Campus / News / Student Research / November 18, 2010

Cultural evolution across generations

Most Honors projects result in eighty-plus page papers, but senior Brittany Amendolia’s project is taking it to the next level. Her eighty-page thesis and Honors defense will be written and presented entirely in German. The Knox Student (TKS) met with Amendolia to discuss the topic she is tackling —1920’s Germany and the drag queens of Berlin.

TKS: What are you doing for your Honors project?

Amendolia: I will compare the Weimar Republic New Woman to the drag queens of today’s Berlin. The Weimar Republic New Woman is comparable to the equivalent of what Americans might understand as a flapper. She was really the first woman to be walking around independently on the streets. She was wearing men’s jackets, she was smoking, she was drinking, she was working, earning her own keep. I’m looking to almost compare these gender-bending-esque women to the drag queens…that are causing a little bit of distress in today’s society. I’m really interested in the distress change causes to a heteronormative society.

TKS: How did you become interested in this topic?

Amendolia: I just got back from studying abroad in Berlin for a year. I would go to gay clubs and see drag queens. They’re really entrepreneurial figures and I’m just really interested in exploring the motivations and theories behind drag, which has led me to a lot of interesting things.

I’ve always been interested in the Weimar Republic, for the time it was—it’s right in 1918, suddenly women can vote. They could actually vote in Germany before they could vote in America. Education is not necessarily given to women but it was more of an option than it had been. Women weren’t necessarily just focusing on being a housewife anymore. They were given this freedom; they were getting married later.

TKS: How are you finding information on this topic?

Amendolia: A lot of my research, when it comes to drag queens, is coming out of the American system. I have read many journals. I’m actually trying to, myself, reinterpret that to what went on in Berlin. Originally, the drag queens in Berlin were more political queens. They were more protesting. They were really looking to make a grotesque performance. Now with Westernization and the whole club scene, the drag scene has turned into a more glamorous performance. Before, they had more of a community, they were doing this to protest. Now it’s really a business.

And I do have ethnographic data in my own head from when I would see these performances or queer rallies [in Berlin].

TKS: What has been the most challenging part of this project? What has been the most interesting part?

Amendolia: I was initially distressed by having my original concepts of these two figures just short of shocked out by getting into my research. Originally, I looked at the New Woman and thought, one day these women magically woke up educated, woke up independent.

Of course, I was a little blind, because of course that has gotten shocked out of me. A lot of these women weren’t necessarily educated [school] wise—they were street smart. They were man-eaters. They were living from man to man.

As I’ve done research, I’ve discovered “the double bind of gay self-hood.” A lot of that leads into the concept of a self-loathing drag queen. I never thought about that ugly side.

TKS: How do you balance your Honors research with other academics and activities?

Amendolia: I think one of the most important things when you even consider Honors is, you have to ask yourself, “am I passionate about this?” You do have to give up a part of your senior year to really do this right.

I was dreaming of this project when I was in Berlin. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for over a year now. I’m seeing this as a chance to really improve myself. I can take what I learn and independently perform intense research, come out with my own thesis, my own supporting details. I’m really looking forward to proving myself for this process. I think that’s why it hasn’t been too painful for me yet—because it’s just something that I’m really driven to do. I need to do this for myself.

Katy Sutcliffe

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