danieu ’23 researches air in artistic practice

Ava DanieuEvery year, the COE awards fellowships to fund summer research opportunities for Wesleyan students across all majors and class years. English major Ava Danieu ’23 spent the summer as a research assistant for Professor Claire Grace, who is exploring the status of air in 1960s artistic practice.

Tell us about your summer research project!
These past few months, I’ve been a research assistant for Claire Grace, associate professor of art history, who is exploring the status of air in 1960s artistic practice. I contribute to the project by providing contextual information that includes historical news coverage of air pollution in Los Angeles, the United States military’s use of air delivered chemicals in the Vietnam War, and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Beyond reviewing archival sources to find media coverage, I compile reading lists concerning historical accounts of the Clean Air Act and information on specific firework companies active in the Los Angeles region in the 1960s.

What was the most rewarding part of your COE summer fellowship experience?
When I was in middle school and had just heard of environmentalism, I wanted to read Silent Spring, the book that seemingly started the American environmental movement. I tried reading it, but the scientific language went way over my head. I placed the book in a prized position on my bookshelf where it gathered dust for about ten years. This summer I finally picked it back up again. Enjoying Carson’s writing and then using it for academic research, I felt like I made my younger self proud.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in completing your project – and how did you overcome that challenge?
My research requires combing through loads of historical information on unfamiliar databases. Often, I did not know which database to use or had difficulty navigating within them. Wesleyan has a group of resourceful and kind librarians, who were able to help me get started or find solutions for any issues. I recommend scheduling a session whenever you need assistance gathering research materials!

Any words of advice for other Wes students who might be interested in applying for a COE fellowship?
Do not be scared off if you are not an environmental studies major or minor! As an English major and art history minor, I felt nervous applying for a grant from a scientific field. But the College of the Environment emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach, making it an accessible experience for non-science majors.

For fun: Please recommend your favorite eco-themed book or movie everyone should read or watch!
I would recommend The Overstory, by Richard Powers.