(L-R) Grace McKittrick, Nicole Cottone, Jessie Motts, and Dr. Elisabeth Hodges
(L-R) Grace McKittrick, Nicole Cottone, Jessie Motts, and Dr. Elisabeth Hodges Photo: Angelo Gelfuso

Altman scholars present projects, celebrate "the senses"

by Victoria Slater, CAS Communications Intern

To culminate a year of sensory exploration, the Miami University Altman Program convened on Friday, April 15 to honor its six undergraduate scholars and the work they accomplished over the past year. A full house in MacMillan Hall welcomed the six scholars of various humanities majors as they presented their year-long projects tying with this year's Altman theme of The Senses.

The Altman Program, now in its seventh year, is the largest program in the Humanities Center, aimed at the cultivation of interdisciplinary dialogues and innovation in the humanities subjects. Each year, the Altman Program pairs humanity-subject faculty members and world-renowned scholars with select graduate and undergraduate students on a year-long exploration of issues within a certain theme. This year's theme, The Senses, "aim[ed] to grasp the historical and philosophical nature of sensation in an increasingly technological and global world," according to the Humanities Center website.

As part of their involvement in the Altman Program, the six undergraduate student scholars each worked on their own research project, with topics ranging from feminism in The Mary Tyler Moore show to ghost hunting and paranormal experiences. At the Altman Symposium, the scholars presented their current research findings as they work to conclude their projects.

The panel began with introductions from professor of Spanish and Portuguese Dr. Charles Victor Ganelin, an Altman Faculty Fellow.

"This has been one of those career-making experiences, and we are very appreciative and proud of the work they have accomplished," he said.  

First to present was philosophy graduate student  Nicole Cottone who delved into an investigation of feminist philosophy and perception in Spanish literature, in particular the short story Torn Lace by Emilia Pardo Bazán. Her project was titled "Micaelita and the Bachelor: An Inquiry into Perception and Meaning," and studied how the protagonist, a bride to be, dealt with an angry outburst from her fiancé.

"Perception can be significant and insignificant simultaneously," she said. "… It is not incoherent to both perceive the significance of one’s perspective and the perceived insignificance of the generalized ‘other’ simultaneously. Micaelita's story helps to demonstrate an instance when one immediately sees something as important, despite it being otherwise trivial.” 

Senior American Studies and History double major Cecilia Simons also explored feminism, but in 1970s television – The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She wanted to determine how the media in that time period portrayed feminism through the mode of female protagonists in her project, "Television and the Senses: The Mary Tyler Moore Show." 

"Television allows an audience to picture a world that does not exist, and all the ideals, values and beliefs that come with it," she said. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for all its triumphs and faults, has emerged as a definitive example of an interaction between second wave feminism and television."

Jessie Motts, a senior Creative Writing, French and Media & Culture triple major is compiling a found footage film focusing on the content left out of the film reel – what the audience does not see, but needs to hear. For her project, “Thought for Food,” she urged the audience to be careful of how they consume news and mindful that only a small portion of the story is told.

"The key to resistance of the frame is to look beyond it … we must attune our palates to imposed silences, listen to the volume to hear the voices that do not and cannot, as a product of the frame’s neglect, speak.," she said.

Next came senior Anthropology and Linguistics double major Grace McKittrick and her project "Expressing the Unexpressionable: The Linguistic Deficit Concerning Extrasensory Experiences." She shadowed a paranormal investigation team for the year, cataloguing their experiences to determine the senses involved in ghost hunting.

"Metaphoric language used to describe phenomenon are commonly known in the subculture as being figurative," she said. "However, drawing parallels to experiencing a paranormal event with a more commonplace sensation begins to paint the paranormal as something normal and understandable."  

For her project on environmental degradation, "Phenomenological Environmental Education: The New Normal" junior Individualized Studies major Marla Guggenheimer focused on the modes of food production. She argued that such modes are built upon two ideals: abstraction and human nature duality.

"Abstraction in that we no longer understand exactly from where our food comes, from how it is grown and how it is processed and ends up on our plates, and in our stomachs," she said. "And duality with respect to the long-held, culturally embedded belief that humans are separate from and above a natural world that only exists to serve our needs at whim."

Last but not least, Madga Orlander, a senior Individualized Studies and Social Justice Studies major, explored the senses related to trauma. While humans are accustomed to showing and dealing with pain in private, trauma is a reminder of humanity’s inherent susceptibility to weakness.

"Trauma is a very violent reminder of not only how our minds are fundamentally embodied, but also of how our lives are bound up in those of others and how our state of normal is not a state of wellness, but one of vulnerability and precarity," she said. 

The Altman Program is currently reviewing applications for next year’s team of scholars. To learn more, or to get involved, visit the Miami University Humanities Center website.