Taking Honors study to a national level

9/30/2008 - By: Alix Cirac

Simply being a May 2008, University of Nevada, Reno graduate was not enough for Erin Edgington. Her years of hard work and experience, patience, perseverance and focus culminated in her selection as one of three Portz Scholars in the country.

The $250 stipend and national recognition the undergraduate received from the National Collegiate Honors Council is in response to her honors thesis, “Costume and Propriety in Madame Bovary: la ‘Culture de Lin.’ ” She will present a summary of her research at the council’s national conference in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 22-26.

“Erin is an enthusiastic student and dedicated scholar,” said Tamara Valentine, director of the University’s Honors Program. “She applied to the program for the sole reason of completing a thesis for practice for graduate school and academic life.”

The National Collegiate Honors Council evaluated 36 papers from across the United States in selecting this year’s Portz Scholars.

Edgington naturally sets her goals high. Not only did she finish two degree programs (in French and in sociology), but she completed the Honors Program and graduated summa cum laude. This Latin distinction requires a cumulative grade-point average of 3.9 or above.

Edgington credits her French classes and professors with having piqued her interest in the subject.

“Several of my professors are specialists of the 19th century, and many of my courses were on literature from this period,” she said of Louis Marvick in the foreign languages and literatures department and art professor and costume expert Virginia Vogel. “Out of the general appreciation for the period that this exposure fostered, I read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and was struck by the numerous descriptions of costume throughout the work.

“I realized that a discussion of costume and its implications within the novel would necessitate both literary analysis and costume historical analysis, and the prospect of that kind of interdisciplinary project appealed to me.”

In her 60-page thesis, Edgington explores the link between costume and the title character, Emma Bovary.

“Specifically, I examine how costume functions as a semiotic system that parallels the development of the character,” she said. “I discuss, among other things, how costume is linked to (im)propriety, differences in perception among19th and 21st century readers, and filmic reinterpretations of the novel.”

In addition to reading the novel, she compared the costuming in two film versions of the story, an American version from 1949 directed by Vincente Minnelli and one 1975 British version directed by Rodney Bennett.

Edgington is the first University student to gain such national recognition. The Honors Program had never put a thesis forward for the Portz award before this year, according to Valentine.

“Erin’s thesis stood out as one that could compete with other students’ works across the nation,” Valentine said. “She has excellent research skills, tends to detail, seeks depth and complete understanding, enjoys the process of learning, is well-organized, is well-read, and knows how to fully document.”

Valentine noted that the Honors thesis is to be taken seriously by students and readers, and that the difficulty of completing one should not be underestimated.

“Although it’s an undergraduate exercise, the thesis is treated like a master’s thesis,” she said. “Students must not only write a fully documented piece of academic work, but they must orally defend it.”

According to Valentine, each Honors Program graduate must complete the thesis in his or her field with the help of a faculty mentor. Art department professor and chair Virginia Vogel helped Edgington evaluate aspects of costume and fashion history, and Louis Marvick from the foreign languages and literatures department helped her analyze aspects of French literature.

“Erin is fabulous, and I loved every minute of working with her,” Vogel said. “She is responsible, prepared, detailed in her research, open to new ideas, willing to take a risk and explore, thorough, thoughtful, and has extraordinary research skills and strong sense of the visual integrity of work.”

“She was always a meticulously accurate writer and speaker of French, with a thoughtful approach and a strong imagination, too,” Marvick said. “The credit for work of such quality belongs entirely to her.”


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