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As a humanities student, I write a lot. At the end of my college career, I fully plan on tallying the pages I’ve poured over to 1. see, collectively, just how much I’ve written 2. calculate how many calories I’ve burned by typing (convinced this is the reason I avoided the freshman 15). 3. measure how my papers, placed end to end, stack up against the USS Constellation’s mast.

Considering how much work goes into my papers, I grow an attachment to them. I feel like I’m raising a child, forming its logic, cultivating it. Finishing a paper is bittersweet—on one hand, I can finally email it in, pack up my books, and invest my time elsewhere, like watching Friday Night Lights for the millionth time. On the other hand, it’s kind of like saying goodbye to an old friend who’s been there with me through it all.

My papers have seen me at my worst: those too-caffeinated early mornings where you realize you should’ve done the reading months ago and wish you could go back in time and force your past self into being a better student. Other papers have seen me at my best: where I get so excited about my topic that the words come flowing out effortlessly and the hardest thing about writing my paper is editing it because every word feels like it deserves to be there.

From good riddance to good friends, here are the 5 papers that I’m most proud of:

  1. Oh, the Humanity: Animalistic Nature in The Rules of the Game

Class: Intro to Cinema, 1892-1941 with Meredith Ward — Freshman fall
What: Film classes typically require you to write a final paper on a film or theory that was discussed in class. I chose French film The Rules of the Game (which I also discuss here), and while this paper is definitely not perfect (my margins look wonky; I used the word “groundlings” in my intro; why am I talking about Gatsby?), it has a special place in my heart for being my first big girl film paper.
Thesis: Renoir depicts his aristocratic characters as uncivilized, id-driven animals through narrative dynamics, but also cinematography, mise-en-scene, and film and sound editing.
Notes: I was so, so proud of this paper! I worked really hard on it, and while I probably wouldn’t think of it as amazing if I wrote it today, it was pretty darn good for being my first crack at a film paper. I was really diligent with my time stamps (something I’ve conveniently left out in every paper since), and I made some sound claims about a very rich film! I tried so, so hard on this paper. It’s kind of precious.
Length: 2512 words, 8 pages

2. Battling and Embracing Beauty: Victoria’s Secret and Hegemony

Class: Theorizing Popular Culture with Meredith Ward — Sophomore fall
What: The prompt dictated that we uncover some hegemonic force in media. I chose the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which is super complex and interesting behind all of the angel wings and sparkly bras. I loved this topic, and it really challenged me to research and discover completely new ideas.
Thesis: Victoria’s Secret, despite their brand mission to sexually liberate women, perpetuates dominant norms of beauty.
Notes:  I slaved over this paper. I think it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever written. It’s amazing to think that I wrote this just a year after Paper 1; I have come a looong way. Also, here is real feedback that I received from my professor: “There are times when I’m pushing you. Think of it as a friendly disagreement with someone who likes and respects your opinion and wants to convince you of her position. Imagine me like a girlfriend at the bar, sipping Cosmos with you and saying, ‘Girl, no…’” I love her.
Length: 2729 words, 11 pages

3. The School Slut: Mulvey’s Male Gaze and Easy A

Class: Intro to Film Theory with Meredith Ward (last Meredith class, I swear) — Sophomore spring
What: For my Intro to Film Theory class, each week examined a different piece of—duh—film theory, from surrealism to documentary theory to feminist theory. Our final paper required us to pick one week’s school of thought and apply it to a film. I picked feminist film theory and applied it to Easy A, and it’s shaped how I watch every film. The reading I used to structure this, Mulvey’s famous “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is basically the lens through which I watch every film now.
Thesis: Easy A both obeys and subverts notions of feminism, sexuality, and the male gaze from Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”
Notes: Have you ever watched Easy A four times in a row? Well, I have. The song that plays during the opening credits haunts me with its insipid catchiness. And Mulvey’s reading is something that has really shaped my perspective on life; it’s the kind of thing that made me realize Oh my god, I’m being educated! I once geeked out about it when out to dinner with my family because I got so fired up about voyeurism.
Length: 3979 words, 13 pages

4. Reconstructing the Past: Making Madeleine in Vertigo

Class: The Films of Alfred Hitchcock with Linda DeLibero — Junior fall
What: I signed up to write about and present on Vertigo, despite me being the only one in the class who (somehow) hadn’t seen it and despite that fact that it’s considered one of Hitchcock’s most complex works. But I like a challenge.
Thesis: Madeleine’s reconstruction culminates when Scottie’s obsessive fantasies of the past and Judy’s portrayal of Madeleine converge in the scene where Judy debuts her makeover. (In the same text conversation, I asked Megan if this thesis made any sense, at least grammatically. She said no.)
Notes: My professor said that I sparked some of the best discussion that the class has seen yet! Huge payoff considering one kid was bemoaning the fact that I chose “the one scene from Vertigo that people always analyze.” Tough crowd.
Length: 2245 words, 7 pages

5. High School Dress Codes: Their Inherent Sexism and How to Fix Them

Class: Professional Writing and Communication with Caroline Wilkins — Junior fall
What: This class culminates with us writing a huge research paper about a current issue. I chose to write about high school dress codes, as they’ve been kind of a hot topic and, clearly, I love any kind of paper that allows me to rant and rave about the patriarchy.
Thesis: High school dress codes express archaic, patriarchal notions of young women and their bodies.
Notes: This isn’t one of my favorite papers because of its content or my passion for the subject (though I think this subject is super important and interesting in its own right). It’s one of my favorites because it’s unlike anything else I’ve written before—I couldn’t fall back on a scene analysis, I couldn’t whip out trusty film lingo. I really had to research and construct an argument and a solution. Scary, and I don’t know yet what I got on it, but I’m proud of myself for writing a major non-film paper!
Length: 3962 words, 13 pages

Takeaways:

  • Meredith Ward, my favorite professor, definitely pushes me to do my best—there’s a reason why 3/5 of these have been for her classes! While some of her prompts have challenged me more than any other class, they’ve really helped me produce interesting, complex papers that make me feel very ~higher ed~ and allow me to show off what I’ve learned
  • Clearly, my go-to for papers is feminist thought and seeking sexist/objectifying forces in things. It’s kind of cool because this stuff didn’t even cross my mind before college. Woo, education!
  • I have a really hard time with length limits… in that I always go over. Goal for the future: work on brevity.
  • I was once taught that a good system for titles is “fun title: serious title,” and I’m sticking to my guns on that one, obviously.

As for my original query, between these five papers, I… 1. wrote 15,427 words 2. burned approximately 682 calories (but I’m bad at math, so don’t hold me to that number) 3. estimate that my papers, stacked end to end, come up to about the quarter-way mark of the USS Constellation’s mast.