Olivia Rauss first became interested in the depiction of camels in Chinese art while working on a final paper on a Tang Dynasty ceramic burial camel for her junior-year seminar. So the East Asian languages and cultures major and Chinese language minor decided to spend her senior year researching another specific piece of jade artwork (not the exact camel above) for her thesis, “What is in a Date? The Implications of Misdating a Jade Camel.”
“While flipping through numerous Chinese jade art books, I found one depicting a beautifully carved camel housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England,” says Rauss, who is now headed to Oklahoma, where she will be teaching elementary school through Teach for America. “This camel led me to what turned out to be my final primary source, Tan Camel, which is housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. This jade camel has been given two different dates, one by the museum and another by a prominent Chinese jade scholar. My thesis evolved into a study on the methods of dating jade carvings, jade’s cultural significance, and further suggestions for the field of dating jade.”
What did you learn from working on your thesis?
In addition to learning about jade and dating methodologies, I learned quite a bit about myself. I learned that I could survive a very challenging experience while also carrying a full course load. I strengthened my skills of communicating my ideas both orally and through the written word. Lastly, I learned how to be critical of my own work and push myself to figure out how to make it better.
How did your advisor you develop your thesis topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
[I worked with] Erin Schoneveld, assistant professor of East Asian languages and cultures. In some respects deciding on my thesis topic was one of the most challenging parts of writing my senior thesis, [and] Professor Schoneveld was a wonderful sounding board for my ideas, while also providing practical guidance and advice on whether my topic of choice was feasible or worth pursuing. In my opinion, the thesis process/experience is one to help a student mature in their scholarship in a way that a regular course work cannot quite accomplish, [and so] for the most part, Professor Schoneveld was quite hands off.
How could your thesis research help other researchers or academics going forward?
A large section of my thesis explained why a piece of jade could be misdated with those dates being almost a thousand years apart. My hope is that the conclusion I arrived at, as well as suggestions for further research, can help scholars working with dating jade carvings to come up with more reliable dating methods.
Photo: © The Avery Brundage Collection
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.