Thoughts on Theses: Yasmeen Saeed

Yasmeen Saeed is a history major writing a thesis on mythologizing the past. Her advisor is Professor of History and Asian Languages and Civilizations Monica M. Ringer.

Q: What’s your thesis about?

A: I am writing about mythologizing the past and how it can be construed as either myth or history from a Turkish setting. I’m discussing how myth is not as factually based; it is about generating something that appeals to people based on their ideological agenda. My thesis compares Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and Erdoğan, the current president. I’m examining the ways in which they understand the past and how their understanding informs their mythologization of it and their generation of national identity.

Q: How does your topic connect to the work you’ve done at Amherst?

A: It’s pretty much right in line of the work I’ve done so far at Amherst as a history major with a focus on the Middle East! My senior seminar last spring focused exclusively on Atatürk and Erdoğan and their relationship with one another, and the term paper I wrote for the class informed the next step that I wanted to take my project in. My paper touched on the relationships of the leaders to the past, but it didn’t really get into how that understanding is instrumentalized in the generation of national identity. I took what I had already learned and pushed the material in a different direction.

Q: What research have you done so far for your thesis?

A: I’ve looked at a lot of political cartoons. Atatürk used cartoons to disseminate his ideas of myth, so looking at the cartoons as a primary source helps me to discern his relationship with the past. I’ve been able to use my sources to compare both leaders’ relationships with the past and analyze how they have been using them to inform their own ideologies and ideas of national identity. I’ve had to do a lot of reading between the lines. I was also able to take a trip over interterm to Istanbul to do more “on the ground” independent research. I spent my time being a tourist to see how these constructed myths have manifested themselves within the reality of the city, which was a super cool, informative opportunity! Amherst financed my trip through a grant, which was amazing.

Q: How do you recommend future thesis writers manage their time?

A: I think choosing a project that you’re really interested in is the biggest thing. If I had chosen a project that I didn’t feel as invested in, I think that I would’ve felt pretty burnt out by this point in the year. I think there’s a certain degree of burnout that comes with the thesis anyway, but finding that topic you’re passionate about really helps. If you had asked me six months ago whether or not I saw myself writing 100+ pages on one topic, that would’ve been crazy to me! But you really get invested in your project, and now I’m realizing that this is only the beginning. I can keep elaborating and working and make this project two or three times as big as it is right now. That definitely speaks to my commitment and interest in this one topic. Find something you’re interested in and really push the boundaries on it!

Q: How has your thesis advisor helped you with your research?

A: My advisor is Professor Ringer. The first history class I took at Amherst, my freshman fall, was a class with her. She’s ended up being my professor four different times, is now my thesis advisor and my major advisor. I have a really good relationship with her. She has been extremely helpful in my whole thesis process. I really appreciate the hands-on role she has taken with my thesis because she has been able to illuminate some of the stuff that I tend to overlook, which has been super helpful. She’s pushed me in the right direction, and she’s been really excited about my project. Having someone that is as equally excited and willing to help in whatever way they can has been super beneficial to my writing process.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part about writing your thesis?

A: When I came in my first year, I didn’t really see myself pursuing a thesis. Being at the stage that I am now in this process, I think it speaks to my personal growth as a student and how Amherst has changed me as a person. Pursuing this thesis and producing it is a really big testament to my personal growth. I actually was on the field hockey team and played for three years, but after getting injured I decided not to play this year; I felt like I kinda lost a little part of myself, but it gave me the time and flexibility to invest in new experiences on campus, like writing my thesis. I was able to take advantage of my free time and I gained a new perspective on Amherst as an educational institution. I really got to see the rewards of pursuing academic endeavors like writing a thesis and working one-on-one with professors to conduct research.

Q: What was the hardest point of writing your thesis?

A: Time management was hard. When you’re writing a paper, you can think of it as one piece that can be done in one night, but the thesis doesn’t work like that. There’s a lot of thinking about how each part you’re working on directly affects the parts that come after. You have to think about your thesis more holistically than other assignments. I have to stick to a strict schedule, and you don’t always know what that schedule is going to look like. I had to learn time management, how to prioritize my time, and how to stick to a schedule.

Q: Do you have any other advice for students planning on writing a thesis?

A: I’ve been really fortunate to have a great relationship with my advisor, so I think it’s important to know who you want as your advisor. You want someone who will benefit your project but will also benefit your personal experience writing it. My advisor has been super supportive of everything I juggle here at Amherst on top of my thesis, which has made the process of writing it more manageable.