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English Graduate Student Earns Brauer Fellowship Award to Travel to New York City

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Written by Christina Ludwig '17; photo by Jen Bircher '15, M.A. '18

Bircher

Jen Bircher, a graduate student in the Department of English, received a Brauer Fellowship Award to take her research initiatives to New York City. The fellowship enabled her to travel to NYC last summer for a four-day research experience at the Museum of Modern Art. Her research focused on filling in the gaps in the history of filmmaker Jean Epstein. Bircher hopes her findings will substantiate an overlooked connection between Epstein and the larger European art community at the beginning of the 20th century. She is the only known scholar to take on this project, making her research endeavors a valuable and unique contribution to the history of film and art.

Bircher’s fascination with Epstein began three years ago when she was digging for clues into Epstein’s journey toward cinema. She found that he had direct and substantial connections to major artists such as Pablo Picasso, Eric Satie, Fernand Léger and more. This discovery led to a new way of interpreting his “bizarre hybrid films,” finding a message that portrayed his peers’ mentality of creating modern art.

Bircher applied for the Brauer Fellowship as soon as she was presented with the opportunity, which would allow her to dig deeper into this historical gap. In order to apply for research funding, Bircher wrote a narrative statement in which she presented her goals for the trip. These goals included attending an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that directly corresponded with her research, interviewing the curator Leah Dickerman and accessing archival materials directly related to her project.

In June 2017, Bircher traveled to New York City to immerse herself in the Museum of Modern Art. The findings Bircher discovered made the trip completely worthwhile. When uncovering the rare archival journals of Epstein, she was initially worried that there would be restrictions on her access to them. “They had me wash my hands and brought it to me and I got to touch [the journals],” said Bircher. “She sat back at her desk and I was expecting someone over my shoulder turning the pages for me, but they were really trusting and accommodating.” The most rewarding part of the experience for Bircher has been the level of respect from professors and world-renowned curators. “They treated me just like any other scholar,” said Bircher.

Bircher plans to continue her research during an upcoming trip to Paris to discover more about the cinematic journey of this filmmaker. Upon completing the M.A. program at UNCW this spring, she plans to continue her education in a film studies doctoral program.