This week I talked to Alexander Hess (senior, English) to learn more about his Honors Thesis project including his project inspiration, the planning process behind his research, challenges he’s faced, and tips for future students doing similar projects.
Can you give us a short summary of your Honors Thesis Project?
For my Honors Thesis, I'm exploring the impact of racism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity on Black love as manifested through Beyoncé's 2016 “Lemonade” album. By analyzing three songs— "Don't Hurt Yourself feat. Jack White," 'Daddy Lessons," and "All Night" —and their accompanying music videos, I dissect Beyoncé's three step journey of working through her husband's infidelity and the broader systems of oppression that hurt all of us. Those three steps are 1) parodying patriarchal masculinity as a means for "healing" from her brokenness and exposing the toxicity of patriarchal masculinity, 2) realizing that violence and apathy are insufficient modes of healing by reflecting on the broken relationships within her own family, and 3) embracing an alternative gender/sexual politic grounded in love and mutual care. Through these steps, I assert that Beyoncé not only diagnoses how these systems of oppression teach us self-defeating ways of being and loving, but also maps a course to recovery.
What inspired you to choose this topic?
One of the things I love about being an English major is that I am essentially trained to apply complex theoretical ideas of human identity and art to the things I read, watch, and listen to. As any of my friends or family will tell you, I'm obsessed with Beyoncé, so choosing “Lemonade” as the focus of my project was a no brainer. However, in a lot of the critical responses to “Lemonade” I had seen, very few consider what Bey says about masculinity and patriarchy (two of my other favorite research topics). So, with my project, I wanted to utilize my passion for topics of masculine gender performance and sexuality and broaden conversations about “Lemonade.”
What is the process behind your planning, and where are you at currently?
Once I decided on my topic, my amazing advisor, Dr. Vanessa Corredera, provided me with a list of books on Blackness and masculinity to start building the theoretical groundwork for my project. While doing this academic reading, I rewatched and relistened to “Lemonade” to determine how I could apply the things I was reading to my analysis. Once I had that groundwork to build off of, I started writing! Currently, I'm planning and drafting the final portion of my thesis, on "All Night," and reading articles that specifically talk about “Lemonade” and Beyoncé. So far this school year, I've spent about sixty hours researching and writing portions of my project!
What is your favorite thing about your Honors Thesis?
As I mentioned earlier, I love my research because it gives me the opportunity to write about the things that I'm passionate about—primarily Beyoncé and gender/sexuality. In many ways, “Lemonade” is the perfect artifact because it's a goldmine of symbolism and Black history/culture. Every time I watch the visual album (which is quite frequently), I discover something new. Because of how complex the album is, I could genuinely write multiple theses on this album, which sometimes makes it hard for me to stay focused and not go down rabbit holes!
Have there been any challenges thus far? If so, how have you dealt with them?
Overall, I would say that the largest challenge I've had is staying motivated. I'm someone who doesn't work super well with long term deadlines, so when I started researching during my junior year, it was hard for me to stay dedicated to my project and not procrastinate. One of the main ways that I work on overcoming this is by breaking my project down into smaller, more digestible pieces. For example, I completed two of the major parts of my project by writing them as final papers for English classes, essentially allowing me to kill two birds (thesis writing and class assignments) with one stone.
What are tips or recommendations you have for future students doing their Honors Thesis?
Building off of the last question, I would recommend using every opportunity you have to apply your research. Since many of us have to complete final projects for our classes, see if you can somehow make your final project a portion of your research! Additionally, when you are completing your research, remember that no one knows your project as well as you do. You are literally the expert on your specific topic, so (while still being humble) use that to your advantage.
Is there anything else you would like to comment on about your project?
This isn't specifically about my project, but, if it isn't already on your radar, you should totally come to the Undergraduate Research Poster Session on Friday March 10! At this event, my peers and I who have completed research will be giving short poster presentations and answering any questions you might have on our research. Plus the Honors Department provides food and co-curricular credit, so win win!
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