Faculty and student members of the 2018-2019 John W. Altman Program in the Humanities: Truth and Lies ended the academic year with presentations of work during the annual Altman Symposium. The Geoffrion Fellows, undergraduate members of the Altman program, presented their year-long research projects that were developed with the help of Altman faculty members. Each student interpreted the theme of Truth and Lies in a way that highlighted their scholarly interests. Altman Graduate Fellow, Casey Kuhajda, moderated the presentations.
Megan Zahneis, a double major in journalism and interactive media studies with a minor in disability studies, presented on the political implications of external fact checking websites on contemporary American journalism. Her research considers what the ecosystem of fact checking currently looks like and if there should be a standardized methodology for how fact checkers work. The future of her research takes up questions of whether for-profit fact checkers monetize truth and what the future of fact checking could look like.
Amanda Brennen, a political science and philosophy double major with double minors in French and Creative Writing, conducted research on the myth of American individual will and the opioid epidemic. Brennen’s research closely examined how the American stigma of drug addiction and individual accountability has led to ignorance of widespread system failures. Pressing on narratives of the individual’s moral failure in opioid addiction, Brennen argued that there should be more accountability of systems that require individuals to act ethically instead of placing blame on those unable to overcome opioid addiction.
Caroline Godard, a BA/MA in French with a major in English, spoke on the ways in which art and literary theories can be used to analyze how we interact on social media platforms such as Instagram. Drawing from her thesis on Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel Les Années, Caroline discussed how Instagram accounts that post artificial life can be read through Walter Benjamin’s theory on the art of storytelling.
Madeline Mitchell, a double major in theatre and journalism with a minor in history, spoke on her creative response to the theme of truth and lies which took the form of a play in which an actor is put on trial after being accused of lying on stage. Madeline’s play, Actor on Trial, had been performed the night before the symposium at Miami’s Studio 88 Theatre. Her research drew on interviews she conducted with playwrights in the area and upon the Sanford Meisner technique to interrogate concepts of truth and locate what truth can be found in art.
Margaret Hamm, double major in political science and comparative religion with a minor in classical languages, discussed truth in the intersections of religion and politics in US culture. Margaret looked at public statements made by politicians on sites such as Twitter that used Christian or religious rhetoric. She found that while both Democrats and Republicans used religion as a rhetorical strategy, they did so in very different ways.
Last, but certainly not least, Hannah Abigail Clarke, who has majored in Classics, Creative Writing and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, performed her research that drew on queer theory and performance art using a multimodal approach of monologue and digitized visuals. Hannah’s work pushed against heteronormative narratives on the correlation between gender and sex and drew on writing from Judith Butler, Audre Lorde, and Katie Bornstein.
The panel ended with a short Q and A where a member of the audience asked the Geoffrions how their own interpretation of truth and lies had changed over the course of the year. Drawing on her work experience and research with the opioid crisis, Amanda Brennen thoughtfully explained that the perception of those affected by the opioid crisis is very skewed by people who have power. Thinking broadly about the Altman topic, she added “Through this experience, I learned how powerful and dangerous misconceptions and misperceptions are. They can act as very violent lies.”
In addition to developing their own research projects, the Geoffrion Fellows created a public project that reflected the theme of Truth and Lies.