Dissertation Corner with Ella Bramhall: Representing African-American Womanhood

In this week’s instalment of Dissertation Corner we talk to Ella Bramhall about her project on representations of African-American Womanhood.

Hi everyone! I hope you are all settling nicely into second semester after a long winter break. I don’t think I just speak for myself when saying that this semester is flying by, and I think as a third-year student, I am feeling the pressure more than ever before. I’ve been asked to talk about to write a piece for the Dissertation corner section of the blog, and yes, you guessed it, I am going to be talking all about my experience writing my Dissertation. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience so far, and you never know, you might even pick up some useful tips along the way!

Tell us about your dissertation, what is it about?

The topic that I have chosen to examine for my Dissertation project is controlling images and stereotypes of African-American womanhood in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Push by Sapphire and The Street by Anne Petry. This is a working title at the moment, but in each chapter of my project I am examining the different controlling stereotypes of black womanhood that appear within each text such as the mammy, the welfare queen, and the Jezebel.

How did you choose the texts for your dissertation?

Well, funnily enough I had very different texts when I first started my Dissertation. I originally wanted to focus the space of the home and African-American motherhood, however after speaking to my supervisor I decided to change my focus onto something more specific as I was missing a theme to link all three chapters together. I originally read Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God, and Walker’s The Colour Purple alongside Push. Although my texts have changed, I think that reading the other texts has really helped me to gain a wider knowledge of the subject area, so I wouldn’t say that it was a waste of time reading them.

Has your project changed much since the proposal stage?

I personally think so, yes. I was always very confident that I wanted to focus on African-American literature, but it took me a while to hone into what I actually wanted to write about.

Why are you interested in this topic?

 I studied the American Literature module in second year and I really enjoyed it and my interest has grown from there. I enjoy studying black feminist theory, and also the individual stories that collectively narrative the Black woman’s fight for self-definition and autonomy from racial and gendered oppression.

 What have you enjoyed most about the project?

I have enjoyed doing the wider research around stereotypes of Black womanhood because there is such a large area of information to look in to, once you start looking in the right place! I think there is a great sense of pride when writing your dissertation too, as you are creating your own critical voice within your work and drawing from all the sources you have spent hours studying.

 What has it been like working closely with an academic supervisor?

It has been brilliant. Use your tutor wisely! They are there to support and help you to create your project and give you direction and advice. My tutor is Janine Bradbury and Janine has helped me to guide the project to where I wanted it to go, whilst giving me direction and supporting my working style. It is great to speak and work with someone who has such an in-depth knowledge on the field of literature that I am studying, and I have personally found the process a lot less daunting by regularly meeting with my supervisor.

I am currently editing my second chapter of my Dissertation at the moment, so I am about half way through my project. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience so far, and if I can give you any advice, it is to start early with the project, but not to panic if you don’t know what to write on straight away!