaRock’s LBS 502 on “Consciousness, Persons and Free Will,” where he constructed a notion of “agency,” or the ability to choose a course of action that is efficacious and consequential. He developed his idea further in Charles Mabee’s LBS 512 “History and Hope” Seminar, and found an ideal vehicle to test out his concept in Chris Clason’s LBS 500 Seminar on “Romanticism,” where he authored a paper on “The Development of Human Agency in Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.” Consequently Dan’s ideas on this subject have grown and evolved over three courses, and with each iteration they are becoming more tested and better honed.

Both Dan and Regina value their experience at the Michigan Academy, particularly the discussion of ideas and the feeling of community with other scholars. It is hard work to edit and to rewrite one’s paper for oral presentation, but both agree that it is well worth the effort. Furthermore, it gives a scholar the opportunity to reveal her/his thoughts, ideas and conclusions to others, which is the most important function of scholarship. Congratulations, Regina and Dan, on your excellent work!