Congratulations to our 2021 Library Research Prize Winners!

On Wednesday, May 5th 2021, Aarushi Vijay and Jerri Bell were awarded the 2021 Library Research Prize of $1,000. The committee also presented two $500 honorable mention prizes to Molly Lamendola and Eden Marchese.

Our 12th annual Library Research Prize gathering took place over Zoom on the first reading day of the Spring semester. An audience of over 45 including Fairfield University Deans, President Nemec, Provost Siegel, library staff, faculty, staff, students and community members came together for an hour to listen and learn from our four accomplished scholars.

Aarushi Vijay is the winner of the undergraduate Library Research Prize. Her paper is titled “Analyzing Contemporary Indian adaptations of Shakespeare: Shakespeare as a medium for social and political commentary in a post-colonial India.” This project was done for a Humanities Seminar advised by Dr. Robert Epstein. Aarushi is a junior Computer Science and Professional Writing major in the School of Engineering.

Her paper analyzes the use of Shakespeare as a medium for social and political commentary in post-colonial India. In the first section, she compares Othello with Kaliyattam, from South India, and Omakara from Uttar Pradesk, North India. In the second section, she compares Hamlet to Karmayogi from Kerala and Haider from Kashmir, North India. She demonstrates that these comparisons were used by North and South Indian directors for social and political commentary. In her prize essay, Vijay describes using library resources like she never has before, citing wide array of sources such as plays, journal articles, newspaper articles, and critical analyses she found through various library databases. Since she is a remote student, she also utilized the 24/7 library chat service where librarians helped her find resources in our collections as well as identify resources to interlibrary loan. She says, “the use of interlibrary loan services expanded by research and helped me develop new ideas which would have been impossible without these loaned items.” She is “really thankful to the Library services for making this project possible, remotely, even during a pandemic.”

The judging committee was very impressed with her the wide-range of source types and her strong research process. Dr. Epstein also commented that her project was “extremely original” covering arguments about “post-colonialism, literary reception and adaptation, globalization, regionalism, Indian politics, race, and caste. It is really an exemplary work.”

Jerri Bell is the winner of the graduate Library Research Prize. Bell’s research project, which will soon become a book from the University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, is titled “The Golden Fourteen: How the Navy’s First African American Yeomen (Female) Fought Back Against White Supremacy”. She is completing a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a dual concentration in Fiction and Non-Fiction in the College of Arts and Sciences and has conducted extensive research for her project under the guidance of Professor Eugenia Kim. The book is the story of the first African American women to serve officially as Black women in the US armed forces. Bell submitted a preface and the book’s first chapter as her prize submission. The preface covers the difficulty of uncovering women of colors’ stories in the military which involved digging through more than 1,000 pages of military service records, census and genealogy records, and other primary source documents. Her first chapter discusses the Navy’s decision to allow women into their ranks in 1917 and specifically how a black woman by the name of Miss Armelda Hattie Green began her journey to enrolling as a yeoman in the Navy.

Bell’s research for her project culminates resources from thirty-five libraries and fourteen archives. She describes her research process as “cyclic or spiral, not linear” starting with “broad questions. Collect information. Analyze and evaluate. Refine the questions; begin again.” She counts librarians as the folks who helped her navigate the “dataverse of human knowledge” especially during the pandemic.

The judging committee recognized Bell’s original research as well as her trial-and-error approach of gathering information on a little-known topic. Eugenia Kim calls this work “an intellectual feat of notable achievement, consolidates hundreds of disparate threads of research that tell an untold story in American history.”

Due to the strong pool of applicants among the undergraduates, two $500 honorable mention prizes were awarded to Molly Lamedola and Eden Marchese.

Molly Lamendola’s research project titled “How a Supposed Retold Algonquin Tale Fails an Accurate Retelling of a Native American Truth” was done for the course The Literary Fairytale Tradition taught by Dr. Robert Epstein. Molly is a junior majoring in Art History and Politics in the College of Arts and Sciences. Molly looked at the Native American storytelling tradition through two versions of Cinderella by non-natives. She observes that in these re-tellings “authors seem to look at stories through a culturally biased lens and incorrectly compartmentalize through their own culture, and not simply observing the story in its place.”

In her essay, Molly describes the challenge of finding the original native stories that were being re-told. She describes having to use a variety of library resources and discovered story collections in the library’s virtual holdings which proved helpful as she was remote. She also describes the difficulty in finding material not affected by colonialism. As a fundamental part of her project, she had to “read through the author’s research notes and footnotes to read between the lines on how it was collected and translated from the original source.”

The judging committee was impressed with her ability to trace citations and find sources, as well as her interdisciplinary focus with sources covering gender and sexuality studies, religion, and literature. Dr. Epstein said he has “never received a research paper quite like Molly’s” and was impressed that she explored non-European fairy tales. He further described her process as tracing chains of citations through primary and secondary sources and when “she found claims of origins that could not be ultimately substantiated, she used modern criticism on anthropology and ethnographic studies to bring into question a whole tradition of supposed ethnic authenticity.” He was “extremely impressed by her research and her analysis.”

Our other honorable mention, Eden Marchese, is sophomore majoring in Creative Writing and Philosophy with a minor in German in the College of Arts and Sciences. Their research project titled “The Cult of White Domesticity” explores the similarities of pressure the cult of womenhood had on enslaved African American women and immigrant women, using first-hand accounts of African American women during the antebellum period to current resources about the immigrant process.

Eden’s project culminated into the form of a digital project created with the platform ArcGIS StoryMaps. In their essay, they cite librarians as a huge help in discovering this platform as well as “defining the correct terms” so “there was no misleading information in regards to what was being written” as well as “finding the best ways to comb through the volumes of work done on the subjects of immigration and the antebellum period.”

The judging committee thought Eden’s research was a thoughtful way of taking historical research and connecting it to present day issues. This was further echoed by Dr. Petrino who cites their ability to connect Barbara Welter’s work “The Cult of True Womanhood” and enslaved persons on the underground railroad to the current immigrant undocumented workers who travel to sanctuary cities. She was also “equally excited by their determination to test the boundaries of traditional research” which “helped me as an instructor begin to rethink how scholars approach materials.”

Congratulations to all the winners! For more information about the Library Research Prize criteria visit fairfield.edu/libprize

Thank you to the Library Research Prize sponsors: Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business, College of Arts & Sciences, Graduate School of Education & Allied Professions, Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing & Health Studies, and the School of Engineering for their financial support of the prizes, in addition to the Library's financial commitment.

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