University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research

2008 - 2009 Award Winners

The recipients of the second annual University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research are Elizabeth Nyikos and Tom Benning. Applicants this year were wide ranging and included a:
  • first year student who submitted a project from her Introduction to Islam course,
  • Psychology major who analyzed the linguistics of online gaming,
  • Religious Studies major who investigated spiritual themes in children's literature,
  • Political Science major who did extensive genealogical research.

  Elizabeth Nyikos
Top Prize

Medieval Voices: The Oldest Music in South Carolina

Nyikos, a senior Music major for her senior thesis and MUSC 353, History of Music, mounted an exhibit of medieval music manuscripts spanning four-hundred years at the Music Library. A brochure accompanied the exhibit and Nyikos made a presentation, which included a musical performance, at the opening reception. In her personal essay, Nyikos wrote about a class she took her sophomore year that led ultimately to her project. "On one of the first days of class, Dr. Scott brought forth medieval manuscripts from the vault, including an illuminated page from a bible and a Psalter leaf with plainchant notation. That day marked a change in my entire course of study, choice of graduate program and ultimately, career path. The direct experience with the manuscript resources of USC Rare Books and Special Collections lead me to develop the honors thesis project."

Regarding the performance Dr. Scott Gwara commented in his letter of support, "Preparing a concert of plainchant was no easy feat for an undergraduate with limited exposure to medieval music performance. Elizabeth had to select and transcribe the music from the manuscript, recruit singers to perform it (teaching them how to pronounce Latin, among other things), consult widely on the performance of plainchant (with faculty here, at Chapel Hill, and at Oxford), and organize multiple practice sessions.

Elizabeth's unique contribution to the library and university community exhibited-through performance as well as scholarly presentation-a dimension of medieval books as living records of medieval song. The effect of performing from medieval manuscripts made the case for the richness, diversity and pedagogical impact of USC's medieval manuscript collection, and of the Music History collection as a whole."

Reflecting on her personal growth, Nyikos wrote: "Through necessity, I forced a way through many avenues of research and as a result, have gained a practical familiarity with resources that will remain with me in graduate work at Oxford and beyond. As Curator for "Medieval Voices," I acquired skills in interdisciplinary negotiations and the handling of primary documents which would serve me equally well as a librarian, or medieval musicologist. I am indebted to the USC Libraries for an experience which has defined my career focus and from which I will continue to draw from as a scholar, researcher and performer."

Nyikos is editing a CD of the group performing music from the medieval manuscripts. Her project will come full circle as she plans to give a copy to the library, so the music will be available for future researchers.

Tom Benning
Outstanding Achievement

Corrected Memory: A Study of South Carolina Historical Monuments and Markers

Benning, a senior Journalism major, was motivated for his senior thesis to explore how history is conveyed in public settings when members of the South Carolina General Assembly challenged the monument to Benjamin "Pitchfork" Tillman on the State House grounds. His project entailed cataloging all the monuments and markers around the State House, the University of South Carolina campus, and Columbia's Memorial Park. He then selected five to research further and gave a recommendation on whether they should stand as is, be corrected somehow, or be removed.

Professor Ernest L. Wiggins, in his letter supporting Benning's submission wrote: "Tom was seeking the perspective and context only primary sources could provide so that his judgment about the suitability or appropriateness of the monument or marker might be based on fact and not opinion. Understanding why, for whom and by whom monuments and markers were erected guided Tom's unique recommendations for each of his five subjects. Additionally, with the insight he developed through his exhaustive study of the process of memorial creation and the history of disputes surrounding such public honors, Tom created guidelines for handling future disputes regarding historical markers and monuments."

As Benning wrote in his personal essay, "as it turned out, each monument presented its own research challenges. I wanted to know more about each person or place memorialized, but I also wanted to learn more about the people who created the monuments or markers." His research made extensive use of materials in the South Caroliniana Library, South Carolina Political Collections, Thomas Cooper Library, as well as the Richland County Public Library and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

Writing about the value of library resources, Benning commented: "It is safe to say that this project would have been impossible without the library's resources. Whenever I reached a dead end, the library staff pointed me in the right direction, and I ended up producing a paper with much more depth and scope than I had ever imagined. The reason? The library made it easy. But also because I learned the best methods as I went along. With resources scattered all about the university, I had to plan my days carefully and rely on the expertise of library staff. Before I would set out, I would write out which specific resources I needed and where I could find them. Then after finding whatever I could find on my own, I asked the library staff for any recommendations or advice. At times, I was a bit too stubborn about finding my own way. But I quickly realized the staff was just as interested in finding the answers. I also learned the importance of making education guesses and exploring all possibilities. And in the end, I learned that persistence pays off. I spent three days looking through a year of The State. Just as I was about to give up, I decided to look at one more month. I found my article and nearly ran a lap around the library in my excitement. And there was my final lesson: sometimes you just have to get lucky."

University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research


Columbia Departments Campus Libraries
Columbia Libraries and Collections