Melissa Elliot

Forgotten Notes

Melissa ElliottMelissa Elliot, Assistant Professor of German, recently completed her doctoral studies in this past year at Michigan State University. Read on for her thoughts on her dissertation, what she learned, and what this means for Wheaton. Congratulations, Dr. Elliot!

What was the title of your dissertation and what was it about?

The title of my dissertation is “Forgotten Notes: Narrative Film Music in DEFA Cinema”. In it, I investigate the relationship of music to narrative voice in East German film adaptations of literary texts. The social and political realities of the socialist East German state—a context in which expressive language was externally censored—creates a unique framework within which to explore questions of narration and voice. Each chapter in the dissertation considers a different aspect of subjective literary narration and focuses on music’s role in translating the narrative voice across medial boundaries.

Where did you complete your doctoral studies? What drew you to this program/institution?

I received my Ph.D. from Michigan State University. MSU’s German program stands out because of its accomplished faculty who go above and beyond to support their students both academically and personally. Faculty members do not hesitate to tap their professional and scholarly networks to facilitate opportunities for their graduate students to grow and excel in the academic realm. MSU’s German program is also very supportive of non-traditional academic pursuits and fosters creativity in their graduate students unlike any program I’ve encountered so far. For example, my dissertation has a heavy emphasis on music. Even though this was outside most of the faculty’s expertise, they allowed me space to pursue my interests and learned alongside me, supporting me along every step of the journey.

What advice would you give somebody pursuing academia and struggling to decide what program would be the “best fit”?

I would say to think seriously about how you best “thrive” in an academic setting. Do you enjoy competition and work well in a competitive atmosphere? Are you someone who benefits from close work with a mentor? Do you flourish with a cohort who collaborates on projects together? Ask yourself these types of questions, and then do your due diligence. Look carefully at the program’s website, contact the faculty and set up a time to meet, look up recent alumni or current students in the program and reach out to them. The more information you can gather to make an informed decision on what program best suits you and your needs, the better.

What does your dissertation and its topic mean for your future scholarship? How does it connect to the content of your classes and your program at Wheaton?

As is demonstrated in my dissertation, my program of research centers above all on the search for meaning and narrative through sound and music in German Studies. In my scholarship, this interest informs what I choose to study and what questions I ask. For example, my current research project focuses on East German disco films and asks how music changes and/or adds to an understanding of each film. My scholarly focus on music also influences the content in my classes at Wheaton. In all my courses, I include at least one or two cultural artefacts with music as a main component (films, music videos, etc.). I prompt my students to pay attention to the aural level to examine how sound reveals information about German cultural that may not be apparent on the surface level.