Skip to Content Skip to Main Menu

Faculty of Arts & Science

Arts & Science News

Three Minute Thesis: can nineteenth-century novels prevent financial crises?

U of T winner Cristina D’Amico argues for the importance of literary studies

What set Cristina D'Amico apart from the other contestants? “Her ability to speak to researchers from other disciplines, and show them the value added by the humanities,” said Professor Locke Rowe. Photo: Jason Krygier-Baum

What set Cristina D’Amico apart from the other contestants? “Her ability to speak to researchers from other disciplines, and show them the value added by the humanities,” said Professor Locke Rowe. Photo: Jason Krygier-Baum.

It’s a counter-intuitive argument: present-day policy-makers responding to global financial crises could learn a lot from the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne, or the memoirs of Henry David Thoreau.

But Cristina D’Amico of the Department of English used it to win this year’s Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Toronto.

In just under three minutes, D’amico successfully persuaded a panel of six judges that careful attention to nineteenth-century writing can shed new light on the way North American society understands the relationship between property ownership and civic engagement.

In doing so, she won both the thousand-dollar prize, and the chance to represent U of T at the provincial finals with what Hugh Segal, master of Massey College, described as “a masterful piece of insight, masterfully presented.”

D’Amico’s win represents the first time in the competition’s four-year history that a humanities student has won – all of the previous winners were from medical fields.

“I felt very sure that as a researcher in the humanities I would have a difficult time demonstrating the concrete value of my work,” says D’Amico. “Much of the work we do in the humanities simply can’t be quantified or measured.”

Judges praised her ability to translate research into terms that are accessible to scholars outside her field. Professor Locke Rowe, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, explains:

“What really set Cristina’s presentation apart was her ability to speak to researchers from other disciplines, and show them the value added by the humanities,” Rowe said.

“Literary studies give insights into the big questions – How should we organize our society? How do we build a strong community? How do we help the have-nots? – that supplement the work of economists, or historians, or political philosophers.”

Rowe was quick to emphasize the range of disciplines represented in the finals, including PhD candidates from departments as diverse as biochemistry, civil engineering, and philosophy. “I hope that the competition showcases the diversity and vitality of the research undertaken by our students.”

Runner-up Senjuti Saha (Department of Molecular Genetics) called the event a “great opportunity to mingle with fellow students from other departments, a lot of absolutely amazing people, who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.” Saha singled out Gregory Wentworth’s (Department of Chemistry) work on the effects of sea birds on arctic climate change for praise.

D’Amico praised Saha’s work on antibiotic-resistant bacteria: “I absolutely loved Senjuti  Saha’s energy and delivery style – her passion for her work came across loud and clear.”

The provincial title proved out of reach for U of T this year – Waterloo took first place – but the rankings matter less than the fact of the contest itself, Rowe said.

“The Three Minute Thesis Competition highlights the importance of being able to communicate research to researchers in other fields, to funding agencies, and to policy-makers.”

Photo of: group shot of people

Photo: Jason Krygier-Baum