Capstone Thesis

The capstone thesis is a central component of the CREEES MA program, which allows students to produce a work of original scholarship during their year in the program.  Students work closely on a topic of their choice, under the guidance of a faculty advisor and in consultation with the CREEES director and associate director.  Students participate in capstone workshops and enrolled in the MA Capstone Seminar (REES 300) in spring quarter. Students present their completed theses at a public event at the end of the academic year, and their theses are included in the Stanford Digital Repository

On this page are highlights of recent theses, representing the broad range of disciplines, areas of the region, and topics pursued by CREEES MA students.  A comprehensive list of past theses is available here.

Pioneers in Politics: How the Words of Children became the Language of War

by Skyler Samuelson ('18)

In the early 1970s, American black civil rights activist and communist Angela Davis was put in prison in California, on false accusations of accomplice to murder and conspiracy. She received thousands of letters of support from children in the Soviet Union in answer to letter writing campaigns initiated there.

"Margarita Nafpaktitis, my librarian fairy godmother, explained to me in our first meeting that almost 200 boxes of these (largely unopened) letters, postcards and memorabilia are now housed in the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University Libraries. In an effort to understand the role of the child in the Soviet propaganda machine, I opened (and read) hundreds of these letters and postcards."


Wet Walls: An Artistic Analysis of Street-Based Siberian Art

by Abigail Thompson (JD/MA '20)

"In Siberia, graffiti is everywhere. A phenomenon I first noticed while fulfilling a Fulbright grant in Irkutsk in 2016, I made it the subject of my capstone thesis  and returned in December 2019 to search out and photograph it in six of the largest cities along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Courtesy of a Global Studies grant, I spent three weeks gathering thousands of images from Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, and Vladivostok, as well as a town, Shelekhov, located not far from Irkutsk. Relying on the advice of locals and information gleaned from cursory internet-browsing, I wandered along rivers, down alleyways, through abandoned buildings, over trash heaps, and into spacious courtyards, finding graffiti of all shapes and sizes."

Foreign Recruitment in Russian Higher Education

by Victoria Pardini ('17)

"I researched how Russian universities recruit foreign students and how their strategies have changed since the 2013 enactment of 5–100, an initiative to place five Russian universities in the top 100 rankings of higher education institutions by 2020.


My research seeks to understand why these universities prioritized recruitment and the importance of an 'international' image for their institutions and for Russia generally. Education is a critical tool of soft power that serves as a social good and influences individuals as a vehicle of a national or cultural ideology.

The idea for this project first came to mind when I was an English teacher at Ukhta State Technical University in the Komi Republic, Russia. The university focuses primarily on oil and gas engineering, and despite its intimidating location about 1,000 miles northeast of Moscow, the university successfully enrolls international students from various locales and education levels, including Mexico, Ghana, and the Philippines. The success of this small university made me wonder how international recruitment operated and its results at more well-known universities in major cities."

The Allegorical Aidahar: An Animated Look at Kazakh National Identity

by Jake Zawlacki ('19)

In 1967 the first Kazakh animation film, Why the Swallow’s Tail is Forked, was released across the Soviet Union. In the more than fifty years since its inception, Swallow has taken on a mythic place within Kazakh animation and is universally acclaimed as the greatest animation film to have come out of the country.

"My time in Almaty, Kazakhstan this past winter allowed me to delve into the depths of this globally unknown film...because of the interdisciplinary nature of CREEES, I was able to take classes in film studies, folkloristics, and ethnomusicology, all of which were crucial to the success of this research. With the help of many, my year at Stanford resulted in an original work of scholarship valuable not only to the region but to the studies of animation and film more broadly."

American-Russian Cultural Encounter in Siberia, 1918-1920

by Andrew Postovoit ('18)

On July 6, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson made the decision to intervene in Russia’s Civil War, which would result in over 9,500 American soldiers and aid workers deploying to Siberia. Half of these soldiers came from the Philippines, and half from the temporary Army base at Camp Fremont, CA in present-day Menlo Park and Stanford University. In Siberia, they had a mission of neutrality, guarding the Trans-Siberian railroad, so there was not much fighting. Instead, there was a two-year cultural encounter between American soldiers and aid workers and Russian civilians and soldiers.

"At the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, I read through hundreds of articles, diaries, letters, and notes of the men and women who went to Russia. Through everyday close contact, Americans evidenced more understanding of Russian customs, people, and traditions."