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While some college students wonder if coursework materials differ from year to year, Andrew Kopelman’06 (New York, N.Y.) is studying it as a summer research project.

As an EXCEL Scholar, Kopelman has been working with Carolynn Van Dyke, March Professor of English, to unravel patterns in the teaching of medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer’s works. They are tracing lesson plans from Lafayette professors who taught Chaucer to discover how the course work developed in the 19th and early 20th century.

In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

A double major in English and philosophy, Kopelman is also helping Van Dyke interpret one set of annotations found in Chaucer’s manuscripts, including those of his most famous work, Canterbury Tales. These annotations, featuring the word “auctor” (author), are located in the margins of the manuscripts.

“The project is an attempt to determine the significance of these auctor glosses and to get a better sense of the medieval concept of authorship,” Kopelman explains.

His responsibilities include finding manuscripts, documenting old records, and interviewing Chaucer experts. He has already interviewed Donald McCluskey ’36, a former Lafayette English professor who also taught Chaucer’s literature at Yale University.

“In all of these activities, Andrew does far more than finding information,” Van Dyke says. “He asks provocative questions – many of which would not have occurred to me – and makes important connections. Many of his comments have suggested new lines of thought and investigation to me. Thus, he isn’t just a research assistant, but a real collaborator.”

Van Dyke started collecting and studying the annotations several years ago, but put the work on hold for a Chaucer book project. Kopelman’s assistance this summer has allowed her to get back on track.

“Not only does Andrew accelerate my research greatly, he also stimulates and deepens my thinking,” she says.

The researchers discuss the significance of Chaucer’s works and interpret the text together. Such discussions have given Kopelman a better understanding of the author’s place in literary history.

“I have to emphasize how respectful Professor Van Dyke is,” he says. “She listens to my thoughts and treats me as a fellow researcher, allowing me a hand in how to progress our projects.”

A member of the varsity fencing squad, Kopelman believes that by taking on the EXCEL project, he has learned many approaches to the study of English literature, and he has come to appreciate how these approaches have changed through the centuries.

Kopelman will continue his research on Chaucer and Canterbury Tales during the fall semester by working with Van Dyke to write an honors thesis.

“I believe that Lafayette provides students with a fantastic academic environment,” he says. “Professors consistently put a high priority on talking with students outside class and giving them whatever help they need. The willingness of the professors to deal so openly and directly with students allows us to fully pursue academic interests.”

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News