Murad Medal finalists present diverse academic scholarship compared to years past

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From writing two full-length plays in nine months to transcribing a 19th-century war diary to researching an ancient Hindu ceremony in India, seniors Billy Burke, Midori Kawaue, and Annalysse Mason have robust academic achievements that deviate from past Murad Medal finalists.

The Murad Medal, started in 2014, recognizes a DePauw senior who has had the most significant scholarly or artistic achievements throughout his or her four years. “The award has traditionally gone to hard sciences, so I think it is really great that [the nominators] have understood that scholarly work can happen outside of the hard sciences,” Burke said.

Burke, an English writing and Theater double major, wrote a hybrid Honor Scholar (HoScho) thesis that includes a research and creative component. For the research aspect, he examined gender representation and gender imagery in contemporary drag performances. Burke especially looked at contemporary drag performances which, he believes, have started to distance themselves from gender.

For the HoScho creative component, he wrote a full-length play with an underlying theme of intersectionality and drag. The main character is a straight man who discovers drag performance and tries to understand what this discovery will do to his relationships, especially because he is in a relationship with a woman.

“There’s been a lot of analysis of drag performance, partially through a feminist lens and partially through a queer lens, and determining whether it’s transgressive or if it’s offensive to decide what womanhood is and perform it as a man,” Burke said.

Along with his HoScho thesis, Burke wrote a play for his English Writing seminar. “[This play] is drastically different in every single way from my Honor Scholar thesis. I love theatre of the absurd and distancing myself from realism is really interesting,” Burke said.

“The Milk Play” has minimal dialogue and follows different people all living in an imagined world: a man and woman who discover that a sprig of mint was put into their jug of milk, a woman who is the subject of a painting being done by a strange Belgian man, and an all-knowing telephone switchboard operator. “In the first scene, the woman calls the operator and asks for the woman with the upsidedown mouth and the operator is like ‘Oh yeah, I’ll get you in touch with her,’ so the operator is this weird, omniscient being,” Burke said.

For his Theatre seminar, he is working on an analysis of Caryl Churchill through a utopian performative lens. This late 20th-century British playwright is part of the “in-yer-face” movement which is characterized by political, shocking, and oftentimes vulgar theatre. “I’m looking at how  people can get a glimpse of utopia in performances as a way of answering the question: why should we still be performing these pieces that were contemporary in the 80’s but might not be contemporary today?” says Burke.

Burke participated in theatre during middle school and high school, but did not think he would pursue theatre at DePauw. He was in “Rocky Horror Picture Show” his freshman year, and then Communication and Theatre Professor Tim Good asked him to be Assistant Director for the musical, “Parade.”  From there, he re-entered the theatre scene which has led him to this point. “There’s something incredible about the storytelling ability of theatre. It has to do with empathy; it has to do with understanding. You’re sitting in a room… and living other people’s stories. [Theatre] is always going to be important, and I think that is why it has sustained itself,” says Burke.

Although the second Murad Medal finalist is originally from Japan, an American novel is the reason why she ended up studying United States history.  

“When I was little, my dad decided to buy me the ‘Little House’ series for a birthday gift, and it was in English, but it was easier English so I could still read it. I was inspired by 19th century Laura; she is so excited by eating white pure sugar because it was so rare during that time. I was fascinated by how someone could get excited about these mundane things that we consider normal today. That’s what really got me into liking history, and, in particular, U.S. History,” Kawaue said. She mentions that the “Little House on the Prairie” series explores themes relevant to today, and before reading these books, she had not thought about the U.S. having such a complicated history.

Kawaue knew that she wanted to attend a liberal arts school, but the Grew-Bancroft Scholarship, sponsored by a Japanese foundation, was what brought her to DePauw. “There were a lot of choices of liberal arts schools, but I ultimately chose a Midwestern school because I thought ‘I need to be in the prairie,’” Kawaue said.

Last summer she was a Historic Deerfield Summer Fellow, and at the culmination of the fellowship, she had to write a 40-page seminar paper using archival material available from Historic Deerfield’s museums and libraries. She wrote her paper on Epaphras Hoyt, a 19th-century natural scientist,  and how he perceived the natural sciences in relationship to his Unitarian faith. “The time period is pre-Darwin so people are not willing to reject the Bible as a whole, but they are trying to find ways to reconcile the contradictions that exist between their scientific observations and their religious faith,” Kawaue said.

Her year-long history thesis is a continuation of this paper, and it examines the relationship between Hoyt and Edward Hitchcock, Hoyt’s nephew who was the President of Amherst College and a state geologist in the 19th century. Kawaue’s paper outlines the relationship between these two men, which was unknown until last year when Historic Deerfield discovered a 2000-page journal written by Hoyt. “The life of Epaphras [Hoyt] was hidden under the bushes because we did not have any archival material on him,” Kawaue said. In the summer, she was in charge of transcribing the two-volume journal.  

This past summer was not the first time Kawaue handled archival material. For the past three years, she has been transcribing a Civil War Prisoner of War diary that was gifted to the DePauw Archives by Former-President Brian Casey. The 700-page diary was written by a former DePauw professor back in the 19th century who was a Union Cavalry Officer turned Prisoner of War after being captured by the Confederate army.

“There’s a lot of fascinating information about prison culture during the Civil War [found in this diary]. We did not know that French and German classes were offered for POWs or that there were choirs in POW camps,” Kawaue said. She is the co-editor of the diary in conjunction with History Professor John Schlotterbeck and the DePauw Archives; the transcription is finished and under review at Kent State University Press.  

The third Murad Medal finalist became heavily involved in her area of study after first reading about it freshmen year. During the 2016 May Term, Mason went to Kolkata, India, where she did independent research interviewing monks at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture about Puja, a Hindu worshipping practice. Since she is not Hindu, she could not be present for the whole Puja ritual, but she was shown parts of the ritual and had access to archives at the institute. From there, she started researching the relationship between public Puja and the private, temple Puja.

“There’s nothing to relate [Puja] to in a Western Christian context that I can think of, but it’s basically the worship of an idol, but it is not really an idol in the moment. It is the deities called down into it…it’s a really intricate process,” Mason said. She comments that some students may have attended a public Puja if they went to the Diwali ceremony on campus last semester.

Mason had an interest in Tibetan Buddhism before coming to DePauw, but once she took Religions of India with Religious Studies Professor Jason Fuller, she realized her penchant for South Asian studies. “I knew from there on out that it would all be different,” Mason said.

She also took an anthropology class that interested her in Hijras, one of the dominant transgender populations in India, which she plans to study throughout her graduate education. However,  this topic is controversial in India so getting appropriate funds will be a challenge. “You want to learn about it because it’s under researched, and it’s a great cultural comparison of how identity and religion is constructed, but getting the means and approval to study it is a whole task,” Mason said. She will be studying South Asian studies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England and plans to apply for a Ph.D program to become a professor of South Asian studies.

“I want to expand discourse on these populations in modern India and bring more awareness to the systems in place and the aspects of identity that don’t necessarily exist in the Western context,” Mason said.

The Murad Medal winner will be announced at the Academic Awards Convocation on Monday, April 25 at 8 p.m. in Kresge.

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