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Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3003 N. Charles Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-3843
Phone: (410) 516-7160 | Fax (410) 516-5251

March 1, 2002
CONTACT: Amy Cowles
(410) 516-7800

Hopkins Student Explores Issues of Identity and Belonging
Senior Samuel Spinner analyzes the novels of Joseph Roth

With the help of an undergraduate research grant, Johns Hopkins University senior Samuel Spinner studied the importance of personal identity.

A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Spinner's research took him to the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, a research center with comprehensive documentation for the study of German Jewish history. There Spinner researched the need to belong as reflected in the writing of early-20th-century novelist Joseph Roth, a German-speaking Eastern European Jew from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

To understand Roth's work is to understand his love of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Spinner says.

"Of all countries, institutions and events in modern Europe, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was the most ethnically, religiously, racially and culturally diverse," Spinner says. "It was in every sense a place of crossed borders and mixed-up categories. There were numerous infringements of borders, and the diversity of the empire was in large part due to the creation for the first time of a cosmopolitan culture. This culture was one independent of ethnicity or race and was determined solely in the sphere of culture, so that Eastern European Jewish writers could become Austro-Hungarian novelists."

When the empire Roth loved began to crumble at the beginning of the 20th century, people experienced a feeling of loss that was evident in the work of Roth and his contemporaries, says Spinner, who is majoring in German. As an Orthodox Jew whose mother is from Long Island and whose father is from Czernowitz, a city in the former Austro-Hungarian empire that is now part of the Ukraine, Spinner says he was drawn to Roth's novels.

"I knew I wanted to work on this author and go beyond a typical course of study," Spinner says of his work, funded by the university's Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program. "Obviously, when someone has a personal interest, he is willing to do something above average. There has to be some tie to it. Initially, when you discover you like an author, you might read one or two of his books. But I became so interested in Roth that I read them all."

Roth's attention to detail in creating his characters also called out to Spinner.

"His novels have a strong focus on Jewish elements,"says Spinner, whose twin sister, Sarah, is also a Hopkins student and also earned a PURA research grant. "Incidental characters, plot, they were all treated lovingly, with painstaking detail. Many Jews felt lost, not knowing where to go culturally after World War I. But it was atypical for these themes to appear so strongly."

As one of 42 Johns Hopkins students who received Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards in the 2001-2002 academic year, Spinner will present an overview of his project during an upcoming awards ceremony. It will run from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, in the Glass Pavilion on the Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles St., in Baltimore.

The Johns Hopkins University is recognized as the country's first graduate research university, and has been in recent years the leader among the nation's research universities in winning federal research and development grants. The opportunity to be involved in important research is one of the distinguishing characteristics of an undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins.

The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program provides one of these research opportunities, open to students in each of the university's four schools with full-time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing. Since 1993, about 40 students each year have been awarded up to $2,500 to propose and conduct original research, some results of which have been published in professional journals. The awards, begun by then provost Joseph Cooper and funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust, are an important part of the university's commitment to research.

Return to Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards news release.

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