Zachary Spaeth '14: "This trip allowed me to deepen
my understanding of these films."
Spaeth conducted research in Austria's
National Film Archive and National Library.
A trip to Austria gave Randolph-Macon College student Zachary Spaeth ’14
a whole new perspective on the importance of research.
As a participant in the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
program, Spaeth is conducting a comparative analysis of American and German comedy
films from the 1930s and ’40s. Under the guidance of
German Professor Joseph Moser, he is trying to find out why both film industries
created comedic films while such horrific events were taking place in the world.
“The industries were similar in that they used the films for propaganda purposes,”
says Spaeth, a German and political science
major who spent two weeks in Austria screening films at the National Film Archive
and conducting research at the National Library.
Spaeth, who speaks German fluently, approached Moser earlier this year with an interest
in conducting research on some aspect of German and American culture in and around
World War II.
“I decided on comedy films because, although there is a lot of research done on
propaganda films and documentaries, there has been very little done on the films
that played in the 1930s and ’40s in everyone’s homes: comedies,” says Spaeth. “The
trip—my first outside of the U.S.—allowed me to deepen my understanding of these
films and see firsthand where they were filmed.”
“I was deeply impressed by the sophisticated connections Zachary made between some
of these complex films, both given the difficult historical contexts and the fact
that this was Zachary's first exposure to working in Austrian archives and libraries,”
says Moser. “I learned a lot from working with him this summer.”
Spaeth, a Sellersville, Pennsylvania native, says the opportunity to travel and
conduct research has enriched his R-MC experience.
“With SURF, I have taken on a whole new level of learning,” he says. “Conducting
research, especially during the summer when I don’t have to focus on other classes,
is a phenomenal experience.” Mentorship is also an important part of the SURF program.
“Professor Moser’s mentorship is amazing,” he says. “He is extremely knowledgeable
about the films, actors, and history I am researching. Whenever I have a question,
he is there to push me in the right direction, and he always hints at something
new I should be looking for. I aspire to one day be a great researcher like him.”
After graduation, Spaeth hopes to join the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and conduct
research in Austria.
“I then want to earn a master’s degree in German— and eventually a Ph.D.,” he says.
In addition to his participation in the SURF program, Spaeth serves as Chair of
the Academic Integrity Council, Sergeant at Arms of Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity,
and Public Relations Chair of
Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity.
SURF was introduced in 1995 as an endowment to
support scholarly undergraduate research by students in all disciplines. Students
conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer months, under
the guidance of a faculty mentor. The initial gift for the program was made by Benjamin
Schapiro ’64 and his wife Peggy.