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Three University of Delaware
undergraduates who are developing a graphic novel to explore the culture
of an indigenous group in Peru were selected to present their work to
members of Congress and their staffs in Washington, D.C.
English majors Aubrey Arnold and Cori Burcham and biological sciences
major Alex Stubbolo worked with Siobhan Carroll, associate professor of
English, to develop the “Ese’Eja Graphic Novel Project.” Both Arnold and Burcham are in the Honors Program at UD.
The students presented a poster describing their work at the April 20
Posters on the Hill event on Capitol Hill, organized each spring by the
Council on Undergraduate Research.
The UD project was one of 60 — only four of them from the humanities —
invited to participate from among hundreds of applicants around the
Posters on the Hill aims to raise awareness of the high-quality
research undergraduates perform, the impact of this research on
students’ professional preparation and the importance of continued
investment in undergraduate research support. The event also is designed
to help members of Congress understand the importance of undergraduate
research by talking directly with student researchers.
The graphic novel originated with an earlier “cultural mapping”
project in which an interdisciplinary team of UD students and faculty
members conducted research in the Amazonian region of Peru with the Ese’Eja, an indigenous hunting, gathering and fishing people.
Jon Cox, assistant professor of art and design,
helped lead that project. He and Rosalie Rolon-Dow, associate professor
of education and the Cultural Mapping Project's education director,
later approached Carroll with the idea for a book exploring the culture
of the Ese’Eja.
“We decided on an anthology, with each of us writing separate but
related narratives,” said Arnold, who is writing two stories and
contributing her own artwork to the book. “Each story tackles a
different issue that’s important to the Ese’Eja.”
The three students, who were not part of the original expedition to
Peru, conducted extensive research on the Ese’Eja and on the process of
developing visual narratives.
“We wanted to tell an adventure story in an accessible way,” Stubbolo
said. “Graphic novels are a really good medium for this project,
because we want to communicate with different age groups and with people
who have a strong oral tradition.”
Plans call for selling the novel in the United States and, later, to
have it translated into Spanish for distribution in Peru. For all
audiences — from Ese’Eja children to American adults — the students’
goal is to tell the story of the group accurately and authentically, to
promote respect for the Ese’Eja’s culture and way of life, and to raise
awareness about the environmental and other challenges they are facing
Storylines in the book include a variety of Ese’Eja traditional
beliefs and oral legends and history, as well as ways in which the
people are seeking to find a balance between their traditions and the
For Burcham, it was the idea of helping to preserve oral legends that first made the project attractive.
“This reminded me of previous documentations of mythology in literature such as Virgil’s Aeneid or Homer’s Iliad,” she said. “A lot of what we know today about Greek and Roman mythology was preserved in these two works.”
For Stubbolo, combining folklore with serious issues in the novel was
a way to reach both the Ese’Eja and those outside their community with
Burcham agreed: “I hope Ese’Eja children will be able to read these
comics and be proud of their cultural identity, and maybe be inspired to
create art of their own [with] their own unique worldview,” she said.
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