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Before taking literature courses at Lafayette, English major Brendan Cotter ’02 (Deansboro, N.Y) knew much more about American sports than about American literature.

For his first class, taught by Laura Dasow Walls, associate professor of English, Cotter wrote a paper about “anti-slavery texts and their fascination with manhood.” In the second class, also taught by Walls, he learned about women and gender performance.

“I immediately saw a connection with my paper for the other class,” he says. “I decided to combine the theory of performance with the anti-slavery background.”

Cotter is now hard at work on his senior honors thesis, “Gender Theatricality in 19th-Century American Literature.”

“I am looking at anti-slavery texts and considering how a form of ‘gender slavery’ emerges,” he says, explaining that he believes the authors endorsed gender stereotypes and that gender roles were — and are — a form of performance. His 19th-century readings include Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Puddin’head Wilson by Mark Twain, and The Hidden Hand by Eden Southworth. He is also reading Gender Trouble by Judith Butler and Women in the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Fuller.

“It’s a pretty ambitious project,” says Bryan Washington, associate professor of English and Cotter’s thesis adviser this semester. “It’s a very progressive thesis. You can tell him to read anything and he goes out and does it.”

Cotter, who will work on the thesis with Walls in the spring, says her classes helped him overcome an earlier mistrust of feminist literature. He also was glad for the opportunity to talk with a variety of professors about his thesis proposal.

“I believe Lafayette provides a strong environment for projects such as mine because of the involvement of a number of professors who each bring a different perspective,” he says. “I am looking forward to their feedback as I continue to work on the thesis.”

Cotter is a sports writer for the campus newspaper and works with elementary school students through the Landis Community Outreach Center’s America Reads program.

Categorized in: Academic News