Research Projects-Humanities Scholars Program - Carnegie Mellon University

Research Projects

The Humanities Scholars Program encourages students to explore their own academic interests in greater depth. The program culminates with a senior year research project done under direction of a faculty advisor. Each student chooses his or her own research topic based on studies over the past years and developing interests. The research can be part of an honors thesis done for the student’s major program of study, or a capstone project.

Senior Research Seminar

During the spring semester of senior year, scholars reconvene for the Senior Research seminar where they now benefit from intellectual relationships that have spanned their undergraduate careers. Students complete selected readings, review each other’s work, and foster its completion. This class gives scholars the opportunity to discuss ideas and showcase their developed talents in addressing their topics of choice from multiple interdisciplinary standpoints.

Students involved in the completion of an undergraduate research project participate in Meeting of the Minds, the undergraduate research symposium that takes place at the end of each academic year. Students may sign up to have their project considered for various awards, including the Dietrich Humanities Prize sponsored by the HSP.

Past projects from HSP scholars:

Predictive Patterns of Sex Trafficking Online
Emily Kennedy
(Philosophy)

In the past 10-15 years the internet has become a popular tool used by traffickers to easily advertise and sell their victims. Thousands of posts show up each month selling sex on the common classifieds website Backpage.com. For her senior research project, Emily Kennedy extracted publicly available data from major US cities represented on Backpage.com. Using software developed at Carnegie Mellon’s Auton Lab she explored whether it was possible to detect patterns emerging from the data available in sex ads, such as patterns of travel that traffickers use. To help identify which posts were more likely to be cases of trafficking, Emily drew on individuals with expertise on the subject. After graduation, Emily took a position as research analyst for the Auton Lab in order to continue her research. If this research proves successful in tracking movement of similar posts – and therefore, similar pimps or victims – across the country over time, this predictive research could be a valuable tool for law enforcement to use to prosecute traffickers and rescue victims.


The Road to Revolt: The Different Paths of Vilna and Warsaw Ghettos
Zach Stahl
(Social and Decision Sciences)

By 1942, the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland were no longer under the false allusions that Jews were being deported to labor camps, they were no longer deceived into believing that their lives would be safe if they continued to work for the Nazis. Thus, the Warsaw ghetto held out against an onslaught of three thousand German troops for almost a month, in a valiant show of resistance in the face of tyranny. However, this account of resistance within a Jewish ghetto is contrary to another tale, that of the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania, a city previously known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.” It was here that Jews who wanted open revolt, or who wanted revolt of any kind, were met with skepticism and betrayal by the other inhabitants. Why was it that two ghettos, ghettos that were separated by less than 300 miles, were so different in their reaction to Nazi occupation? Why were the Jews of Warsaw spurned on to fight and resolved to die honorably, while the Jews of Vilna were seemingly persuaded into thinking that they would be spared, even as their friends and family were being hunted and killed around them? Was it the leadership of the Judenrat in the different ghettos? Were there harsher protocols implemented in the Warsaw ghetto that made resistance seem to be the only option? Or was it the socio-economic status of those encompassing the ghetto that altered how they perceived the situation at the time? Why the difference?


Growing Pains at the End of the World: A Collection of Speculative and Realistic Fiction
Jule Pattison-Gordon
(Creative Writing)

Growing Pains at the End of the World is a collection of stories about young characters redefining how they relate to the world. One story, “Warrior II,” follows Cam, a middle school student bullied by his older stepbrother, and Mr. Harrison, the new teacher, as they attempt to combat the chaos and panic unfolding around them in a word faced with the knowledge that aliens may arrive to earth in seven years.  “Bonds that Break” is a post-apocalyptic story in which a conjoined twin struggles with deep-seated fears of abandonment after his brother proposes surgical separation. The collection of stories explores themes of loneliness, individuality and community, masks, repression, mortality, external validation, impermanence, and the desire to deify.


Heart of Cautious: An Analysis of Post-Conflict State Building in Rwanda
Sara Faradji
(Global Studies)

Upon her visit to Kigali, Rwanda in the summer of 2012, Sara was surprised to find that the images of the Rwandan people that resonated with her most were not reminders of the genocide but the dedicated efforts of children and young adults who had begun to appreciate Western cosmopolitanism in unique ways. This was evidenced in their acquisition of English from a young age, their motivation to pursue technological education, and their love of American pop culture. Furthermore, Sara noticed that the ethnic conflict that ravaged the nation not even twenty years ago was completely invisible or at least well hidden today. Nonetheless, she found that the atrocities of the genocide and the militarized aftermath were still represented to an extent in the Rwandan culture, whether it was through museum displays, drama exercises, school textbooks, or press releases. For her honors thesis, Sara demonstrated how the Rwandan state is seeking to overcome its violent past by establishing “post-ethnic” society that, with the help of Western powers, is becoming integrated into the globalized economy. The building of this “pseudo-technocracy”, while effectively shadowing the atrocities of the past, could also potentially place Rwanda in a controversial position because of its highly militarized local environment, continued alliance with Western countries, and secret reliance on conflict minerals in neighboring Congo.


The House of Tilden: Gay and Lesbian Social Clubs of 1960s Pittsburgh
Harrison Apple
(Bachelor of Humanities and Arts)

The historiography of gay and lesbian subculture, particularly related to “bar culture” poses a particular relationship between the generally organized crime run establishment and the exploited patron, up until the millennial moment of subcultural revolution, taking particular media attention by the close of the 1960s. Through fieldwork and archival research, Harrison’s research complicated this narrative pertaining to Pittsburgh’s particular history involving the rise to prominence of a particular gay steward of a series of gay and lesbian social clubs, his relationship to the world of organized crime/casual corruption, and his influence on contemporary GLBT life in Pittsburgh.

Harrison was awarded the Dietrich Humanities Prize at Meeting of the Minds, the undergraduate research symposium.


Dancing at the Edge: Writing About Performance
Olivia London
(Creative Writing)

Performance in general, and dance more specifically, significantly affect people on a personal and cultural level. By putting one’s self on the edge, or transferring from audience member to participant, one becomes a performer either in a formal or informal capacity. This transition into being a performer happens both instantaneously (for example, going from behind stage to onstage) and over a long period of time (as in developing and growing as a performer). As both a writer and dancer, Olivia explored this transition, or edge, through creative writing and examined how one writes about the act of performance. By seeking out performance experiences, she broadened her understanding of what it is to be a performer and how performing can influence writing or vise versa. Through creative non-fiction writing Olivia examined how performance affects the course of her own life on and off the stage.

Olivia received the Award for Artistic Excellence at Meeting of the Minds, the undergraduate research symposium.


Bhutanese Refugees and the Search for Long-Term Solutions: Reflections on Hopes, Disappointments, and Identity
Julia Hanby
(Global Studies)

Julia’s interest in refugee issues began during her first year at Carnegie Mellon when she joined FORGE, a student organization that empowers and enriches the lives of refugees in the Pittsburgh community, while also spreading awareness about global refugee issues. She began volunteering for the Refugee Services department of Jewish Family and Children’s Services (where she still volunteers today), helping two Bhutanese families develop the skills they needed to build better lives.  Julia’s work with refugees continued throughout her four years, leading her to develop a capstone project on the experience of Bhutanese refugees in which she drew on interviews with contacts from the internship and volunteer work she had done for Jewish Family and Children’s Services. After graduating from CMU, these experiences and her passion for improving the lives of refugees led Julia to join Compass AmeriCorps, a program that provides wrap-around social services support and literacy instruction for refugees and immigrants in Pittsburgh.