In keeping with the virtual Spring ‘21 semester, this year’s East Asian Studies Senior Thesis Colloquium was held on Wednesday, March 3 as a well-attended Zoom conference. Two Seniors presented their nearly-finalized thesis work, while a third gave a synopsis of the off-cycle thesis paper he will complete in Fall 2021. The talks challenged presenters to condense complex topics and convey research findings to a diverse audience.
Professor Melissa McCormick, acting as Director of Undergraduate Studies for EAS, kicked off the event by welcoming the audience and emphasizing the unique challenges this year’s thesis writers faced:
I'm delighted to welcome the members of our East Asian studies community to this special event--our students, concentrators, faculty, administrators, friends, and family. I come to you today from the Harvard campus from 2 Divinity Avenue, on a particularly temperate day when it feels like Spring and hope is on the horizon. Nothing inspires more hope and optimism than our students--this year especially, when our Senior thesis writers surmounted tremendous obstacles to complete their projects. Writing a Senior thesis is honestly hard enough, but to do so facing the numerous unexpected challenges they did this year is truly remarkable. We are very proud of you and the work you’ve produced: rigorous, thought-provoking, and deeply engaged with the world around you.
Taking up the virtual mic following Professor McCormick’s remarks, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies and PhD Candidate in Japanese Religion Jonathan Thumas introduced Will Matheson, joint concentrator in Government and East Asian Studies. Will gave the audience a preview of the topic he will present on next year: examining how nations, particularly the U.S. and China, conceive of and interact with the new frontier of cyberspace.
Next, joint concentrator in Sociology and EAS Chihiro Ishikawa presented her thesis, “Mobilizing Social Movements in East Asia: SNS Usage and Anonymity in Japanese and Korean Feminist NGOs.” By interviewing Japanese and Korean feminist activists and comparing types of outreach and levels of anonymity used in each country, Chihiro sought to define how the spread of the Me Too movement has impacted global and local organizing in East Asia. A Q&A session followed in which Chihiro elaborated on her experiences attending meetings and one-on-one interviews with feminist activists, and how she dealt with the challenges of researching in multiple languages.
Jonathan then introduced the final presenter, Derek Woo, concentrator in East Asian History. Derek’s thesis, “The Farmers of Hamp’yŏng: Rural Identity Formation and Korean Democratization,” discussed the influence of religious activism in the Hamp’yŏng Incident--a successful collective protest by South Korean farmers, facilitated by religious movements, against agricultural policies of the Park Chung Hee regime. Derek explained how the events of the Hamp’yŏng Incident “not only shaped future farmers’ movements in the 1980s, but helped redefine the practices of collective action in the countryside” in a way that is still influential today.
Following Derek’s Q&A session, Jonathan invited Chihiro and Derek’s respective faculty advisors, Professors Tomiko Yoda and Daniel Koss, to say a few closing words about their advisees. Professor Yoda spoke about Chihiro’s dedication to her challenging project, and the “meticulous care with which she handled sensitive information” from the one-on-one interviews with her subjects. “I learned a lot about how to really handle your data with care,” Yoda continued, “but more than anything else, what I really admired [...] was her ability to change her assumptions and readjust her research framework.”
Discussing his experience of advising Derek Woo, Professor Koss first expressed how much he enjoyed their conversations and admired Derek’s insights. Citing the obstacles posed by the pandemic to his advisee’s research, Koss revealed that Derek had originally planned to travel and conduct in-person interviews in South Korea. “There were some really difficult moments figuring out how to readjust plans,” he said, but Derek “ended up with a very nuanced sort of case study [...] this was an ideal conversation between History and Political Science.” Smiling broadly, Koss concluded that “it was really a great pleasure to work with Derek [...] for me, the big takeaway is that I really have learned something here.”
The event concluded with a virtual toast and a chorus of congratulations to the Seniors.