Thesis work ranges from ‘slow food’ to a robotic eel

Published in the July 16, 2008, issue


Since the senior thesis became established as the capstone of a Princeton undergraduate education in the 1920s, thousands of independent-study projects have been completed on subjects as varied as the students themselves. Here is a sampling of thesis work by four members of the Class of 2008, in their own words:

Katy Andersen '08
Zachary Ruchman '10
Katy Andersen '08

Katy Andersen, French and Italian; certificate in environmental studies

Summary: Twice in the past 500 years, Italy has witnessed periods of profound scholarship and advancement in gastronomy that changed the human relationship with food. The first Western gastronomic treatise, published in 1468 and titled De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine (Of Right Pleasure and Good Health), and its renaissance under the slow-food movement answer more than just the question, “Why do we eat what we eat?” Their principles formulate a cohesive and comprehensive theory of gastronomy. Ultimately, the stomach has a memory, but the mouth has a mind.

A campus farmers market is an exceptional venue for bringing delicious, sustainable food directly to students, faculty, staff, and members of the community in a fun, social setting. My farmers-market manual records the history of the Greening Princeton Farmers Market and details the steps followed to run this market or needed to start one’s own campus market.

Advisers: Professor Pietro Frassica, French and Italian thesis; Xenia Morin, lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program and the Princeton Environmental Institute, for the manual

Reason for selecting the topics: The idea for my French/Italian thesis came out of readings selected by Professor Frassica in his course, “The Literature of Slow Food.” While I refined this topic, our seminar took a trip to northern Italy where we met Carlo Petrini, the founder of the slow-food movement. Shaking his hand, I knew what I wanted to write about. The other paper, my farmers-market manual, represents three years of planning the Princeton campus farmers market. Princeton now has a thriving market, and we need to support it! I wrote the manual for future student directors, and expanded it to become a resource for students at other universities. It ended up being longer than my thesis. I hope to condense and publish it.

Biggest challenge: Eating! How can one write about food and not be constantly hungry? I wrote over half of both papers in a toasty corner of the Bent Spoon, whose delicious artisan ice cream made matters more difficult.  

Plans after graduation:
I am moving to northern Italy in October on a Fulbright scholarship to study artisan cheese production with the University of Gastronomic Sciences. When I return nine months later, I will attend Harvard Business School.

Matt Martin '08
Zachary Ruchman '10
Matt Martin '08
Dagmar Westberg
Courtesy Matt Martin '08
Dagmar Westberg

Matt Martin, history

Summary: My work deals with two aspects of Hamburg, Germany, during the 1930s and the 1940s: Jewish life and the resistance movement. Hamburg’s development as an independent city-state and the history of Jewish life in Hamburg were both fairly unusual. For a case study, I examine the experiences of Dagmar Westberg, heiress to the Beiersdorf Corp., whose father was classified as “Aryan” and mother as “Jewish.”

Adviser: Professor Harold James

Reason for selecting the topic: I was involved with the German Summer Work Program, which helps Princeton students find summer internships in Germany. The summer after sophomore year, I had met David Fisher ’69, the director of the program and president of the Princeton Alumni Association of Germany. David and other friends of Frau Westberg, the principal donor for the summer work program and a strong supporter of German-American friendship, saw a need to record her life experiences. After talking with Frau Westberg and several of her friends, we developed a plan for a paper on the subject, which would become my thesis. The point was to place Frau Westberg’s experience in the more general experience of Germany in the 1930s and ’40s.

Biggest challenge: The research presented multifaceted difficulties. Most of the books on my topic in Firestone were in German. While I am able to read and critically analyze the texts in that language, the reading and research process took much more time in a foreign language. The second difficulty was the bureaucratic process of archival research at the Hamburg State Archive, where I researched documents on the resistance movement as well as decrees that affected Jewish life in Hamburg.

Plans after graduation: I am interviewing for several jobs in New York, mostly in the areas of advertising and sales. I hope to begin in the late summer.


 
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