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Through pursuing opportunities at U-M related to her interests in languages, history, and maps, senior Romance Languages and Literatures (RLL) honors major Fiona Caughey discovered a new interest along the way: an interest in conducting research. 

Fiona, who is also double-minoring in History and Museum Studies, began working with Professor of French Michèle Hannoosh through an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) project which involved using her French language skills.  Fiona worked to locate and secure rights to several images of painter Eugène Delacroix’s works for an introduction Professor Hannoosh was writing for a facsimile of the artist's North African journals.  Additionally, Fiona researched the historical ownership of some of Delacroix’s “lost” watercolor paintings, to search for leads about where the paintings may have ended up.

“It opened my eyes to all the opportunities you have when doing research in the humanities,” Fiona said. “I had never done research before.  I felt like a detective by the end.  I never thought I would be looking for lost paintings at U-M, but it was really fun work that led me to museum studies.”

The following year, she completed work on a translation project with Professor Hannoosh, in which Fiona translated some of Delacroix’s writings in his Dictionnaire des Beaux-Arts (Dictionary of the Fine Arts), from French to English.  

“Working all year on one project, not only did it hone my French skills, but it also made me realize I wanted to pursue an honors thesis,” Fiona said.  

Fiona’s research work with Prof. Hannoosh led to the opportunity to present at a French and Francophone studies colloquium at the University of Pittsburgh.  It was the first year that undergraduate students were invited to give presentations at the conference.  Fiona gave a twelve-minute presentation in French on a paper she wrote about Delacroix’s translations of written texts into paintings, which related to the conference’s theme of “mediums and media”.  

“Writing and presenting a formal research presentation was very difficult but incredibly fulfilling,” Fiona remarked.  “When presenting to an audience, you really have to focus on simplification and presenting with clarity even if the work was far from it!”

“It was a great networking opportunity too,” she noted. “Seeing what academia looks like in the humanities and languages.  I connected with Italian and French faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and in France.”

Currently, Fiona is completing a research practicum involving studying and comparing maps of 19th-century Paris at the Clark Library at U-M, for her Museum Studies minor.  She said her love of maps began when she was a child.  “When I was younger, I always loved globes,” she said. “I think it is something we take for granted and dismiss every day, the processes and politics that delineate coastlines or demarcate borders.   Looking back historically at maps, you have to treat them like any other primary source; maps can lie too, so being able to study them with a critical eye  is important.  They can often be very subjective." 

For her upcoming RLL honors thesis, Fiona plans to include map research in her work.  She mentioned that she is “interested in the general implications of borders and the colonial establishment of borders in Southeast Asia.  Borders are ingrained so heavily in our society yet they can be strangely arbitrary." 

As an RLL major, Fiona is focusing on French and Italian as her two primary languages.  

“My mentor in the Residential College (a recent graduate with the RLL major) saw my passion for language learning and recommended to me the RLL major versus just pursuing French,” she said. “It was really a ‘why not?’ moment for me; I wouldn't ever have an opportunity to formally study another language at this level, and it fit well with my interests and schedule.” 

As a Meijer Scholar and Irish-American, being a first-generation college student is something Fiona is “really proud of”.  She said it took some time to develop confidence “being in a place that is so big and so diverse,” but now she said she is experiencing “the complete opposite” as she has made her “own identity here” at U-M.  Fiona said she is “making the most of what U-M has to offer” before she graduates in Winter 2023.

“I love being a student, I love learning,” she said.  “For me, pursuing a major in a language was a no-brainer, having that grounding, it can open up so many doors after college regardless of what field you work in,” Fiona said.  Additionally, she is planning to study Indonesian or Vietnamese this fall. 

After graduation, Fiona is looking forward to taking a gap year to travel, to continue to expand her language skills and to gain new experiences.  She is considering applying to several programs, including the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), the Bonderman Fellowship, and the Fulbright Program.  After that, Fiona may pursue graduate school, and is interested in “lots of different career paths,” she said, including law and journalism.

1836 map of Paris indicating early urban renewal efforts at the Clark Library

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