Palimpsest Recognizes Outstanding Undergraduate Writing
The word palimpsest has a double meaning– a document where the writing has been erased so the paper can be reused, and also something with “diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface.” Palimpsest–– an online publication that highlights outstanding College of General Studies undergraduate writing– has its own many layers, with submissions from across the disciplines covering everything from family history to philosophical dialogues to film history and the history of nationalism.
Palimpsest faculty advisor Chuck Henebry said the project originated as an essay contest more than a decade ago, with CGS faculty members nominating excellent student writing for prizes. It evolved from a contest into a publication that simply highlights stellar undergraduate writing and singles it out for recognition– no matter the discipline, the format, or topic.
When a really stellar paper comes across a CGS professor’s desk, Henebry says it’s a chance to recognize “this student really excelled– went over and above what I usually see.” Faculty nominate students to be included on the site, and Henebry then works with the nominated students to polish and refine their essays and to choose appropriate imagery.
Essays from recent semesters show a rich range of essays. In “A Hidden Holocaust History,” written for a rhetoric course, Helen Kitrosser (CGS’19) describes her personal and academic journey to uncover her family history with the Holocaust. Kitrosser began asking about her grandfather for a rhetoric assignment and was shocked to find out that her great-grandparents died in the Holocaust. She sifted through online archives dedicated to her family’s genealogy and then turned to the historical record to learn more about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in her family’s hometown.
Gigi Fox (CGS’18) wrote a letter in the persona of a grandmother, drawing on Plato’s Republic to take on the 2016 election and to defend “the imperfect democratic republic.” Alexander Batt (CGS’19) finds parallel themes in Antigone and Hamlet: “Both plays dive into what is truly at the heart of tragedy: to achieve catharsis, there must be sacrifice.” Sam Chakrabarti (CGS’19) writes about Elizabeth Barker, the founder of the Boston University Prison Education Program.
An essay by Benjamin Levy (CGS’18, CAS’20) is a playful imaginary dialogue between two people– one embodying the Kierkegaardian intellectual and the other voicing the view of a religious traditionalist. Levy went through five or six drafts of the paper on his own and found that working with Henebry to refine his paper “was helpful and beneficial for the long run and in the end I produced a better paper.” He said it’s a great honor to be included in Palimpsest: “I’m very fortunate to have had this opportunity to write and be recognized. I think it’s a great thing.”