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Focus on Faculty: Dr. Laura Rosanne Adderley

Publication date

February 21, 2018 5:30 PM


Jake Ward

Professor Adderly

Dr. Laura Rosanne Adderley is an Associate Professor of History and the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at Tulane.


Dr. Laura Rosanne Adderley is an Associate Professor of History and the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at Tulane.  She has a large amount of experience advising Honors Theses, which she values as an opportunity to really discuss research with undergraduate students.  A thesis is a significant undertaking and not for everyone, she says, but the process teaches an invaluable life lesson: “how to learn about something.”

Professor Adderley says that the chance to advise an Honors Thesis is “always interesting” for faculty.  Every senior who wishes to write a thesis puts together a committee of three faculty members who help to read and review their work.  The first two “readers,” as they are known, typically come from the department the student is writing in, but the third is required to be from a different department.

Unlike with a final paper in a normal class, an Honors Thesis is subject to countless edits and reiterations.  This means the opportunity to have sustained discussions about the research, where the answers are returned to and developed over time.  Projects last at least a year, which Professor Adderley labels a “much more natural time clock” for research.

Even the role of the third reader, which can be seen as a “bureaucratic obstacle” by students, is one that Professor Adderley enjoys.  Most basically, the responsibility of the third reader is to ensure integrity and impartiality for the project.  However, for the professor herself, the role means reading a lot about topics outside of her field of expertise.  This means she can bring “fresh eyes,” and offer the student advice they may not get from their first two readers.

Professor Adderley takes pains to emphasise that the thesis is no small undertaking, which challenges even the strongest students.  Nonetheless, it is far from an “abstract intellectual pursuit;” it is a lesson in “how to learn about something.”  This is a crucial life skill that more conventional educational experiences cannot fully impart to students.  Professor Adderley recounts the experience of her sister, who was recently hired as an attorney by an insurance company.  Thereafter, she spent six months researching her new field.  For Professor Adderley, the parallels between this experience and the experience of writing a thesis are clear.

Professor Adderley is not only familiar with the thesis experience from the perspective of a committee member.  Her own undergraduate thesis is still lying in a box in her garage.  Her topic was Haitian intellectuals and their writings against the US occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934, which she describes as incredibly ambitious.  In the end, her thesis only covered about half of the intended time period.  She draws on this experience when she advises her students today, telling them to keep the end in sight, and decide “there is a way to finish.”

All faculty interviewed recommend a book that they find compelling and important.

Professor Adderley recommends A Grain of Wheat, by Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o.  The book, when she first read it as an undergraduate, persuaded her that she could read literature, love it for its own sake, and learn about something she knew nothing about.  It made her remember why she wanted to learn in the first place.