Doki Doki Literature Club and whale acoustics: what thesis students are working on this fall

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Fall is here and besides a particularly tumultuous and unprecedented election week, some things have stayed the same. At New College, finals are still approaching and for the fourth years, thesis projects are underway. Although the hardest part for many will not come until finalizations and presentations in April, starting any of these projects is a daunting task in itself. Here are four thesis projects in progress that may catch the eye.

  1. A Critical Analysis of Doki Doki Literature Club!

There are some who see video games or graphic novels as an artistic medium of less merit, made for a less mature and more impulse-oriented audience. Scarlett Taraschi, an English/Theater student, is not dissuaded by this, having chosen the cult-favorite video game Doki Doki Literature Club! as the centerpiece of the budding project.

“My thesis is about how Doki Doki Literature Club! can be analyzed through the lens of Brechtian theater, Taraschi said. “I choose this as it combines my two loves: political theater and video games (in particular visual novels and choice-based gameplay). My research has led me deep into the emerging field of game studies and it is fascinating! My hope is by the end of this I’ll have a stronger foothold in the field itself and can begin pushing my own theories out into the academic world.” 

Brechtian Theater is a school of thought concerning plays that aims to reject conventional narrative and bourgeois-centric approaches to playwriting in favor of inciting curiosity within the audience over emotional responses.

  1. What Whales Say in Their Songs
Whales are known for their captivating songs.

Marine Biology thesis student and Research Assistant  Karianne Kapfer is doing a thesis project on the behavioral and travel patterns on whales through analyzing the noises that they make in order to communicate with each other. 

“I am determining the phenology of various cetaceans humpback whales, sperm whales, blue whales, killer whales, and fin whales in Barkley Canyon using an acoustic data set,” Kapfer said. “I am also going to bring in literature and other datasets to see what factors influence their presence such as prey abundance, the cetaceans migration behavior, and/or whatever else I can find.”

Kapfer mentioned that the decrease in ocean commerce and travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic has given whales a bit of a break due to quieter oceans. She encourages everyone to further look into the songs of whales.

“Their vocalizations are amazing and if you are curious as to what they sound like or what the sounds look like I recommend going to this link.”

  1. More Than Witchcraft: What Salem Means in More Recent Times
The Salem Witch Trials are an infamous part of American History.

Literature and Religion student Emma Sunderman is delving into transgression in the days of the colonies in a thesis looking at Salem from eyes other than those of John Proctor. 

“I am currently working on a Literature and Religion thesis about the effects of Puritan social and doctrinal rigidity on women and religio-racial Others during the Salem Witch Trials,” Sunderman said. “I am looking at the novels I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé, Calligraphy of the Witch by Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Witch Child by Celia Rees. The idea is that the Puritans would denounce anyone who didn’t maintain the status quo as a witch; this included any people of color, people with competing religious beliefs and non-conforming women.”

Although many thesis projects are very career-oriented, often serving as springboards into professional, academic or political fields, Sunderman’s motivations are more personal and relaxed.

“I chose to write my thesis on witches because I wanted this process to be fun rather than having to force myself to be interested in something that would look good to grad schools.” Sunderman elaborated. “I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamic of the Salem Trials (the arbitrariness and abuse of power), but my perspective has changed a lot since I first read The Crucible in high school.” 

  1. Ant Parasites and Tarantulas
Tarantulas, despite their intimidating appearance, can be quite friendly.

It is no secret that New College students like to challenge themselves, which is why Biopsychology student Alexandria Anderson-Whittaker is currently working on two projects. These two theses may appear quite different, but are actually similar with a look below the surface.

“I have a full thesis and a capstone project for my slash. My full thesis is for biopsychology. I am doing an experiment in which I am testing whether tarantula behavior is affected by their rearing environment.”

Anderson-Whittaker separated the tarantulas into groups, some in an enriched enclosure with dig-able soil with hiding places, and some in an unenriched enclosure without such amenities.  

“The idea is basically to show whether or not spiders should have more ethical consideration in the way their husbandry is done, and whether they are ‘conscious’ enough to be affected by a presence or lack of enrichment in their lives,” Anderson-Whittaker said.

The capstone project is a bit more abstract.

“My capstone project for TDPS is a dance piece,” Anderson-Whittaker said. “I did the costuming, had original music made by Emily Schenck, and am working with Rose Schimmel to choreograph it. The concept is based on the fungus Pandora formicae, which parasitizes ants. It manipulates their behavior and makes them crawl up leaf stalks and latch on, so that when the ant dies and the fungus blooms, its spores are distributed further by the wind.”

The result is an “eerily pretty” tribute to the circle of life.

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