MEDIA, Pa. — Adam Bivens—a senior English major and Schreyer scholar at Penn State Brandywine—has spent the last eight months tearing through countless texts and undergoing extensive research for his honors thesis. He aims to explore how worker movements are depicted in novels of 19th century England.
Bivens has been analyzing the relationship between how worker movements were viewed by the middle class, and how those perceptions are reflected in the literature of the era. He has been focusing on influential industrial novels and newspaper articles, noting relevant patterns as he evaluates.
“The texts I’ve studied confront the disparity between the ruling class and the working class,” Bivens said. “They feature scenes or commentary about worker strikes, trade unionism, mob violence, and revolutionary activity.”
While the texts Bivens studies are about two centuries old, Bivens stated that his motivation stems from the “reemergence of populism and reactionary ideologies in the United States and across Europe.”
“It’s no secret that there is a great divide in the world right now between the very wealthy few and the poverty-stricken, economically insecure masses,” he noted. “I saw an opportunity to write about this in a way that tested my development as a writer throughout my career at Penn State, while also focusing on a very important period in the history of English literature.”
Bivens admits that the thesis process seemed daunting at first. However, being an English major has offered him research opportunities and access to the faculty of the Brandywine English department.
Bivens has been working with professors who specialize in the time period his thesis explores. They have not only offered him advice on useful texts and research methods, but have also agreed to set time aside to guide him through the entire process.
Bivens feels that the honors thesis forces students to utilize the research, writing, and organizational skills they have acquired throughout their undergraduate career. His experience as a Schreyer scholar, while sometimes stressful and intimidating, is what has allowed him to grow both professionally and personally.
He fondly remembers his freshman year honors classes, and befriending people that would become his sources of inspiration and knowledge. Bivens explains that the program pushes students and forces them to look at concepts in unique ways.
“Sometimes you have to learn entirely different ways of thinking about things,” he said. “You might even have to question your assumptions, prejudices, and beliefs as you develop and mature. I think I’m a rather different person than I was four years ago.”
Bivens is an open advocate for English majors in the United States. He wants to educate people on the versatility and complexity of the degree that is often mistaken for nothing more than a ticket to becoming a teacher, or an excuse to be a bookworm for four years.
“The greatest tragedy in this world is telling children they can do whatever they want when they grow up only to trash their passions when they reach a certain age because their interests are not deemed as ‘profitable’ or worthwhile under the current economic status quo,” he said.
After graduation he plans to continue to educate people on the importance of literature, art, music, and history in our society.
“Find your path or cause, follow it even if you have doubts or if people try to point you in the direction they’ve set for you,” he said. “Do something—write a book, help people, paint, or sing. Create something. Leave a piece of yourself behind. If you’re a college student, do your part and fight to improve the world.”
Bivens is set to graduate in spring 2018 after spending four years at Penn State Brandywine.