Rice student researchers in a humanities research practicum presented at a research symposium April 14 and April 15. This past semester, the Humanities Research Center partnered with Houston institutions and university archives for students to conduct research in medical humanities or cultural heritage. John Mulligan, a Rice lecturer, led the program.

“These students’ final projects underscore the abilities of Rice undergraduates to do in-depth humanities research, and the productive collaborations that are possible between Rice and the community.”

Mulligan said he was proud of the work these students produced and grateful for the collaboration between institutions that made this research possible.

“Our student presenters demonstrated an impressive level of expertise on their topics and the archival materials they were working with,” Mulligan said. “These students’ final projects underscore the abilities of Rice undergraduates to do in-depth humanities research, and the productive collaborations that are possible between Rice and the community.”

Will Rice College freshman Miriam Shayeb conducted research in the medical humanities side of the humanities research practicum, studying the letters of Kezia Payne DePelchin, a Houston nurse who went to Memphis in 1878 to volunteer during the most virulent yellow fever epidemic in United States history.

“The objective of my research was to analyze her letters as a narrative in order to more fully understand the intersections of race, gender, profession, illness and the practice of medicine in the postbellum American South,” Shayeb said.

Shayeb drew on the guidance offered by archivists at the Woodson Research Center and faculty mentors at the Humanities Research Center to help her to define her research’s focus on race and illness and share it both within and beyond Rice on Rice OpenStax CNX and in the symposium.

She found the most challenging component of the practicum to be remaining objective as she analyzed the letters.

“The most difficult aspect of my work was maintaining objectivity as a researcher when working with personal narratives and framing my analysis within the historical context of the era,” Shayeb said.

Upon completing the practicum, Shayeb is able to connect her interests that led her to the practicum with her experience this past semester.

“I came into my research with an interest in medicine and the social interactions within the field,” Shayeb said. “My work has reinforced my passion for the medical humanities, which seek to explore the treatment of illness in the past to better understand the transcendental humanity of pain, illness and the service of healing.

Will Rice junior Edna Otuomagie participated in the cultural heritage component of the research practicum, conducting research through the Humanities Research Center and in partnership with the Woodson Research Center. Notably, she received the Humanities Research Center Prize and first place in the School of Humanities at the 2016 Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Otuomagie said she was personally affected by her studies through the practicum.

“My research definitely influenced me personally as I am a black woman at Rice conducting research on the history of sex and race relations at Rice,” Otuomagie said. “Compartmentalizing my emotions was absolutely crucial in finishing this project.”

Otuomagie was also inspired professionally by the research she conducted this past semester.

“I have decided I would like to work more closely with museums when I graduate, “ Otuomagie said. “I am hoping to go into a career in museum and exhibition design when I graduate. I would love to work with archival materials and art and be involved in the process of disseminating the information and displaying the pieces.”

Otuomagie does not plan to continue with her research next semester.

“I feel that it should fall into the hands another wonderful researcher who can learn a good deal about the issues addressed and tackled within my research,” Otuomagie explained. “The narrative should not just be my own, but belongs to every member of the Rice community.”