May 10, 2011
Virginia Henry received the inaugural Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s (ACM) Outstanding Research Award for her study of Native American portraiture.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Virginia Henry, a senior English major at The College of Wooster, recently received the inaugural Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s (ACM) Outstanding Research Award for her paper titled, "Reading the Faces: Portraiture as a Means to Investigate Representational Containment of Native Americans.”
A resident of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a graduate of Girls Preparatory School, Henry conducted the study while participating in an ACM off-campus study program at the Newberry Library in Chicago — one of the world’s foremost independent research libraries in the humanities. “I looked at the representation of Native Americans in portraits done by Euro-American artists in the 1800s and compared them with portraits done by contemporary Native American artists,” she said. “I studied visual texts and other texts, and used that information to explain how the representation differs between the two groups of artists.”
Students were nominated for the award by the program directors based on originality, research design and methodology, and the final product. The winner was chosen by a committee that included faculty and staff drawn from ACM colleges. The citation for Henry’s project described her work as “a demonstration…arguing that ‘portraits of Indians help to illustrate and code Euro-American/Native relations and native identity.’ It does this with remarkable poise and clarity. It is extensively researched, making excellent use of the Newberry collection but going beyond those materials. (Henry) integrates her written sources gracefully and chooses and uses her visual sources effectively. She moves with sophistication from necessary background (i.e. her exposition on "containment") to the considerable evidence she has amassed, demonstrating along the way her comfort with the discourse of the field. She sustains her argument over 47 pages (and) negotiates some very tricky territory, sensitively exploring issues of ‘native’ and ‘individual’ identity.”
Henry’s off-campus journey helped prepare her for Independent Study (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed senior research program, which matches a student with a faculty mentor for an in-depth study of a particular topic in their field). “It was definitely a good experience,” said Henry, who has served as a gallery attendant at The College of Wooster Art Museum since her sophomore year and also serves as a tutor in Wooster’s Writing Center. “The biggest advantage was learning to deal with a large body of work.”
Henry intended to major in studio art or art history at Wooster, but opted instead for English. Then, she took a poetry class taught by Dan Bourne in the spring of her junior year, and fell in love with it. “I’ve always read a lot of poetry, but after taking the class and attending several conferences, I really threw myself into it.”
For her I.S., Henry wrote 50 poems, many of which were inspired by the Native American history of her hometown. "There's a lot of Native American history and Native American language where I'm from,” she said, "I've always had an interest in it, but I was never able to study it in school."
As Henry reflects on her four years at Wooster, she acknowledges the intrinsic value of her research experiences. “Graduating with two projects that are extensive but different will help to showcase my strengths,” said Henry, who plans to take a year off and then pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree. “Wooster has given me a lot of freedom to study the things that interest me, while still providing guidance through my advisor and other professors. Wooster’s model for independence, from small class sizes to individual attention from professors, has really suited me well.”
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