Creative Process: Senior Honors Thesis

Photo by Cristina Gottardi

Throughout the entirety of my senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill, I dedicated countless hours toward the completion of my honors thesis, La Dolce Vita: Imagining Escapism, Passion and Self-Growth in American Films set in Italy. In high school and college, I always thoroughly enjoyed writing research papers; the process of finding relevant sources, creating outlines and even writing the citations felt analogous to the completion of a puzzle, of which I am also a very big fan. Despite previously stating that I would never voluntarily write a paper longer than 40 pages, I somehow convinced myself that completing an honors thesis would be a great way to leave UNC with a bang.

Because I chose to complete the paper under my second major in Italian, its theme had to have some relation to Italy. Around the time when I was coming up with potential ideas for my thesis, I was in an Italian film class that focused primarily on mob and gang-related movies, such as The Godfather and Goodfellas. Throughout this course, we examined the impact that such films have not only on our own individual perceptions’ of other ethnic groups, but also on society as a whole. Although I was very much aware of the prominence of Italian mob-stereotypes in movies, I noticed that my own experience with Italians in American films differed.

Prior to this course, I think the majority of the films I had seen that revolved around Italy and Italians presented them in a romanticized light, commonly relying on images of passion, romance, delicious food, beautiful landscapes, etc. In fact, one of the reasons I begged my parents to let me go on a school trip to Rome (which eventually led to my Italian studies) was my childhood obsession with The Lizzie McGuire Movie. After talking with a few of my classmates, I found that a lot of us had chosen to study Italian because of a movie-fueled fascination with the country and culture. That’s when I realized that even these seemingly meaningless “chick flicks” had a large enough impact on our perception of Italians that they informed our academic decision to major and minor in Italian.

After a few discussions with my thesis advisor, Dr. Amy Chambless, I decided to focus my thesis on this idealization of Italy in American blockbusters. From there, we created a schedule to help keep me organized and accountable throughout this long-term project. I spent the fall semester watching and analyzing a handful of films (Eat Pray Love, La Dolce Vita, Letters to Juliet, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, A Room with a View and Under the Tuscan Sun) that I thought best encapsulated my chosen themes of escapism, passion and self-growth, and then cross-referencing these films with various historical, social and cultural contextual sources. I then spent the spring semester outlining and writing each chapter and, of course, proof reading and editing.

70 pages, 32 sources and six movies later, I finally finished my thesis about a month before it was due so that I had ample time to make edits. Although it was no walk in the park and was by far the longest-term project I have ever worked on, I am very proud that I was able to accomplish this feat. You can find a copy of my thesis in the Carolina Digital Repository