From Foreign Policy to Avant-Garde Fashion: Six EAS Thesis Writers Present at 2022 Hybrid Senior Thesis Colloquium

February 17, 2022

Following two consecutive years of fully virtual thesis presentations, the 2022 East Asian Studies Senior Thesis Colloquium offered attendees a new way to engage with concentrators’ research: a hybrid format, with three different ‘venues’. Harvard affiliates could attend in person or virtually, while friends and family of the presenters could watch the YouTube livestream or join the virtual audience on Zoom. From the back row of seats, a large gallery-style screen display enabled Zoom attendees to both appear in the audience and participate in Q&A sessions. 

On Tuesday, February 15, 2022, six senior EAS Honors thesis writers presented their research to this hybrid audience. A critical stage of the EAS thesis-writing experience, the Colloquium presents valuable opportunities for writers: the challenge of refining their topic down to a fifteen-minute talk which can appeal to a diverse audience; as well as the ability to solicit feedback and suggestions before the final paper is due. This year’s projects engaged a wide variety of complex issues using interdisciplinary methods.

Professor Melissa McCormick, Director of Undergraduate Studies for EAS, opened the Colloquium with a welcome address congratulating the students on this huge milestone in the thesis-writing process. McCormick, having taught many of them in departmental courses, had abundant opportunities to get to know the six students and their research topics. She expressed great pride at seeing their projects evolve and come to fruition over the last year.  

Side-by-side photos of Melissa McCormick and Jonathan Thumas at the podium

Following Professor McCormick’s remarks, the podium was taken by Jonathan Thumas, an EALC PhD Candidate in Japanese Religion currently serving as Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies. Thumas introduced the first presenter, Justin Tseng, advised by Professor Daniel Koss and Austin Jordan. Tseng’s thesis, entitled “More than Just the ‘Taiwan Card’: Factoring in the Taiwanese Perspective in Crafting America’s Taiwan Policy,” focuses on the ambiguity of the United States’ policies regarding support for Taiwan, and how this lack of clarity influences Taiwanese leadership–a perspective that he found was often overlooked. An audience question during the Q&A session led to a discussion about whether Taiwan-China tensions could be compared to those of Ukraine and Russia currently making headlines. 

Justin Tseng gestures with his hands in front of a projected graph
Justin Tseng explains data on Chinese Military presence in Taiwan

Emily Kim, advised by Professor Alexander Zahlten and Patrick Chimenti, was prevented from appearing in person by work obligations at a Fashion Week show in New York City. In her absence, she provided a pre-recorded presentation video expounding on her thesis topic–“(Re)Fashioning A New Avant-Garde.” Taking the audience on a deep-dive into the world of Japanese avant-garde fashion, this research talk explored the history of a fraught relationship between cutting-edge art and a society determined to commodify it.  

Emily Kim appears in a Zoom window next to a projected presentation with fashion advertisements
Emily Kim’s recorded presentation shows many examples of beautiful, and often bizarre, avant-garde inspired advertisements.

Following Kim’s presentation, Ton-Nu Nguyen-Dingh, also advised by Professor Alexander Zahlten and Patrick Chimenti, presented her work on a thesis-in-progress titled “Here and Elsewhere: Spatial Imaginaries of the Third World Through the Works of Adachi Masao and Yves LaCoste, 1971-1974.” She drew in part from personal experiences, beginning at her secondary school in Vietnam, to tackle a challenging topic: the documentation and representation of the history of spaces. “Third World as a project,” she said, was a key concept driving her research.

Ton-Nu Nguyen-Dinh presents her thesis research sitting at the podium
Ton-Nu Nguyen-Dinh discusses filmic works that informed her thesis topic Ton-Nu Nguyen-Dinh discusses filmic works that informed her thesis topic

Next, Benjamin Porteous, advised by Professor Peter Bol and Yitian Li, elicited laughter with an energetic presentation titled “The Perilous Poetry of the Past: Four Nineteenth-Century Views on Women’s Moral Agency as Triumph or Threat in the Confucian Founding Story,” in which he analyzed several Confucian texts that appeared to disagree with the traditionally understood role of women in society at the time. During the Q&A, Porteous and his faculty advisor, Peter Bol, had a lively debate on the tone and intentions of the texts’ authors.

Ben Porteous aims a sweeping gesture at his presentation on the projector screen
Benjamin Porteous defines some key words found in commentary on a seventeenth-century Confucian text in classical Chinese.

Following this exchange, Celina Hollmichel, advised by Professor Carter Eckert and Sungik Yang, presented “Resettlement and Reorientation: A Comparative Analysis of the Integration Measures for North Korean Refugees in South Korea through the Lens of East Germans in West Germany.” Having conducted interviews and research on refugees from both North Korea and East Germany, Hollmichel conceived a theoretical framework to explain how “front-loading” resources is not necessarily effective for preventing distress and dissatisfaction in the long term, as refugees acclimate to new cultures and surroundings.

Celina Hollmichel stands in front of the projector screen, facing the audience
Celina Hollmichel presents a visual aid to the theoretical framework her thesis uses to identify factors affecting the acclimation process for refugees.

The event concluded with a talk by Alan Dai, a recently-declared EAS secondary fielder who opted to present his History thesis, “‘‘A World without Frontiers’: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Cosmopolitan Nationalisms in East Asia, 1886-1920” at the EAS Colloquium. This rigorously-researched work examines the role of a shared Sinitic writing system in enabling a vast network of ideas to be spread among classically educated individuals throughout East Asia in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Dai was advised by Professor Michael Szonyi, with additional advising by Professor David Sena, both of the EALC department.

Alan Dai indicates his presentation on the projector screen
Alan Dai explains the “network” of intellectuals through which texts in Classical Chinese circulated around East Asia.

The event concluded with enthusiastic applause from the live and virtual audiences, and a break for informal conversation and East Asian snacks among the viewers gathered in-person.