Honglan Huang loves books—that’s one of the reasons she majored in comparative literature. During her course of study at Haverford she explored all kinds of literature, concentrating, for her major, on French and Japanese texts, but for her thesis she focused more on physical format of the book than the words contained within. “The Narrativity of the Medium: The Architecture of Book Space in Picture Books,” explored Huang’s lifelong fascination with picture books, and used their medium as way to explore their messages.
“I have always been interested in picture books and the thesis topic not only allowed me to dive deeper into my specific interest in children’s literature, but also to unify my several general interests in literature: the role of image in texts, the question of reading and the performative aspect of texts,” she says.
In addition to her written thesis, Huang, who had previously showcased her own artwork in student exhibits in the Old Gym and in James House during her time at the College, put on a related exhibition. That show, which was sponsored by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities’ Student Arts Fund and held in Stokes in May, featured a gallery of handmade books that served as practical and creative responses to the picture books she analyzed.
Huang hopes to continue her work on picture books at Yale University, where she will be starting a comparative literature Ph.D. program in the fall.
What did you learn working on your thesis?
While my thesis started from focusing on the material components of the book—for example, how the texture of the paper, the format, and the binding contribute to the meaning of the narrative—my emphasis shifted a little bit more to the processes of creation and reading, and I am increasingly intrigued by the theatricality that the book space offers. I think the unique thing that I learned from writing the thesis is to try not letting theory confine the scope of analysis of the creative works but making them in dialogue with each other and letting my own writing surprise me.
What are the implications for this research?
With the increasing popularity of the digital format, it is important to understand the essential components of the material book and the medium in general: to what extent the features of the material book can be translated into other formats and how the medium plays a more crucial role in the narrative. I also think that a deeper understanding of the potential of the book to incorporate various sensory aspects can open up the question of how the interactivity of the book can be used to help children with mental or physical disabilities.
Photo, by Caleb Eckert ’17, shows Honglan Huang at her thesis-related exhibit opening.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.