Thomson-DeVeaux ’13 receives Martin A. Dale ’53 Fellowship
Flora Thomson-DeVeaux ’13 was awarded the Martin A. Dale ’53 Fellowship in late February to continue the research she began with her senior thesis on Argentinean butler Santiago Badariotti Merlo.
The fellowship provides a senior with a grant of $30,000 to pursue an independent project after graduation. Thomson-DeVeaux, a Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures concentrator, will conduct “on-the-ground research” on Merlo in Brazil for her project entitled “The Universal History of Santiago Badariotti Merlo.”
Thomson-DeVeaux’s thesis attempts to construct a biography of Merlo, who lived in Brazil and worked over 60 years to compile a universal history of the aristocracy, which spanned a 6,000-year time period and totaled over 25,000 pages. Thomson-DeVeaux’s thesis also examines this universal history and some of Merlo’s poetry.
Thomson-Deveaux will begin her research in Rio de Janeiro, visit various locations to track down individuals related to Merlo and then return once more to Rio. However, she predicts her plans will change as she finds new sources and information.
“I expect to find plenty along the way that will change the trajectory of the trip, so I asked the Dale Committee’s lenience in giving me some flexibility,” Thomson-Deveaux said. “In just the last weeks of research in Rio, I went back to do more thesis research and I discovered Santiago [Merlo]’s niece, tracked her down, and when I got in touch with her, it turned out that she was in possession of the only copy of the manuscript of his autobiography, which I didn’t know existed.”
Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures Pedro Meira Monteiro, who taught Thomson-DeVeaux in two different courses and is now her thesis adviser, described her as a true scholar and a hardworking student who was always prepared for the next step throughout the thesis-writing process.
“She always comes here with a lot of material, so it’s not that I need to remind her that she owes me something. Quite the contrary, I’m always trying to catch up with the velocity, the speedy way she produces her various drafts.” Monteiro said. “Usually this kind of thing is very rhetorical when we say she is a young scholar, but in her case, she really already is a scholar.”
Thomson-DeVeaux said she first encountered Merlo in her freshman year, when she watched the documentary “Santiago” in a Brazilian cinema class. The following year, she took a course offered by the director of the documentary, Joao Moreira Salles, as part of the Humanities Council course titled “Shooting the Enemy in Non-Fiction Cinema.”
Salles then invited Thomson-DeVeaux to come do research at the Moreira Salles Institute, which is located in the house where Merlo lived and worked. She accepted his offer since she had already planned to spend her junior year abroad in Rio de Janeiro for the fall and in Buenos Aires for the spring. Over the course of that year, she said, the idea of researching and writing about Merlo for her senior thesis and beyond came to her.
“I was trying to think of a thesis topic that would let me integrate Brazil, Argentina, literature, translation [and] this period in Brazilian history that I was really interested in,” Thomson-DeVeaux said. “I thought that Santiago could possibly provide a good platform for me to discuss a lot of these topics.”
Through this coming year of research and travel, Thomson-DeVeaux said that in addition to furthering her research on Merlo, she hopes to make his story known beyond her academic writings, perhaps through writing a book on Santiago over course of the year. Thomson-DeVeaux said she wrote for Piaui magazine while in Rio, which gave her the chance to write for a more general audience, and said she hopes to use the next year to write about Santiago in a similar way.
“I could have just continued to work on Santiago as a dissertation project, but I think his story is so remarkable that it shouldn’t be restricted to academic circles,” Thomson DeVeaux said. “I want to make his story known, and I want to make it legible across countries ... and principally outside academia.”
The Dale fellowship also provides funding for sophomores to undertake research projects over the summer. The winners of this year’s fellowship have not yet been announced.
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