Beatriz Maldonado ’15
Project: Poem Interpretation and 3D Lego Performance: A Visual and Tactile Representation of Mathematizing Literature
Major: American and Hispanic studies, dual
Grant: Mellon Undergraduate Research Grant
Faculty: Assistant Professor of English Jacqueline Wernimont
Is it possible to create a 3D graphical representation of a poem? Beatriz Maldonado thought so—and a Mellon grant helped prove her thesis.
Maldonado and her advisor, English professor Jacqueline Wernimont, began their research with one basic question: what would it mean to transform a poem into an object? The answer was complex and led to Maldonado’s project on poem interpretation and 3D Lego performance.
To make the project feasible, they limited the study to five poems, one for each century from the 17th century through the present. Maldonado found these poems are united by themes of time in distance and hope or sorrow, especially evident in Julia Caroline Dorr’s “Two Paths.”
To bring the poems’ visual representation to life, Maldonado determined which characteristics would operate as axes. Because she most identified with “Two Paths,” which is 12 lines, she chose to make the X and Y coordinates count to 12.
Maldonado chose one word from each line of the poem that most related to the themes; she set the X coordinates to represent distance in time (-12 is present time, 0 is ambiguous, and +12 is future) and Y coordinates to represent the range of hope (+12) or sorrow (-12). The chosen word was the Z coordinate.
“I decided what I wanted to interpret from the poem, not to decide the truth of the poem,” she says. “It was more about what I wanted to feel at that instant I. If I were to do it now, I would have a different result, and that’s the point of it. My interpretation is supposed to be different than anyone else’s.”
“We ran into problems with access to a 3D printer, so Bea got creative and turned to analog tools like the Legos model to her reading of the poem,” Wernimont says. “It was a great idea, and it gave her an entirely different, tactile approach to the problem.”
Maldonado would not have considered doing research if it were not for Wernimont’s encouragement. “She gave me this smile of assurance and said I should apply for the grant. That was enough, that push to get me to write the proposal with her.”
Maldonado says the project freed her to think differently and to think across fields, and Wernimont sees the project as fitting into a larger exploration of digital humanities.
“I think the project opened up ways of asking questions and representing interpretation that are boundary-pushing,” Wernimont says. “While making a Lego toy seems very low- tech and simple, it’s an elegant representation of an incredibly complex process.”
“In my head there was always a strategy to doing literature and math, and they were never put together visually,” Maldonado says. “What I liked most about working with Professor Wernimont was the lack of limitations. It was intimidating at times, but I kept in mind that this project is not about finding truth. This is about exploring a certain way of understanding.”
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