Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Mariah Wahl

This summer, assisting O.R. & Eva Mitchell Distinguished Professor of Literature Victoria Aarons, Megan Reynolds ‘16 is investigated the narratives of third generation Holocaust writers-- the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Reynolds, reading authors such as Margot Singer, Jonathon Safron Foer, Julie Orringer, Nicole Krauss, and Erika Dreifus, considered how these writers address their family histories in their writing and how the trauma of the Holocaust is expressed in their work.

The literature written by contemporary American Jews reveals a pattern in third generation narratives of trauma and its aftereffects. The authors don’t seek to appropriate the experiences of their grandparents, but instead strive to uncover traces of this tragedy without “entering the camp” or its experience.

Reynolds research focuses on the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. 
“Much of third generation literature suggests that you don’t have to be directly in the path of tragedy to be affected by its trauma,” Reynolds explains, “Even if the Holocaust is not the focus of the story, authors such as Erika Dreifus say that the legacy of the Holocaust has shaped who they are and therefore shapes their writing in some capacity.”

The literature that Reynold’s examined in her research discusses tragedy in a more indirect way. Margot Singer’s story “Deir Yassin,” for example, occurs in a series of vignettes, mimicking the experience of memory. Many details of the story speak subtly to larger ideas of loss, such as the memory loss of an uncle’s wife, or the uncle’s profession as an archaeologist, who searches for and studies artifacts of the past. References like these suggest the past trauma of an author’s family.

Sometimes these traumas are less subtle: Jonathan Safran Foer, in Everything is Illuminated, tells the story of a baby girl born during the wagon accident that takes both of her parents’ lives. She is literally born into trauma, and her life is affected by the circumstances of a birth over which she had no control. This same kind of feeling that a person has inherited trauma he or she did not directly experience or cannot remember characterizes third generation narratives.

Reynolds read a variety of books and stories by third generational authors, as well as secondary criticism. 
“In order to ‘fill in the blanks’ of these inherited experiences, authors often make use of imaginative leaps,” Reynolds says of the techniques third generation authors often use: “Their work is less concerned with strict factual representation, and more concerned with communicating fragmentation.”

Reynolds’ research with Aarons points to a desire on the part of these authors to reconstruct and reassemble the fragmented lives of those who survived the Holocaust, as well as their descendants and thus carry the memory of the Holocaust into the future. 

Reynolds is a senior this fall.
Reynolds presented her research at Trinity University's undergraduate research symposium on July 23, 2015. She intends to present her work at other national conferences later this year and in 2016. 

Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at Trinity here.
By Mariah Wahl

Science fiction movie and novels are rife with scenes of widespread mayhem. Movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” reveal a dystopian future in which human action and its consequences—namely, climate change—result in the catastrophic destruction of our planet.

These disturbing and captivating scenes of destruction are common in the novels Alex Holler ’17 considered in her research this summer. Her work with the Mellon Grant Initiative looks at the novels of Margaret Atwood and Karen Traviss, whose series culminate in a post-apocalyptic world in which nature has been restored and the destruction humanity has caused is gone—but at a great cost.

In Traviss’ series, The Wess’Har Wars, an alien race comes to Earth to and destroys the majority of humankind, recreating what they believe to be the original nature of the environment. Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy has humankind all by obliterated by a virus engineered by a mad scientist, intent on replacing humans with his own, docile, genetically-engineered posthuman beings. Atwood’s series ends with “nature” restored, but emphasizes that the restoration of nature involves the loss of modern technology that humankind has come to rely on an as an aspect of their identity.

“Each series employs genocide to remove most of humankind, and then restores the earth. One is cause by an engineered virus, and the other by aliens,” Holler explains. “It’s disturbing, but it speaks to the enormity of the destruction being done to our planet, and the potential consequences of our actions.”

Holler’s work draws from the area of ecocriticism, an interdisciplinary literary approach that considers the environment and the subject of nature. A significant new direction in ecocriticism, and in the environmental humanities and sciences more broadly, is a focus on the newly labeled geological era since the Industrial Revolution, the “anthropocene,” our current geological age in which the entire surface of our planet carries traces of human industrial activity.

“Even where human beings have never walked, our influence is clear in the dirt and the air and the environment of a place. We’ve touched everything,” Holler explains.

Holler’s research focuses on the dark pastoral, a concept developed by Heather Sullivan that centers around the idea that humanity desires a natural, idyllic world that no longer exists. The concept of the pastoral in Romantic literature focuses on images of agriculture and animal husbandry. As Holler notes, even this traditional concept of the pastoral is still a version of nature influenced by human agricultural activity, even as it is celebrated for being untouched by modern society. In the more recent literature, and particularly in Traviss and Atwood, pastoral scenes of seemingly “natural beauty” are abundant yet they are tainted by global warming, planetary pollution, and post-apocalyptic scenarios. We are in the dark pastoral.

“Traviss’ and Atwood’s books fully illustrate the idea of the dark pastoral, that nature as we believe in it has been eradicated. Our trajectory is not compatible with nature, or the idea of harmony and sustainability,” Holler emphasizes.

Atwood and Traviss tell tales of destruction, but in them Holler also sees a hope for the future:

“Fiction is a great medium to discuss climate change, because it encourages people to think about the ‘what if’ of these issues. The authors don’t offer solutions, but they do provide an outlet for considering climate change in new ways, and letting an audience know they don’t have to ignore these issues.”

Holler is an environmental policy major from Houston, TX. 

Learn more about undergraduate research at Trinity University here.
After a summer of research, students presented their work at Trinity's Undergraduate Research Symposium on July 24th and 25th. With classes beginning tomorrow, summer is officially over and summer research is completed.

I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a variety of research topics this summer- including computational organic chemistry, the interpersonal dimensions of Facebook, the connection between poetry and ballet, and the way E. Coli might be utilized in drug delivery. Each research story is unique, but the passion that students feel about their subject was clear in every discipline. Thank you for reading, supporting, and sharing your research stories. 

What's Next? 
Summer research may be over, but that doesn't mean undergraduate research has stopped. During the school year, the blog will explore research from Trinity students and faculty. We'll also delve into experiential learning at Trinity where research is applied to student work in the classroom, internships, and other extracurriculars.

I look forward to learning more from students this year and sharing their work with you on the blog.

If you have a project or an internship you'd like to see featured on the blog, please contact mwahl@trinity.edu.

--Mariah Wahl