We Should All Be Project Comps

8 February 2022
By Octavia Washington

I find Rebecca (she/her) in the strange Zoom-Wonderland so many of us are accustomed to, glossy from class and ready to share her screen. I open the meeting by telling her, as I’ll tell all of you, that the project comps is the best option for an English major, and also that we’re better than everyone else. 

I don’t mean to sound biased, as a fellow project comp-er (I’m changing our team name to Project Propaganda). I have a tendency to hyperbolize; yet hopefully the case of Rebecca Hicke will convince everyone of the project comps supremacy, and let prospective English majors know where their eyes should land on the comps options screen. 

As an English and Computer Science double major, Rebecca is used to being an anomaly and receiving other people’s awe. She is studying how women in Shakespeare’s comedies enact power by visualizing their speech patterns — trends in who talks to whom, how the women interact with each other, their impact across the scenes, etc. The simple version: she tracks the total percentage of words spoken by each character in a computer program. For all fourteen comedies, she annotates them by hand. 

Cue your jaw drop. Here are some examples of Rebecca’s insanity. 

Rebecca chart
General display of Rebecca’s megamind divided by acts
In which you can isolate by character and lines

After accessing important lines, either in asides or dialogue, she checks the weighted impact of that speech against acts. She can even enter a specific character in a drop-down menu and look at specific lines. And why does she insist on using her English degree this way? Coding supplements literary analysis, according to Rebecca. There are thousands of years of analysis done on Shakespeare’s texts. This project will allow us to broaden the way we look at literature computationally and arrive at a concrete impression that you can’t get from just reading. In fact, her project is what comps should be in a nutshell: a new perspective. A new sort of genius. 

Drop-down menu

As the other half of Project Propaganda, it is my solemn duty to spread the project comps gospel by also sharing my work. I directed and wrote an all-Black play called Aphrodite & Adonis which debuted in Little Nourse Theater this past weekend. A&A is about the Greek goddess being stuck inside of Pathos Bar, in an unfortunate time loop (which you can still watch for a few more days! Other editors’ note: definitely worth the watch & subsequent amazement). I wrote the play as a means to engage wth past representations of Blackness in theater in order to analyze contemporary Black theatrical aesthetics. I’m particularly questioning how modern creators access Black pain and generational trauma in narratives that are non-exploitative. 

group photo

It sounds a little more complicated than it is. Black playwrights love using time loops. They do so because it’s a way of reflecting on historical pain in the present. Directing and producing a play is incredibly time-consuming. But, now that I have my life back, I can also see how rewarding it was. 

a&a poster
Poster. Artwork made by Aidan O’Sullivan.

To an outside observer, the project comps might look a little overwhelming from head-on. (Julia very rudely refers to us as overachievers.) But to have a passion project, you have to be a little intense. Slightly single-minded devotion is what leads to eccentric, eclectic, extraordinary results (special callback to past Miscellany editor Amanda Mosborg, who made a true-crime podcast on a Carleton serial killer). That’s what the project comps asks for. It requires you to execute the project of your dreams; assemble your own timeline, and formulate work completely based on your strengths. But I’m the head spokesperson for Project Propaganda, so don’t take my word for what ushers the English major into a more relevant and modern interdisciplinary approach — or do. Because the chance to embrace true, real, deeply uncomfortable independence with the support of the English department behind you? That sounds a little bit like the whole point of going to college. 

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  • 2022-02-08 13:10:55
    Goldie Washburn

    Absolutely smashing job! I've never been so proud to call you two my friends.