Category Archives: Ford 2023

Medea and Her Sons: Unpacking the Ultimate Survivor

This summer I spent two months studying Medea and sharing my discoveries with Professor Gil-Sheridan, who is beginning work on a new adaptation of Euripides’ Medea in which Medea’s two sons grow up, rather than being killed at her own hand. 

I spent the first four weeks doing traditional research on Medea, focusing on translations and adaptations throughout history, scholarly commentary, and versions of Medea before Euripides. I read 22 different translations and adaptations of the original 431 BC play, gained a general understanding of the historical context of ancient Greece, read scholarly theories on themes and characters in the play, and looked at extant primary sources dated before Euripides which mention Medea in order to understand possible ways in which Euripides’ version may have fit in with widespread or popularized versions of the myth. 

During the second four weeks, thanks to the Ford Scholars program and Creative Arts Across Disciplines at Vassar, I was given the opportunity to travel to Greece and participate in One Year Lease’s Apprentice Program, in which we developed and performed a new adaptation of Medea written in Greek by Meropi Papastergiou and performed in five villages around Zagorohoria: Vikos, Ano Pedina, Agios Minas, Aristi and Megalo Papingo. I also met with Professor Gil-Sheridan in Papingo, where we discussed what I had learned through both my earlier research, and my participation as an actor in a production of Medea — specifically anything new I had gleaned about the play and about Greek theatrical traditions.

Going forward, Professor Gil-Sheridan will be using my compiled notes and resources to begin work on his adaptation. As a playwright myself, who is also currently working on an adaptation of a Greek tragedy, this work has also given me invaluable information for my work, which will culminate this fall semester in the Steerman Festival. 

An Interdisciplinary Investigation into the Settlement History of Iceland

This summer I worked on researching the settlement history of Iceland. The current settlement history of Iceland states that Norwegian Vikings were the first settlers, however there are archeological and medieval literary hints that suggest Iceland’s first settlers were Irish monks who dug mysterious artificial caves in the south of Iceland. However Iceland’s first historical written records state that these Irish monks were driven out of Iceland by Norwegian vikings and the act of the settlement of Iceland was placed on Norwegians, not on the Irish. 

I focused on reading Iceland’s first pieces of historical writing on how the country was settled in order to learn more about the settlement of Iceland and why perhaps, history seems to be disregarding the presence of these Celtic Christians and dismisses the story as myth. These first Icelandic texts have a mysterious background as well, as it is unclear who actually wrote the sagas themselves and the topic of how the information was acquired is discussed and considered in the academic field heavily. I also read about caves in Ireland and the British Isles to potentially make a connection between the artificial caves in Iceland. 

This interdisciplinary project will continue in the fall both through research and on-site investigation. A small class travel intensive will continue research and will travel to Iceland in October to observe and record the markings on the caves walls as well as learn about the family history and stories of the people whose land the caves now occupy.

Exhibition Design at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

Ruby Funfrock ‘24, Ford Scholar & Pindyck Summer Fellow
John Murphy, Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings

Ruby Funfrock ‘24 photographing a print from the Straus Bequest, Albrecht Dürer’s Hercules at the Crossroads (c. 1498).

For eight weeks this summer, I worked on two curatorial-based projects that allowed me to explore different aspects of exhibition design. With guidance from John Murphy, I considered the importance of art historical research in better understanding the Loeb’s permanent collection and discovered the intricacies involved in the care, research, interpretation, and display of works as part of the curatorial process. 

The first project consisted of researching the bequest from Philip and Lynn Straus (Class of 1946). The couple had generously donated over one hundred works from their personal collection since 1981 up until Lynn’s passing in 2023. Since the Straus Bequest contains a wide temporal, stylistic, and geographic range of prints, I narrowed my research to works by Edvard Munch and the German Expressionists. I ended up with more questions than answers, as many of the artists and subject matter are highly problematic: Emil Nolde’s support of Nazism, the Die Brücke group’s interest in primitivism, and the use of adolescent girls as models. What does it mean to have these works and artists a part of a museum’s collection, especially at a collegiate institution? As a space that builds community, how can the museum environment reckon with these complex histories? My hope is that my research will provide a foundation for the Loeb staff and Vassar community to continue to challenge and contemplate these layered questions. 

Detail of Dürer’s Hercules at the Crossroads (c. 1498) with his “AD” monogram.

The second project centered on the gallery space, as I curated the Fall Works on Paper Rotation that would supplement John’s Art History seminar, “Revolutionary Art and Global Politics in the 1930s.” Upon surveying the Loeb’s collection, I became fascinated with art produced under the Works Progress Administration. In selecting five works, I aimed to consider government-sanctioned prints and photographs while balancing the personal and political motives of the artists. 

I am grateful for the support and mentorship of John and the Loeb staff and the generosity of the Bruce Eben and Maryellen Pindyck Fund.

Researching, Writing, and Publishing in Law and Courts

Shyasia Arnold ’26

Being a black woman is a thing unto itself, separate and apart from being a woman and separate and apart from being black. The intersectionality is really important.

A Black woman judge’s response to a question asking about her identity

A judge’s impartiality is essential to upholding justice. However, can judges fully divorce their experiences and identities from themselves? For this summer’s project, I worked alongside Professor Means. The project, Researching, Writing, and Publishing in Law and Courts, examines the effects of judicial diversity–or absence of–by generating patterns and themes between Black and White judges. The themes drawn from the data, combined with research, challenges the notion of judicial impartiality and affirms the importance of judicial diversity.

Sheet of respondents that I, alongside another student, cleaned and anonymized.

Between 2019-2021, data for this project was initially gathered through a survey of an equal number of Black and White state court judges. Additionally, there were interviews with around 100 Black and White state court judges. Judges were asked to share their upbringings, pre-adulthood life experiences, judicial behavior, philosophies, perspectives and more. This summer’s work involves the continuation of organizing, cleaning, anonymizing, analyzing, researching, and writing up the data analysis.

Questions respondents were asked that I coded.

The data analysis will then be written into a paper that I am co-authoring with Professor Means and others. The paper focuses on Black women judges and is broken up by race and gender. My contributions toward the paper focus on the history of Black women in politics and the ways in which Black women judges behave on/off the bench. Additionally, I wrote a data-analysis on judicial projects that Black women judges are involved in, which highlights patterns of Black women judges’ values in relation to their identities and the programs that they start.

Overall, using the gathered data to illuminate the importance of judicial diversity while challenging notions of judicial impartiality, the data and project aims to provide insight into how judges’ backgrounds, gender identities, and racial identities impact their roles as judges.

The Oviedo Project

Mette McKinney ’26

This summer I worked with professors Lisa Paravisini-Gebert and Michael Aronna and a fellow student – Abbie Houton – on Vassar’s Oviedo Project. This project aims to publish a translated version of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo’s General History of the Indies in its entirety. Sections of the work have been translated over time but the text has never been translated in its entirety. Thus, for the past few years, Vassar students and select faculty members have been working to do exactly that. During the school year, students work on translating the text from Spanish to English. In the summer, the work is handed to the professors and select students, this summer, me and Abbie. 

For the past 8 weeks, we worked on editing 40 chapters from Volume II of the General History and uploading them to the project’s website. Each chapter was edited twice using the original text to confirm the translation was accurate before it was edited again, ensuring that it flowed well into English. The final version was then added to that book’s manuscript and upon thorough edits to every chapter, it was sent to me to upload to the project’s website. 

My work focused on doing the second edit of several chapters and uploading completed books to the website. Through my work this summer I gained a greater appreciation for what goes into preparing texts for publication and the intricacies of translation. I had translated 3 chapters during the school year and seeing the slight differences within each student’s chapters helped me to appreciate the nuance of language and the different ways it can be understood by different people. Finishing this project will be a major milestone. As I am going into my sophomore year, I look forward to continuing to work on it for the next few years!

Volume II, Book XXI – one of three books I uploaded throughout this summer

The Product Market Impacts of Unionization in a Merging Firm: Evidence from the US Airline Industry

Mentor: Qi Ge (Department of Economics)

Scholar: Shijun Hong (Class of 2025)

Professor Ge and I are Interested in the impact of labor unions on merging firms’ product quality and prices. For the summer project, we devoted our attention to related theories and literature. Theoretically, both the product quality and the price effects of labor unionization on merging firms are a priori indeterminate. Consistent with the theoretical prediction, the existing empirical literature does not agree on the direction of the effects. More importantly, a significant challenge arises from the concurrent incidence of merger events and unionization episodes, a phenomenon commonly observed across various industries. Our literature review highlights two key observations: 1) There is a limited amount of research focusing on the quality impact of unionization, and 2) none of the existing literature adequately distinguishes between the effects of mergers and unionization. The goal of our study is thus to bridge these two major gaps in the literature. As part of the project, I also constructed detailed timelines visualizing the timing of the airline unionization and episodes considered in our project. In the next stage of our project, we plan to conduct a separate and comprehensive analysis of the impacts of mergers and unionization using data from the U.S. Airline Industry.

The Timelines Visualizing the Timing of the Airline Unionization and Episodes Considered in Our Project.

In the end, I hope our research can adequately distinguish between the effects of mergers and unionization. Through this way, we can not only make contributions to the limited amount of relevant research focusing on the US Airline Industry but also help the later studies related to unionization and mergers effects.

“This is a True War Story”: Telling History through Photographs

Julianna Aguja ’25

Otis Boss Receives a Lighter, 1968 (courtesy of USMC Flickr). On top of combat photographs, Sergeant Atwell took many intimate shots of soldier life often unseen by civilians. In this photograph, Major General Tompkins presents Private First Class Otis Boss a lighter after Boss saved his Battalion by catching the attention of an aerial observer with only a match.

A picture may tell a thousand words, but this summer I learned that they can also spark a million questions. 

I spent eight weeks searching for and analyzing photographs for Professor Brigham’s forthcoming memoir about his biological father, Bruce Allen Atwell. During the Vietnam War, Atwell took some of the most seminal images of the conflict. For decades, Professor Brigham used these photographs in his courses without knowing his connection to their photographer. 

My first task––identifying soldiers in a selection of Atwell’s photos––seemed insurmountable. With the help of Professor Brigham’s memoir and other texts about the war, I got a rough idea of what platoons and events Atwell photographed. I searched online for message boards, Facebook groups, and websites created by Vietnam veterans that Atwell potentially photographed. I was able to identify almost every unknown soldier in Atwell’s photos with the help of these veteran-historians and their commitment to documenting their Vietnam experiences. Knowing the names of the subjects allowed me to draft meaningful, informative captions to go along with the images for the memoir. 

I was unable to identify the Marines in this photo, except for Robert Wallace (far left). I am indebted to Sgt. Maj. Eddie Neas for his assistance in this identification and many others. He not only shared the names of his fellow veterans, but also stories––which enriched my understanding of these photos and this conflict immensely.

I spent the second half of the project searching for more of Atwell’s photographs from his time in Vietnam, as well as his time in Cuba and as a White House photographer for the Marines. From National Archives branches to small repositories at private universities, I cast a wide net when contacting archives. I was able to track down 21 photographs taken by Atwell that Professor Brigham did not have before. 

The mysteries I solved and the photos I found made all the obstacles I faced during my research worth it. Professor Brigham’s story is so compelling, and working with him pushed me to consider new methods of telling history: through powerful personal narratives and photographs.

Climate Careers and Solutions: Mapping the Terrain

Gioia Marchiano and Olivia Kane interviewing Jayant Kairam ’03, former director of Environment & Sustainability at Walmart.

This summer, our group – Kae Czeasak, Olivia Kane, and Gioia Marchiano – worked with Professor Seidman on the Climate Solutions and Climate Careers website. The site is divided into two sides – one that provides a comprehensive understanding of the solutions necessary to address climate change, and another that focuses on careers in climate. Over the course of the summer, we focused on building out the Careers side of the site, and fleshing out a database of climate technology startups. 

We worked on pages for many different kinds of careers – Environmental law, Urban planning, Finance, Corporate Sustainability, International Development, and Culture and Communication. We researched to find inspiring resources that could inform students and young professionals about these careers. We also conducted interviews with professionals in some of these fields – environmental law, green building design & retrofitting, and corporate sustainability – to provide students a glimpse into careers they might not have much previous knowledge about. As we wrote these pages, we took care to be intentional about our audience. We sought to inspire readers and help them feel that there was a space for them in climate even if they did not come from a science background or were not interested in stereotypical technical climate change careers. 

Another aspect of our project was working on a database of climate tech startups, with a focus on green startups in agriculture. This database provides site users with a broad list of companies working on exciting and under-the-radar climate solutions today.

This site is not done; work will continue to build out the careers page and database. We want the site to function as a hub that can point readers to high quality resources about climate change and climate careers. The careers side highlights careers that are not traditionally thought to be involved in climate change, such as finance. Our goal was to help every reader see that they can have a place in the climate fight. 

You can visit our site at

The Scholarship of Women of Color and Crafts

Mentor: Eve Dunbar (English Department)

Scholars: Soliana Kasa (’24) and Vanessa Mark (’26)

With the initial subject being the scholarship of women of color and craft, we took interest in different aspects of this broad niche.

I created an annotated bibliography focusing on quilting circles and bees, sewing, weaving and the community-building aspect of craft arts for women of color. One of the main framework questions I had thought of to guide my research was what made crafts produced by African American women different from those made by European-descended Americans. I immersed myself in the African American tradition of sewing and quilt making, dating back to the days of enslavement in the United States. They used techniques like those used in tapestries made by the Dahomey people in West Africa. I got to read articles that delved into the rich history of this tradition amongst African American women and their ingenious contributions to the craft, which are often overlooked in the historical discourse around American quiltmaking, and a sense of community interconnected with the practice of quilting.

Beginning with finding the distinction between art and craft, I found that much of the art world had roots of elitism, whereas the craft world was an outlet of creativity to women of color. Reading feminist theory provided interesting insight on crafts. Alice Walker and Audre Lord find that women of color use crafts as an expression of agency. I ultimately applied this lens to the experience of Japanese Americans during WWII internment camps, where creativity and expression proved to be a lifeline for many. This research allowed me to explore two seemingly unrelated subjects, and find the connection between them. I compiled relevant readings into an annotated bibliography. I was able to genuinely explore these subjects for the sake of learning, without the pressure of a final assessment or grade.

Translating a 19th-century Feminist novel : George Sand’s Jacques (1833)

Mentor : Kathleen Hart (French & Francophone Studies)

Project : Translating a 19th-century Feminist novel: George Sand’s Jacques (1833)

This summer, Izzy Kaufman-Sikes and I worked with Professor Hart to explore Thelma Jurgrau’s preliminary translation of George Sand’s novel Jacques. Using Jurgrau’s draft as a starting point, we explored a variety of translation tools, including the latest version of Chat GPT. We were curious to see how the recent developments in artificial intelligence might assist translators, particularly those translating an older work with a style and syntax no longer in use. Although we found the speed at which Chat GPT translates and its ability to create several different versions of a translated text to be incredibly valuable, oftentimes the best insights came from our collaborations with each other and with Jurgrau’s text. 

This project required close attention to historical details such as gender relations, class and economic structure, the politics of the era, and French colonialism.  Like many nineteenth century novels, Jacques centers around the souring of a mismatched marriage during a time in which divorce was illegal under the Napoleonic Code. Fernande and Jacques, the couple around whom the novel centers, are immediately shown to be ill-suited for one another: In addition to being twice Fernande’s age, Jacques is also reclusive, mercurial, and taciturn. Although Jacques resembles classic novels like Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion—an overbearing mother, a volatile ex-soldier, a concerning age gap—Sand’s salient social critiques set the story apart. Sand not only condemns the Napoleonic Code but also discusses taboo topics like suicide and infidelity, even challenging the institution of marriage itself. 

With the new surge of interest in classic literature, from book recommendations on TikTok to a shout-out to the 1995 adaptation Pride & Prejudice in the new “Barbie” movie, an English translation of Jacques cannot arrive soon enough. While Sand’s feminist ideals are cloaked in polite language and subtlety, modern readers will surely appreciate her radical thinking just as much as they did almost 200 years ago.