Published December 06, 2019 by Tom Porter

Strands of Success

The career trajectories of two Bowdoin German graduates collide in a corner of academia. One achieves the rare honor of having a paper based on her senior honors published in a reputable academic journal—the same journal where the other was a managing editor.

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Sabina Hartnett ’18

Sabina Hartnett ’18 took a double major, combining German studies with an interdisciplinary degree in mathematics and computer science. Her interests center on social media usage and online hate speech, especially toward minority or targeted populations. Her senior honors thesis, supervised by George Taylor Files Professor of Modern Languages Birgit Tautz, used computational text analysis methods to analyze German newspapers and the linguistic tendencies of articles referencing migrant populations.

An abridged version of her thesis, Willkommenskultur: A Computational and Socio-Linguistic Study of Modern German Discourses on Migrant Populations, was published in Transit, a peer- reviewed journal produced by the University of California, Berkeley, which examines issues of travel, migration, and multiculturalism in the German-speaking world.

“The inspiration for my research came from an interest in online extremism and its influence on news media in crisis reporting,” said Hartnett. “I designed the project to combine my experience in German culture studies with a relatively new field of research called natural language processing, or NLP. This involved conducting large-scale text analysis on a current, polarizing topic in German news media,” she added. Hartnett said she wanted to design a model that could cast a new perspective on how migrant populations in Germany are reported on and potentially inspire further projects using NLP.

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Syrian refugees heading for Germany in 2015. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov. Creative Commons.

“This is a great accomplishment,” said Professor Tautz, “because undergraduate students and recent alumni in humanities hardly ever publish their honors work and independent research, unlike students in natural sciences, who frequently collaborate on professors’ research.”

The Bowdoin Connection

Hartnett’s achievement brought her into contact with fellow Bowdoin graduate Molly Krueger ’13, who was one of the managing editors of Transit. She had no idea that Hartnett’s paper was the work of a fellow Bowdoin graduate until it was accepted, she said, because the peer review process is anonymous. “We were not only impressed with the quality of Sabina's work, but also felt that her data-driven methodology had a unique perspective to offer on the journal's 2019 volume on ‘Landscapes of Migration.’”

Krueger earned her MA from UC Berkeley earlier this year and is currently pursuing a doctorate there. She is particularly interested in how histories of violence and migration are recorded, and ways that individual and collective memories interact with the German national consciousness.

Hartnett spent a year as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Germany after graduating from Bowdoin. She now works at the Freie Universität Berlin (Free University of Berlin) on Project NOHATE, developing tools to recognize and mediate online hate speech toward refugees in Germany. 

“This is also a story about postgraduate success,” said Tautz, “about the many projects one undertakes while working toward a PhD and possibly beyond: teaching, editing, and collaborating with others, while pushing forward on independent research work.”