Meet Our HURF Recipients

English Undergrads Win Fellowships for New Approaches to Shakespeare’s Caliban, Kesey’s Environmentalism, and the Racialized Children of Southern Gothic


This fall, three English Undergraduate students were awarded 2019’s Humanities Undergraduate Research Fellowships (HURF).  HURFs are awarded yearly to a set number of qualifying undergraduate students wishing to pursue research projects in the humanities. The recipients of the award spend the 16-week fellowship period attending workshops and working closely with a faculty member in order to develop their projects and research skills.  

Each student’s project culminates with a final paper and a presentation of the project at the UO Undergraduate Symposium as part of the HURF panel

To learn more about these students' provocative projects and their research experiences, including an interview with winner DeForest Wihtol, scroll down or click on the recipients and their projects below.  

  1. Scott Zeigler, “Antagonistic River: The Agency of Nature in Northwest Fiction” 

  2. DeForest Rolnick-Wihtol, “Caliban Yisrael: The Jewish ‘Other’ in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice.” 

  3. Interview with DeForest Rolnick-Wihtol 

To learn more about 2020 HURF application deadlines and requirements click here

Scott Zeigler: “Antagonistic River: The Agency of Nature in Northwest Fiction"

Scott Zeigler was awarded for his project “Antagonistic River: The Agency of Nature in Northwest Fiction.” Zeigler is working on his project with faculty mentor Gordon Sayre

The project considers Ken Kesey’s personal journals and correspondence alongside his novel Sometimes a Great Notion in order to demonstrate the ways that Kesey wrote the Oregon wilderness into the text. The project uses an ecocritical lens to investigate how the river in Kesey’s text is given a form of agency and acts as a character within the text. 

Zeigler's project is an extension of the work he is doing for his honors thesis in English. Alongside working on his project for both the HURF project and his thesis, Zeigler is also working on this topic through the research he does for Sigma Tau Delta and uses Eugene’s landscape and the Knight Library’s Special Collections to find new approaches to his topic.  

Zeigler explains that the specific resources present at the University of Oregon informed his choice of topic for his various projects: 

“I'm studying Ken Kesey's novel Sometimes a Great Notion and how he positions the Wakonda Auga River as an antagonistic character in the novel. Because the Knight Library Special Collections houses Kesey's archives, I've had access to his developmental notes and letters he wrote to his friend Ken Babbs about the story. I also have access to the landscape and landmarks he used to develop the book by driving down the highway toward Florence.” 

Through his project, Zeigler interacts with theories of material ecocriticism and aims to draw attention “to a text that has gone underappreciated by the ecocritical community.” 

To learn more about Scott Zeigler’s project click here. 

To go back to the top to learn more about the other recipients click here

DeForest Rolnick-Wihtol: “Caliban Yisrael: The Jewish ‘Other’ in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice"

DeForest Rolnick-Wihtol is an English and Spanish double major awarded the HURF for their project “Caliban Yisrael: The Jewish ‘Other’ in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice.” Wihtol is working with faculty mentor Kate Myers

Wihtol's project began in Professor Myers’ class on Shakespeare’s later works last Spring as part of a presentation on the different interpretations of Caliban in The Tempest. After the class, Wihtol chose to further investigate and expand on the topic by investigating depictions of Jewish figures in Shakespeare’s works for their HURF project.   

Wihtol provides an intertextual reading that compares Shakespeare's depiction of Jewish characters in both The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest. These readings are informed by a collection of other sources referring to and depicting Jewish people such as the Jewish Tanahk and primary documents discussing Jewish life during the Elizabethan era. 

Through bringing cultural and historical context to these different portrayals of Jewish characters, the project yields more complicated and nuanced portrayals of Judaism in Shakespeare’s work. 

Scroll down to read an interview with DeForest; click here to go back to the top to learn more about the other recipients.

Interview with DeForest Rolnick-Wihtol:

DeForest answered a few of our questions about their experience with the fellowship to give us a look into the application process and their developing research: 

Q: How did you learn about the HURF and what was your application process like? 

A: I learned about the HURF through Corbett Upton, who had suggested it as an option a few times. The application process was intimidating because I wasn’t confident in my ideas and often doubted my own process. I wasn’t expecting to be selected at all, but I told myself to apply anyway, just for the experience. The application process itself was great practice in pitching ideas in an academic setting. 

Q: So far, what has been the most memorable or helpful part of your fellowship experience? 

A: I’ve really appreciated meeting with many different people at multiple stages in their academic careers. As a senior who is graduating this year, I’ve often felt lost in trying to picture a future after the clear-cut path of school ends, and being able to connect with and hear the stories of so many people has given me ideas, built up my confidence, and disproved that old myth that there is only one way forward. 

Q: How do you imagine your fellowship experience will impact your future career or academic goals? What skills have you worked on or developed throughout the process and how will these be useful to your future goals and professional paths? 

A: Being able to propose and then embark on and present a topic is a necessary skill, and having proof that you are able to do that is important in many avenues in life. The practice of research is becoming more and more important in our modern world, as we become overwhelmed with information every day and struggle to parse for ourselves what is real and think critically about connections between things. Even the simple practice of sitting for long periods of time to thoughtfully read a text is becoming harder for everyone, me included. I think it’s vital that we practice these skills often — patience, attentiveness, critical thinking and thoughtfulness, constructing arguments and connecting the dots, and speaking publicly about our ideas in a way that shares knowledge without patronizing the listener. The HURF is allowing me to put these skills into practice and process my pedagogy around them in a low-stakes, well-supported environment, where my mistakes aren’t castigated, and I am surrounded by other people ready to share their own ideas and approaches. 

Q: What is something you think other undergraduates hearing about the fellowship should know? Is there anything else about this experience that you would like to share? 

A: Go for it. Apply even if you’re unsure. This goes for everything, not just the fellowship. Do yourself the favor of trusting your abilities. How else are you going to grow? Even if it doesn’t happen, you tried, which is better than giving up before you started. And besides, you might surprise yourself. Most experiences are better, more useful, more life-changing than you imagine them. Absolutely everyone can get something out of the HURF program, as long as you bring something you’re passionate about. 

To learn more about DeForest Rolnick-Wihtol's project click here. 

To go back to the top to learn more about the other recipients click here


Contributed by Hannah Zeller