2020-2021 CARA Projects | Admissions and Financial Aid | Colby College
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CARA (Colby Academic Research Assistants)

2020-2021 CARA Projects

Presidential Scholars

In their first year, Presidential Scholars are offered paid Colby Academic Research Assistant (CARA) positions, which pair them with a professor on a research project of mutual interest, with the option to renew this position in their sophomore year. These opportunities span the curriculum, provide a catalyst for making a significant impact in the world, and help prepare students for life after Colby. Below are the available research projects for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Arts and Humanities Scholars

Spiders, Storytelling, and Orientation

Sponsor: Rory Bradley, Visiting Assistant Professor of German (rory.bradley@colby.edu)

In the ancient myth of Arachne, weaving spiders were entwined with the act of narrating, of spinning tales. It is often through narratives that we understand our place in the world and within the natural order. But spiders also have a surprising place in the history of human efforts to map the physical world. For centuries, spiderwebs were the only material that was thin enough, strong enough and temperature-resistant enough to create the gridlines in micrometers (eyepieces in telescopes that allow for accurate astronomical measurements). Spider webs were so valuable that American patents were issued in the 19th century for devices that could “harvest” webs from spiders, in the way that one might hook a cow up to a machine for milking. For millennia, spiders have been our companions in orienting to the world. I am seeking CARA scholars intrigued by this curious resonance between narrative tradition and the history of science and exploration to assist with a developing book project on acts of “orienting,” figuratively and physically, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. This project has many threads (pun intended) that stretch across numerous traditions; my primary focus is on German-speaking regions, but this project necessarily involves work with materials from England, the Americas and France as well, so there is a lot of room for CARA scholars to look into areas that interest them in particular. Along the way, they will learn skills that will prepare them for their own research: reading and assessing existing scholarship; conducting database and library research; locating sources and identifying connections between them; presenting research findings in an article or conference presentation. 

A Digital Exhibition of Rare Books: Orientalism and the Romance of The Rubaiyat 

Sponsor: Mary Ellis Gibson, Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of Literature (mary.ellis.gibson@colby.edu)

Would you like to be published in your first year at Colby? Join me to create a special digital exhibit for the Colby Library–you’ll research, write, edit and share in the design of the exhibition. You’ll learn much about the world of publishing, from mass markets to artists’ books. Together we will build a digital exhibition to be linked to the website of the Colby College Special Collections (rare book room). The digital exhibition will highlight our library’s collection of more than 200 different editions of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Persian astronomer and poet, Omar Khayyam. This poem became a public sensation in the late nineteenth-century, a sensation that has lasted even to our own time. Phrases from the poem still surface in greeting cards, on the walls of wine shops, and in advertisements. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is still a popular gift book, and it’s a fine poem in its own right. If you’re interested in or want to learn about web design, writing and editing for the public, print history, or poetry, this project is for you.

The History of Science Denial

Sponsor: Aaron Hanlon, Assistant Professor of English (aaron.hanlon@colby.edu)

Science denial–the tendency to reject well-established scientific findings–plays a prominent role in our lives today, from the belief that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax to the belief that vaccines cause autism. I’m writing a book on the history of science denial, in an effort to place some of the most influential and in many cases destructive forms of science denial into a longer history, from the time of Galileo through the industrial revolution to the present day. This book is not just about presenting scientific facts and telling people they’re wrong, but about asking and answering difficult questions about where healthy skepticism–an important part of scientific inquiry itself–ends and where denialism begins; about what has counted as “science” historically and what has not; and about whether scientists themselves sometimes share culpability for science denial when they overstate the capabilities and functions of the scientific enterprise, or when they become boosters or cheerleaders of science at the expense of other branches of knowledge that offer better explanations for historical and cultural phenomena. As a literary historian, I’ll also be attentive in this book to the roles that various forms of writing we call “literature”–both fiction and nonfiction–have played in both distorting and correcting scientific knowledge. I’m looking for a CARA scholar who’s interested in the relationships between science and literature (including science fiction), and in particular who’s interested in doing literary and historical research. The successful student collaborator on this project will take ownership of a historical example of science denial, conduct research on this topic, and help me assimilate your findings into the wider history I present in the book. Particularly outstanding student collaborators may have the opportunity to co-write a popular press essay with me on an aspect of science denial. If you would like more information about me and my work, you can find it on my website: http://www.aaronrhanlon.com/.

Graffiti on Frescoes / Word and Image Studies

Sponsor: Véronique Plesch, Professor of Art (veronique.plesch@colby.edu)

Why would someone deface Renaissance paintings with graffiti? My current research deals with a fascinating and ignored practice: that of writing on frescoes. I am writing a book that features a small northern Italian chapel that contains more than 150 graffiti scratched on its 15th-century frescoes that record four centuries of important events in the life of the village. The CARA scholar involved in this project will track and organize materials (both visual and scholarly) and help with historical contextual research and with editorial matters. The CARA scholar might also assist me in other projects, in which I consider works in which words and images interact.  

Twentieth Century Poetry (Avant-garde, Visual, Oral)

Sponsor: Gianluca Rizzo, Paul D. and Marilyn Paganucci Assistant Professor of Italian Language and Literature (gianluca.rizzo@colby.edu)

I am seeking a student interested in the history of Twentieth Century poetry, and motivated to learn more about the lives and works of its fascinating protagonists. Have you ever wondered how an anthology is made? Who decides which authors are included and which ones are left out? What’s the relationship between the various forms of avant-garde poetry: “linear,” “visual,” and “oral”?  These are some of the questions we will be addressing in preparing the groundwork for an anthology of Italian poetry of the first half of the 20th century, to be published by the University of Toronto Press. I need the help of a research assistant to locate, read, and summarize materials (books, articles, journals), relating to the writers and critics who made the first fifty years of the last century such an intriguing period in Italian history. Knowledge of Italian is not required.

Performance Design and Production

Sponsor: James Thurston, Associate Professor of Theater and Dance (james.thurston@colby.edu)

Scenography, or design for the stage, shapes performance meaning in powerful and complex ways. My research investigates the intersection between visual design for the stage and performance process as it creates meaning for an audience. The study of creativity and imagination are at the center of this research. Using a four-phase design process (research, program, design development, presentation), this CARA scholar will serve as an assistant designer for the Department of Theater and Dance mainstage productions; working directly with me to research, conceptualize, and implement scenic, lighting, and projection designs. An exciting aspect of this research is the testing of conceptual ideas in the high-stakes performance environment with an audience. The CARA scholar involved in this project will learn Vectorworks (a design visualization and management software) and other elements of design thinking. The position is ideal for one or two students interested in scenography, 3-dimensional design, and architecture.

Interdisciplinary Scholars

Afro-Caribbean Identity and Loss

Sponsor: Alicia Ellis, Assistant Professor of German (alicia.ellis@colby.edu)

My work focuses on Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American writer of fiction and nonfiction. In her work Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (2010), she reflects on the role of the artist, particularly those who come from regions of conflict. While the center of the project is Danticat’s essays in Create Dangerously, I look to her fiction to work through the author’s self-proclaimed obligation to the excavation of stories of trauma and loss and the experience, the memory and the recall of terror. CARA scholars will help me in the research process for the introduction and book proposal including collecting the research and compiling the bibliography. Students will conduct academic research, use bibliographic management tools such as Zotero, write brief summaries of texts with citations, and learn how to revise and edit writing. This project is best suited for students interested in the humanities and/or with a concentration in diasporic literature, trauma studies, and African-American/Caribbean literature.

Indigenous Representations in Contemporary Popular Culture in the Americas (Position Filled)

Sponsor: Sandra Bernal Heredia, Assistant Professor of Spanish (sandra.bernal.heredia@colby.edu)

My research explores the construction of contemporary urban indigenous identities through an analysis of a wide range of cultural mediums (popular music, audiovisual arts, image based storytelling, performance, comics, video games, aesthetics, among others) in order to analyze emerging patterns of cultural variegations, affective energies, and decolonized daily practices. At the moment I am doing a hemispheric comparison of the representation of indigeneity in comic books in the Americas. I am analyzing the representation of gender and ethnicity portrayed in the first Peruvian female superhero “La Chola Power” with Navajo superhero Ayla, The Monster Slayer, whose adventures happen in post-apocalyptic spaces and present an intersection between narratives of environmental humanistic climate change and indigenous resilience. A CARA scholar will help answer questions such as, how are indigenous representations struggling to be “listened to” and “seen” within the constructions of national identities?  The CARA scholar involved in this project will read and discuss existing scholarship on the topic, retrieve and organize visual and scholarly material, and use bibliographic management tools such as Zotero. Proficiency in Spanish is required.

Elite All-Boys Schools

Sponsor: Adam Howard, Professor of Education (adam.howard@colby.edu)

This research project explores the lessons that students at all-boys schools in the U.S. context are taught about themselves, others, and the world around them. In this project, we are particularly interested in exploring how these students’ educational experiences influence their understandings of gender and, more specifically, masculinity. We are also exploring how these lessons ‘travel’ with alumni to college and other contexts of their lives. The CARA scholar involved in this project will work on various aspects of the project, including conducting interviews with students, analyzing interview data, conducting literature reviews, and presenting the results of our research. Some travel to different all-boys schools is possible. 

Historical Marine Ecology and Conservation

Sponsor: Loren McClenachan, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies (loren.mcclenachan@colby.edu)

Long term change in marine ecosystems has been substantial, in particular due to overfishing and overhunting over centuries. This CARA project contributes to ongoing research in the field of historical marine ecology and conservation, with a focus on informing fisheries management and ecosystem restoration. Research will involve working with historical documents and large datasets as part of a larger ongoing project.

Transforming Rural Educational Experience (TREE)

Sponsor: Mark Tappan, Professor of Education (mark.tappan@colby.edu)

The goal of TREE is to work with schools and communities in Washington County, Maine to develop a strengths-based, poverty, trauma, and equity-informed model that will fortify rural school environments and redress inequity and injustice vis-à-vis access to resources and opportunities for some of the country’s poorest schools and most vulnerable students. Washington County is located along the Canadian border in Downeast Maine, home to two of Maine’s five Native American communities, and recently identified as one of the poorest counties east of the Mississippi. TREE is a project of the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott, Maine. It is inspired and informed by best practices in theory, research, and practice from around the country, and also deeply place-based, rooted in the history, culture, landscape, and natural and social ecologies of Washington County. A five-year pilot phase is currently underway, and we are seeking two CARA scholars to work with us on various aspects of the project, including designing evaluation protocols, conducting focus groups with students, parents, and teachers, analyzing interview data, conducting literature reviews, and presenting the results of our research. Some travel to Washington County over the course of the academic year is possible.

Corrective Feedback and Acquisition of Chinese as a Second Language (Position Filled)

Andie Wang, Assistant Professor of Chinese (andi.wang@colby.edu)

How do learners acquire Chinese as a second language? How do they learn from the errors they produce in interactions with their instructors, tutors and peers? How can corrective feedback be best provided for learners in order to facilitate the acquisition of target language features? This is a multi-year project that aims to investigate the interaction of corrective feedback and learners’ acquisition of certain target language features in Chinese. The CARA scholar involved in this project will assist in various aspects of the project including conducting a literature review, collecting data from interactions in and outside class, transcribing and analyzing data. As part of the project, you will learn theories of second language learning, methods of data collection, and analysis of language data. Students must be fluent in both Chinese and English (including advanced learners in Chinese) and ideally interested in language learning research and/or language teaching.

Natural Science Scholars

Neurodegenerative Disease: Inducing Dementia in Fruit Flies

Sponsor: Tariq Ahmad, Associate Professor of Biology (syed.ahmad@colby.edu)

Neurodegenerative diseases are one of the biggest challenges facing the biomedical community. Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are associated with progressive decline in the cognitive functions due to age-dependent loss of central nervous system neurons. Early diagnosis and intervention are particularly challenging. The development of early interventions has been inhibited by the lack of genetic markers. One genetic marker associated with hereditary form of FTD is a mutation in a gene involved in the endosomal-lysosomal pathway that delivers cell surface proteins for degradation. However, it remains unclear how these mutant proteins lead to neurodegeneration. My lab utilizes fruit fly Drosophila, a well-established model system for studying human neurodegenerative diseases to understand such problems. In Drosophila we have the ability to ask what happens when we ectopically express human mutant protein associated with the disease. Our goal is to determine the effects of expressing human mutant protein associated with FTD in the Drosophila brain on circadian rhythm – the ability of an organism to maintain a daily rhythm of physiological processes. We use a combination of histological, biochemical, and behavioral techniques in our projects. Student researchers are involved in all stages of the project, including experiment design, data acquisition and analysis, and manuscript preparation. Students are encouraged to suggest and design their own projects.

Understanding Complex Interactions Among Frogs, their Microbiome, and a Pathogenic Fungus

Sponsor: Catherine Bevier, Professor of Biology (catherine.bevier@colby.edu)

My lab group studies the complex interactions among a pathogenic fungus that infects frogs through their skin, protective antifungal products of bacteria that compose a frog’s skin microbiome, and the antimicrobial components of frog skin secretion products. Some populations of frogs have exhibited great sensitivity and are vulnerable to morbid infection by the fungus while other frogs are resistant carriers of this pathogen. We are focusing on the Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans, as a model of these resistant species and in a broader survey of indicators of amphibian health. By studying various intrinsic and extrinsic characters, we hope to better understand variation in susceptibility among frog species. My research assistant would have the opportunity to explore these questions using biochemical analyses and tools in microbiology.

“And the Beat Goes On:” Studying Heart Development to Understand Cell Signaling

Sponsor: Christina Cota, Assistant Professor of Biology (cdcota@colby.edu )

Cells precisely regulate their identity and behavior based on molecular signals produced by other cells. My research focuses on uncovering mechanisms that coordinate cell signaling events with cell division. Cell signaling associated with cell divisions is critical for both generating cellular diversity during development as well as the self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells required for maintenance of adult tissue homeostasis. Moreover, aberrant regulation of cell signaling during cell division has been associated with development of cancer in some tissues. To investigate these processes, I study heart development in the tunicate model, Ciona robusta. Tunicates, including Ciona robusta, are marine chordates believed to be the closest invertebrate relatives to vertebrate species and analysis of Ciona heart development has provided novel insights into how cells respond to signals. In particular, these studies have revealed that receptor proteins that bind to external signaling molecules can be redistributed during cell divisions to both spatially restricted signaling within cells and to preserve signaling components through cell divisions. Projects in the lab use a combination of cellular, molecular and genetic approaches to identify proteins that regulate these processes.

Atmospheric Chemistry of Air Pollution and Climate Change

Sponsor: Greg Drozd, Assistant Professor of Chemistry (greg.drozd@colby.edu)

The earth’s rapidly changing atmosphere has huge impacts on our personal health and the health of the planet. While it’s easy to determine that the soot coming from the tailpipe of a big truck, a campfire, or a coal power plant is bad for our health, many of the processes leading to the smog we see in big cities like Los Angeles are not so easily understood. The biggest environmental problem of our era, climate change, is also driven by the emissions from our dominant energy source: burning fossil fuel. After being emitted from their sources, gases and particles undergo a myriad of complex chemical reactions that transform them into harmful air pollution. In my laboratory, we use a range of methods to understand the chemistry of air pollution. We analyze the evaporation of crude oil to understand the impacts of events like oil spills on air pollution; we use quantum mechanics and chemical kinetics to understand the effects of ozone chemistry on the climate; and we observe the chemistry of atmospheric particles using a microscope with laser light. These projects combine to help us make our atmosphere healthier by understanding the sources of our emissions and how they evolve in the atmosphere.

Development of Environmentally Sustainable Catalysts for Organic Synthesis

Sponsor: Jeff Katz, Professor of Chemistry (jeffrey.katz@colby.edu)

Many important chemical reactions used in academia and for the commercial production of pharmaceuticals employ transition metal catalysts. Although these metals are often toxic, expensive, and potentially reusable, they are commonly released into the waste stream following use rather than recycled. Metal catalysts that are easily recovered and reused could reduce health and environmental risks while at the same time lowering costs. My students and I are developing such environmentally sustainable catalysts by binding metals within a polymer framework. Students working on this project will conduct organic chemistry to synthesize polymers and form their catalysts, investigate the ability of the catalysts to promote chemical reactions, and measure the stability and recyclability of the catalysts. More information about research projects, research group members, publications, and funding is available here. This project is available only to aspiring chemistry majors.

Modeling Perception and Action (Position Filled)

Sponsor: Oliver Layton, Assistant Professor in Computer Science (oliver.layton@colby.edu)

How can the brain inspire us to design smarter machines? My lab focuses on the neural circuits that allow people to navigate through crowded areas, drive on dynamic roadways, and fly drones through cluttered environments. We build neural models with the goal of having computers simulate human-like perception, action, and decision-making while navigating through complex environments. In addition to the computational modeling, we design experiments with realistic, immersive virtual environments to better understand human navigation strategies and improve the neural models. We are beginning a new project where we are studying the flight patterns of human drone pilots and implementing our models so that they control drones during autonomous flight. We are looking for students interested in computer science and/or psychology/neuroscience to get involved in all areas of the research — with the neural modeling, machine learning, designing the virtual environments used in experiments, and collecting and analyzing data from human subjects. Students who apply are required to have prior programming experience.

Reaction Mechanisms in Organic Chemistry

Sponsor: Das Thamattoor, Professor of Chemistry (dmthamat@colby.edu)

Research projects in my laboratory are developed with the undergraduate student in mind. They are carefully designed to address important questions in contemporary organic chemistry, have a high “education content,” and be compatible with the experience-level of the students. Current work is focusing on carbene chemistry, nonplanar hydrocarbons, and strained cyclic allenes. Student researchers are involved in all aspects of the research. Specifically, they will design and set up experiments; synthesize, purify, and analyze compounds; use research grade instruments and other experimental equipment to obtain data; become proficient in modern computational methods; retrieve information from the chemical literature; interpret results; work collaboratively with other scientists; write reports; give oral presentations; and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. An especially important aspect of the lab’s educational goals is to help students realize their maximum potential in a friendly, supportive, and nurturing environment. For more information, please see http://web.colby.edu/dmthamat/.

Social Science Scholars

Children’s Thinking (Position Filled)

Sponsor: Martha Arterberry, Professor of Psychology (martha.arterberry@colby.edu)

One line of my research is 3-to-5-year-old children’s event memory. My students and I are exploring how children remember events and what factors predict how well they will do this. Much of this work has implications for children’s eyewitness testimony, and a guiding question is when children can be reliable eyewitnesses. First year CARA scholars join a student research team comprised of psychology majors, and they help with study design, recruiting families, testing child participants, observing behavior from video, and preparing the findings for presentations or publications. Former CARA scholars have appeared as authors on conference presentations, and they have majored in biology, education, and/or psychology. For more information about my lab see: http://www.colby.edu/psych/cognitive-development-lab/.

Freedom and Captivity

Sponsor: Catherine Besteman, Francis F. and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology (catherine.besteman@colby.edu)

Two primary issues of our contemporary era are mass incarceration and mass displacement, especially due to climate change.  There are currently 2.2 million people incarcerated in the US, a 500% increase from a half century ago, at an annual cost of nearly $100 billion. The number of immigrants in detention in the US has quintupled over the past 40 years and the number of immigrant detention centers has grown to 200 because of new laws requiring mandatory detention of unauthorized immigrants. As our legal system has expanded definitions of criminality, our carceral system has exploded. But the use of captivity as a tool of control and punishment is being called into question by a public growing increasingly uncomfortable with the proliferation of prisons and detention centers. Why do we choose to believe that the freedom of some is dependent on the captivity of others? The Freedom and Captivity project explores the relationship between freedom and captivity and alternatives to incarceration and immigrant detention. The research position is to help compile a bibliography of relevant literature on the subject of incarceration, decarceration, and abolition.

Colby Laboratory for Economic Studies

Sponsor: Michael Donihue, Professor of Economics (michael.donihue@colby.edu)

The Colby Laboratory for Economic Studies (CL4ES) is a collaborative research workshop providing analysis, information and educational outreach on contemporary public policy issues. CL4ES is sponsored by the Department of Economics at Colby College under the direction of Professor Michael Donihue. The workshop engages presidential scholars and economics majors in research projects across a variety of disciplines at Colby and at partner institutions. Recent projects include compiling data on economic indicators for the Waterville area; studies of environmental policies for methane suppression in dairy cows and carbon sequestration in Maine’s forest industry; an analysis of a recent public health initiative to increase the availability of Naloxone to combat Maine’s opioid crisis; and an evaluation of an innovative oral health program in the local public schools. Interested students can learn more about this project by interviewing with Professor Donihue in April, 2020 at the Accepted Students Program or by Skype .

Prejudice, Behavior, and Judgment

Sponsor: Jin Goh, Assistant Professor of Psychology (jin.goh@colby.edu)

How do our identities (such as race, gender, sexual orientations) influence the ways we navigate this diverse world? In the Prejudice, Behavior, and Judgment (PB&J) Lab, students and I work together to understand this big question using many different approaches. Ongoing research in my lab looks at how gender bias predicts evaluations of women in various domains such as politics and workplace. Another project looks at how people think about the concept of race (for instance, who counts as Asian or Latinx). First year CARA scholars will join in study design, recruiting participants, analyzing participant responses, and preparing the findings for presentations or publications. For more information about my lab, see www.pbandjlab.com.

Immigration, Ethnic Diversity, and Civic Life across Contemporary Advanced Democracies

Sponsor: Christel Kesler, Assistant Professor of Sociology (christel.kesler@colby.edu)

More than at any other time in recent memory, immigration is front page news across advanced democracies. Some countries struggle to respond to massive waves of new migrants fleeing ongoing war and poverty and drawn by the promise of political stability and economic security. Other countries continue to wrestle with longer-term issues of integration and multiculturalism policies. Existing literature in the social sciences suggests that immigration-generated diversity may result not only in anti-immigrant sentiment, but also in a more general turn away from civic and public life, and an erosion of the social solidarity necessary to sustain generous welfare states. But we also have reasons to believe that this is not a universal response, that these processes may be strongly conditioned by a country’s existing social institutions and social policies. This ongoing project focuses on documenting and explaining variation in public responses to contemporary immigration-generated diversity across Western European and North American countries, particularly the effects of growing diversity on civic engagement and support for the welfare state. The CARA scholar involved in this project will assist with reviewing the scholarly literature, analyzing existing survey data, compiling a database of relevant social policies, and further data collection. A student with a broad interest in the social sciences and particular interests in immigration, ethnic diversity, or cross-nationally comparative policy research would be ideal for the position.

Global Health and Economic Development

Sponsor: Dan LaFave, Assistant Professor of Economics (daniel.lafave@colby.edu)

Research in the economics of global health brings students to the intersection of economics, public health, and medicine. My work focuses on issues related to young children and early-life human capital development in China, Indonesia, and Ethiopia, and works with both publicly available surveys and personally collected datasets. Some current projects examine the role of infrastructure – roads, electricity, etc. – in impacting health as well as how health traits and habits are passed down between generations. I’m looking for a student interested not only in global health but also in computer programming to assist in data acquisition, formatting, and cleaning. Qualified candidates should have strong quantitative and analytical skills. Prior programming experience is also welcome, although not necessary. The selected student can expect to gain an understanding of how health is central to the process of economic development and how international researchers approach frontline issues.

The Structure of Disciplinary Knowledge

Damon Mayrl, Associate Professor of Sociology (Damon.Mayrl@colby.edu)

Academic disciplines are essential to the production of knowledge, since disciplinary conventions about theoretical, conceptual, and methodological matters provide a structure for debates and the advancement of knowledge. Yet many social scientific disciplines are divided in terms of these conventions. What holds intellectually and methodologically fragmented fields together? This project examines the role that intellectual exchanges, citation practices, and organizational factors play in allowing disciplinary knowledge to advance in the face of pluralism. The CARA scholar involved in this project will assist in this research by conducting literature searches, gathering information from academic publications, and managing databases. Students interested in science, knowledge, and politics would be well suited for the project

Existential Functions of Power

Sponsor: Ross Rogers, Visiting Assistant Professor in Psychology (ross.rogers@colby.edu)

My research focuses on what happens when we are reminded of our mortality. Generally, reminders of mortality bolster efforts to secure or enhance perceptions of meaning and individual self-worth. Positions of power, with the authority, control of scarce resources, and prestige, that accompany them, seemingly provide those who hold such positions with evidence that they have secured culturally-valued meaning and elevated individual self-worth. I am examining a variety of questions regarding the relationship between awareness of personal mortality and power. Such questions include, are people more likely to seek power following a reminder of mortality; do reminders of mortality impact how those with power treat those without power? Student researchers are involved in all aspects of the research process including experiment design, experiment execution, and data analysis/interpretation.

State Capacity and Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sponsor: Laura Seay, Assistant Professor of Government (laura.seay@colby.edu)

As the Congolese state recovers from two decades of conflict, donors have poured billions of dollars into rebuilding state capacity, especially in the security sector. This project aims to determine whether donor-funded efforts to strengthen policing, intelligence, and military services have affected human rights in a positive or negative way in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The CARA scholar involved in this project will continue to build an in-progress dataset of attacks on Congolese journalists, civil society actors, and human rights activists that will be used to test whether stronger state capacity in the security arena leads to more or less repression of civilians. This project will be of particular interest to students interested in international affairs, human rights, and/or African studies. French language skills are helpful, but not a requirement for this position.

Are Americans Sorting into Ideological Tribes?

Sponsor: Daniel Shea, Professor of Government (daniel.shea@colby.edu)

Bill Bishop, in The Big Short (2008), seemed to discover that since the 1970s Americans have been forming tight-knit political communities. In 1976, for example, 20 percent of counties in the United States produced presidential landslides (where the difference between candidates was more than 20 percent). By 2008 that figure had jumped to nearly 60 percent. In other words, Bishop argues that Americans are starting to pick and choose where to live and who to socialize with based on political ideology. Republicans are moving to conservative communities and Democrats are seeking-out liberal cities and towns. While not rejecting the possibility that many factors may be operating to make Americans more culturally and politically inbred, others scholars have challenged the “sorting hypothesis.” For example, hasn’t the very definition of “neighborhoods” changed? While citizens continue to connect in deep, meaningful ways, is it usually through social media – and not necessarily at the corner coffee shop or bowling league? Professor Shea has written several publications on this controversial topic, and he is looking for a student-scholar to help add new data and analysis to this important debate. This research will likely culminate in articles and book chapters.

Cities in Flames: The Impact of Urban Fires in the Early Twentieth Century

Sponsor: James Siodla, Assistant Professor of Economics (james.siodla@colby.edu)

Cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were highly susceptible to fire. Dozens of city centers during this time period experienced large-scale fires that burned hundreds or thousands of buildings, while smaller-scale fires impacted nearly every city. Redevelopment following destruction often led to drastic changes in land use, infrastructure, and urban environments. This project aims to determine whether these historical conflagrations impacted various urban outcomes, either in the short run or long run. The primary research tasks include finding and requesting fire insurance reports through the college’s interlibrary system, using data from these reports to build and clean a central dataset for analysis, and gathering qualitative information on the impact of historical fires from a variety of sources such as newspapers and municipal reports.