Humanities Students, Check Out These Bass Connections Projects

January 22, 2018

Bass Connections and the Humanities

The 2018-19 Bass Connections project teams offer opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students from all levels and disciplines. For students in the humanities, we’ve compiled a list of some projects that may be of particular interest. Learn more by reviewing the full project descriptions, and come to the Bass Connections Fair on Wednesday, January 24 (2:30 to 5:30, Energy Hub, first floor of Gross Hall). Team leaders, advisors and staff will be available to share information and answer questions.

To learn even more about opportunities for 2018-19, come to the Story+ Summer Research Program Info Session on January 25, and a combined info session on Bass Connections and Story+ for Ph.D. students in the humanities on January 26.

Applications are due on February 16 at 5:00 p.m.

Cheating, Gaming and Rule Fixing: Challenges for Ethics across the Adversarial Professions

Distinct approaches to ethics scholarship, ethics education and the regulation of ethics have evolved independently in a number of institutions designed to harness competition for social benefits, such as in markets, law, democratic politics, sports and scientific research. They all identify a range of overlapping ethical problems that inevitably arise in competitive domains, but they do it in different ways, with different concepts and principles, and they use different models for promoting compliance with rules and norms of fair play. This project’s aim is to tunnel between these professional silos and start to identify the most promising ways they might learn from one another.

Expressive Writing for Resilience in Adult Pediatric Oncology Survivors and Their Caregivers

Despite successful treatment of childhood cancer, the emotional effects are lasting. Studies have shown that adult survivors of pediatric cancer are more likely to experience physical and psychological late effects of their illness. Parents and caregivers also report significant emotional distress. Expressive writing is prompt-guided intervention designed to promote healing from trauma and emotional upheavals. This project aims to determine whether a pilot expressive writing intervention raises resilience scores for adult survivors of childhood cancer and their caregivers.

Moral Artificial Intelligence

Autonomous agents are beginning to interact with humans on a regular basis. Self-driving cars are appearing on local streets, and various types of drones are flying through skies over populated areas. These autonomous agents have promise to provide many services that will benefit society, but they also raise significant concerns. The goal of this project is to combine computational methods, philosophy, game theory and psychology to develop a robust moral artificial intelligence to direct autonomous agents.

America’s Sacred Spaces

The United States possesses singular places where citizens and others can visit to absorb elements of the nation’s depth of pain, triumph, awe, reverence, disappointments and dreams. “Sacred spaces” refers to understanding America by literally standing in places and taking in layers of meaning that plumb the depths of our national character. This project will launch a documentary research initiative to tell stories of 40 essential American places that enhance our understanding of the U.S. Ultimately, the goal is to create a website, app and book that will provide orientations in text, maps and pictures of the country’s most sacred spaces. These tools will provide tangible lessons in civics, history, cultures and geographies, all combining to ground the traveler in our common heritage.

Building Duke: The Architectural History of Duke Campus from 1924 to the Present

Building Duke is a new initiative that will explore the conception, design and construction of the Duke campus as well as its changes and expansions. The principal aims are to offer an historical narrative of the physical environment that the Duke community inhabits and to explore the desires and visions that have materialized in the making of the campus. This project will focus on the identification, collection, organization and digitization of textual and visual material from the University Archives in order to develop a timeline of Duke’s buildings, landscape and infrastructure and a series of historical narratives along thematic axes such as patronage, architectural design, labor and race.

Creative Industries and the Urban Environment

Over the past ten years, Durham has witnessed a boom in cultural initiatives including the Durham Performing Arts Center, Golden Belt, 21c Museum Hotel and RUNAWAY clothes. These cultural productions have not only been seen as enriching the city’s image, but have also attracted other creative ventures. Further, Duke has contributed greatly to the cultural development of Durham through such sites as the Nasher Museum of Art and the new Rubenstein Arts Center. This project will examine the relationship between urban development and cultural production in Durham.

Gerrymandering and the Extent of Democracy in America

Gerrymandering has been increasingly used to undermine the Democratic process. Although there remains no standard to detect partisan gerrymandering, researchers and policy makers have begun to develop potentially justiciable techniques. This project will test the hypothesis that bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting committees will not gerrymander. By comparing districting plans across states with and without nonpartisan redistricting committees and analyzing the effectiveness of current tests used to detect gerrymandering, the team will create tests and tools that contribute to the public understanding of the extent and impact of gerrymandering.

Smart Archaeology

Smart technologies involve the use of collaborative and intelligent tools able to automate activities performed in the environment and in everyday objects. In archaeology, smart technologies include sensors, close range sensing systems, robots, rovers, drones, laser scanners and software able to process data from multiple sources. In 2018-19, five research units will collaborate on the archaeological investigation and study of Mediterranean cities dating back to the first millennium BCE.

Documenting Durham’s Health History: Understanding the Roots of Health Disparities

North Carolina’s “City of Medicine” is also a city of racial and class health disparities. We know remarkably little about the specific ways by which structural forces, policy decisions and specific group actions have shaped the landscape of health in contemporary Durham. This project will create a documentary history of health in Durham through an historical research and engagement strategy that moves beyond the academy to engage with public health departments, community leaders, researchers and health professionals.

How to Cure Political Polarization by Asking Questions

Incivility and antagonism infect our political and online cultures. One promising remedy is to construct a culture of questioning, where people ask and answer questions about each other’s views and reasons instead of parodying and abusing each other. This project will identify a range of questions, including questions about how policies work, the causes of one’s beliefs and the thought processes of opponents, to investigate which of these questions increase humility, empathy and openness as well as which questions raise barriers to constructive discourse. The goal is to test the hypothesis that a culture that encourages people to regularly ask themselves and others the right questions will make people better at understanding their own or others’ points of view and, hence, at navigating an ideologically diverse world.

Making Young Voters: Policy Reforms to Increase Youth Turnout

Low levels of voter turnout among young people may not reflect a lack of civic-mindedness, but rather may be the consequence of a combination of institutional and motivational obstacles that get in the way of people participating in politics. In order to address these obstacles, researchers and policymakers must evaluate the effects of policy reforms that seek to reduce or eliminate the problem of low youth turnout from two complementary directions—one within the education system and one related to election administration. This project will explore and evaluate the potential education and electoral policies necessary to promote youth civic engagement.

Mindfulness in Human Development

The presence of yoga and meditation in educational settings has steadily increased, making its way from the periphery (after-school programs, yoga clubs) to a central part of school culture and curriculum through innovative programs. Despite the interest in yoga and mindfulness in K-12 settings, this developing research area faces many methodological and theoretical challenges, including small study sizes, lack of control groups, and hesitancy of parents and administrators to buy into particular programs and practices. This multiyear project is analyzing the effects of a regular yoga and meditation practice on students’ mindfulness, self-esteem, physical health, academic performance and body image. The 2018-19 team will analyze the effectiveness of implemented programs and host an Embodied Learning Summit.

Music for Social Change: Research in Practice with Kidznotes and El Sistema USA

Founded in Venezuela in 1975, El Sistema and its worldwide replications create an environment of opportunity through the collective practice of orchestral playing and choral singing as a model for personal, social, academic and musical development. Through a focus on low-income youth, these programs serve a long-term agenda to combat systemic and intergenerational poverty. This movement is present in the U.S. and locally. Kidznotes, an El Sistema-inspired program launched in 2010 in East Durham, serves 500 students annually in grades K-10. This project will focus on facilitating research capacities and building research among El Sistema USA programs, including deepened engagement with local programs.


Open Source Pedagogy, Research + Innovation (OSPRI), a Duke-Red Hat partnership, applies open source principles and methodologies to teaching and learning. This project addresses the gap between how learning occurs outside and inside academic settings—between the participatory, social, crowdsourced, self-directed learning students authentically engage in beyond the classroom, and the industrial-era, hierarchical-driven teaching occurring in many classrooms. In 2018-19, members of the OSPRI Lab will research and share knowledge about open source principles and methodologies within educational contexts; identify a critical education technology product need at Duke and work to develop an open source education technology product; and mentor students in computer science at Durham public schools using a Duke student-developed open source curriculum.

Problem-based Learning to Improve Girls’ Math Identity

Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields in the United States. The gender gap in STEM fields exists at all levels, from childhood through career selection, and there are many causes for female underrepresentation found in recent research on the topic. Two major causes are students’ math identity—their beliefs, attitudes and emotions about math—and societal views around gender as it relates to fields of study. This project aims to inspire girls to change their own relationships with math both by building confidence, ownership and self-sufficiency in problem-solving and by building awareness of gender stereotypes and their potential impacts.

Project Vox

Philosophy is a surprisingly static enterprise: the canonical figures in early modern philosophy, from Descartes and Locke to Hume and Kant, have remained essentially fixed in teaching and research for the past 50 years. The all-male canon reflects the fact that women were often excluded from early modern intellectual life. New historical research demonstrates that many women managed nonetheless to publish philosophical works. Until very recently, however, college courses throughout the English-speaking world have neglected them. Founded in 2014, Project Vox is a web-based scholarly guide to the lost voices of women in early modern philosophy. This project will extend and strengthen the work of Project Vox and give students the chance to engage in the creation, curation and maintenance of an internationally prominent digital humanities project.

Wired for Learning: Supporting Thinking Skills in the K-2 Classroom

Targeted development of thinking skills known to enhance student success in school can help support young children who are struggling and at risk of falling behind. This project will develop and field-test a K-2 curriculum that intentionally integrates learning dispositions and thinking skills that have proven to be critical to the cognitive development and academic success of young students. Additionally, this team will provide professional development and support for teachers on thinking skills, learning dispositions and brain science as they relate to K-2 learning and development, and design and deliver parent workshops on at-home methods for helping their children be successful in school. Ultimately, the team’s goal is to disseminate results on impact and advocate for comprehensive K-2 programs that address thinking skills, dispositions for learning and brain science.

ACRE-Duke Partnership to Improve Sanitation Access in Lowndes County, Alabama

Stories of failing and inadequate water infrastructure in urban areas of the U.S. have caught the attention of the media and the public. Less attention has been paid to the ways in which the absence or poor quality of existing infrastructure can undermine health and economic opportunities in rural America. Lowndes County is illustrative of a host of social and environmental inequalities facing rural communities of color in the American South, including endemic poverty, lack of economic opportunity, hazardous health conditions and inadequate infrastructure. This project aims to understand the reasons for the lack of proper sanitation in Lowndes County, improve sanitation access in the county and explore racial and economic justice in rural America.

Coal in America: Chronicling and Analyzing Its Economic and Social History

An historically important energy resource, coal remains important in many parts of the country, but has experienced a severe decline. The advent of inexpensive natural gas has been a significant factor behind coal’s decline, but environmental regulations have likely played a role as well. However, there is surprisingly little research into the causes and consequences of this epochal transition in U.S. energy consumption. This project will address this gap by examining quantitative and qualitative data related to coal production, consumption and employment to better understand the social, economic and political dimensions of coal’s decline.

Sowers and Reapers: Gardening in an Era of Change

In a time when neighborhoods are rapidly changing, gardens have become a place where history, contention, expression, resistance and negotiation meet. At the same time, the presence of an immigrant workforce—landscaping companies largely staffed by migrant Latinos—means that the country’s divided opinions over immigration are at play among the plants. This project will bring humanities tools and a human rights approach to the issue of environmental justice and migration.

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