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Four students win Libraries' Research Awards

May 23, 2013 7:18 AM

Four students have won the 2012-2013 University Libraries’ Award for Undergraduate Research. In the photo at left they are, from left: Theresa Krupka, Hannah Bradford Miller, Matthew Kuhn and Joseph DuRant.

This year’s winners submitted especially high-quality work. As winner of the first-place award in the Black Track for First Year Students and Sophomores, Joseph DuRant so impressed the review panel with his research that he was awarded $400 instead of the original $150 prize. In the Garnet Track for Juniors and Seniors, Matthew Kuhn and Hannah Bradford Miller each received the top prize; Theresa Krupka was the third-place winner.

The University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research rewards excellence in undergraduate use of library resources and services, and demonstrates the contribution of the Libraries to student learning. It highlights the value of information literacy by requiring students to describe their research process as part of the application procedures, and encourages faculty to create assignments that engage students in the use of library resources.

DuRant’s project, “Robert Burns and Britain’s First African Voter,” was completed through an Exploration grant from the South Carolina Honors College and with Dr. Patrick Scott, Research Fellow for Scottish Collections. USC Libraries has a large Robert Burns collection, including a collection of letters written to the Scottish poet that DuRant is helping to digitize. DuRant used his access to the letters to research a possible connection between Burns and an Afro-British writer Ignatius Sancho.

“For this project I found I needed to combine work in special collections with work in the stacks, online journals and reference sources,” said DuRant, a sophomore English major from Sumter, S.C. “As is always the case in my research, I began online in the library catalog and online reference tools.” He also made use of the University Libraries Digital Collections, consulting works that contained contemporary criticism of Sancho.    

            “My project necessitated exploring every floor of Thomas Cooper and allowing me the thrill of holding centuries-old manuscripts, as well as using the wealth of online resources available through our libraries.”

            Kuhn entered his senior thesis, “The Hidden Faith: Catholic Persecution in Early South Carolina,” in the competition and won one of two top prizes of $500. A history and religious studies major from Charleston, S.C., Kuhn realized that there was a hundred-year gap in the history of Catholicism in South Carolina after it was outlawed during the Colonial era. Curious that Catholicism seemed to disappear entirely during this period, Kuhn decided to investigate the colonial experience of Roman Catholics in the state.

During his research, Kuhn discovered a rich Roman Catholic presence that has been largely ignored by scholars, particularly in recent years.  Using a variety of primary and secondary sources available through the library, Kuhn said he was able to “synthesize existing ideas as well as provide a firm grounding for my own argument.”

Kuhn’s mentor, Religious Studies Professor Katja Vehlow, recommended that Kuhn submit his project for consideration after he was awarded the Elizabeth Dodge Clark Book Prize. Vehlow was impressed by the depth of Kuhn’s research, noting that not a lot has been written recently on the topic.

“The research was both enlightening and fun to do,” said Kuhn, who hopes to continue his work on the subject in the future.

            Miller also received a top prize of $500 for her Honors College senior thesis, “Turkish Youth Perceptions of Turkey’s EU Accession Negotiations and Identity: Research in Vienna, Austria and Istanbul, Turkey.” The economics and international studies major from Atlanta began the research three years ago with the support of a Magellan Scholarship and Geography Professor Amy Mills, her faculty mentor.

            For her project, Miller interviewed students in Turkey about obstacles to joining the European Union. She said she turned to the library throughout her research process, whether it was for background sources on Turkey and the European Union, information about interviewing, or an extensive literature search for a journal article. She remained connected to the library while abroad and used electronic resources to answer questions that arose as issues surrounding the European Union were unfolding.

In a letter of support for Miller, Mills wrote, “Her use of the electronic databases at USC from abroad while she was conducting research helped her refine her questions and think through methodology and to answer questions that were raised by her interviewees about the EU accession process.”

Before her research thesis was completed, Miller had pulled information from the print collections at Thomas Cooper Library and the Springs Business Library, borrowed resources through interlibrary loan and PASCAL Delivers, combed electronic journal holdings and obtained original primary materials by conducting interviews with youth in Turkey and Austria.

“Throughout the research experience, my source material evolved, as did the nature of my project,” Miller said. “Library offerings enabled and encouraged new paths.”

            Krupka won $200 for her project, “Body, Mind, and Heart:  Defininging Female Beauty in Heath’s Book of Beauty.” An international business major from Charleston, S.C., she enrolled in English Professor Paula Feldman’s Honors seminar on literary annuals, not knowing what they were, and ended up an enthusiastic fan of the genre. In the course, students were given a literary annual to investigate and write an introductory web page for the University Libraries Digital Collections. Students then had to write a 10-page essay analyzing some aspect of the literary annual.

“For the first time, I felt I could contribute to real scholarship, and that my research was valuable to the public at large,” Krupa wrote in her award essay. Besides learning about literary annuals and popular culture in the mid-nineteenth century, the project taught her “that the quality and personality of tangible artifacts are irreplaceable, but also that the accessibility of the Internet allows researchers to truly work together and share what they have learned and want to know.”

Besides contributing content to the University Libraries Digital Collections, Krupka also presented at the Women’s and Gender Studies conference held on campus.

For more information about the USC Libraries’ Undergraduate Research Award, including past winners, visit