Guillaume Chastel sits in front of his laptop. After a moment, a website pops up. Only a handful of people have seen it, a unique creation that is Chastel’s brainchild.
The website, two years in the making, is an online dictionary for translation between American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue de Signes Française (French Sign Language, or LSF).
Chastel, a senior ASL lecturer and the department’s undergraduate program adviser, leads a group of ASL students in cataloging 4,000 ASL and LSF signs by recording and uploading videos of each sign to the website. Each word has a corresponding sign, though most are different between the two languages.
Chastel’s research extends beyond the dictionary, however; he aims to develop an online ASL-LSF practice system that will allow students to test their knowledge of the two languages. He also aims to work on development of a mobile app for easy lookup of unknown signs.
Junior Carolyn Gershman, one of the students working on the project, emphasized the importance of Chastel’s research.
“It’s been a struggle when not in the classroom to know what to sign or what a sign is,” she said. “The only resource is your professor. This will be very helpful to students both in and out of the ASL program.”
The project, supported entirely by UR, hopes to have the website up during the beginning of spring semester.
“I greatly appreciate the support of UR and the students assisting me,” Chastel said. “Once I see this in action, that will be incredibly rewarding.”
This is just one example of the many different ongoing humanities research projects at UR. While the science and engineering disciplines—and social science departments, like economics and political science—have more visible work and more obvious avenues for it, nearly every humanities department conducts research.
In some of the other humanities departments, students and faculty conduct interdisciplinary research by combining their own interests with their area of study.
The Program of Dance and Movement, for instance, has had students in recent years combine their love for dance with studies in disciplines ranging from architecture to biomedical engineering.
Director of the Program of Dance and Movement Missy Pfohl Smith has seen a large number of students in the program do just that. Smith highlighted several of the past and current research projects done by students involved with the dance program.
One such project was done by Nicole Zizzi ‘14. Zizzi used her Take 5 year to combine an interests in architecture and dance. Her research was into the parallels between architecture and dance and how the two could complement each other. The video featured a group of dancers in several buildings on campus, dancing to highlight the various architectural features of the building structure.
An ongoing project is being completed by senior Caitlyn Gilmore. Gilmore, a psychology major, is researching how mental illness can be expressed through dance. She is currently choreographing a dance and is planning to present her research through a performance in December.
“People need a way to express their emotions,” Smith explained. “Dance gives them that.”
One of the many options students have available to them for humanities research is to do an independent study course.
Senior and UR Men’s Basketball player Sam Borst-Smith is currently engaged in his own independent study course with the English department. Borst-Smith is researching the use of sports players in advertisements for major products. He is doing a specific case study on Kia advertisements.
“This past summer, I interned at an advertising agency […]in El Segundo, CA,” he said. “[After the internship,] I wanted to learn more about how athletes are incorporated in the advertising world.”
Borst-Smith is also looking at instances in which athletes have lost endorsements by major companies. He noted that he enjoys the depth of his research and how it keeps him busy.
“I’ve noticed that the more I research, the more I find additional material that I can dive deeply into,” Borst-Smith said. “It means that I am constantly learning more and more.”
The list of potential humanities research projects is as expansive as the opportunities to do research in the social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. Students have the option of not just working with professors on their research, but also to conduct their own.
Rochester advertises itself as a major research institution, and the prevalence of humanities research here is a testament to that title.