Tag Archive for romance languages

Graf Speaks about Monetary Policy on Coy Barefoot Podcast

Eric Graf

Eric Graf

Eric Graf, visiting assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, speaks about the monetary policy and the economy on Coy Barefoot.

Graf connects the dots between the fall of the Spanish Empire and the House of Hapsburg with the fiscal challenges now facing the United States, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke and the very real threat of inflation in the 21st century.

“We’ve been here before. There are lessons to be taught in history. What has happened will happen again. What America is experiencing now is similar to 16th century Spain,” he says in the podcast.

Graf specializes in medieval and early modern Spain, modern Latin American fiction, 19th Century Romanticism, avant-guard poetry and the Popol Vuh.

Ospina is an Expert on War and Memory in Contemporary Latin American Culture

Maria Ospina, assistant professor of romance languages and literatures, studies Columbian literature; film and cultural production; violence, history and cultural memory in contemporary Latin America; political economies of drug trafficking; and Latin American film. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Assistant Professor Maria Ospina, who recently completed her first year in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at Wesleyan, can trace her academic interests directly back to her childhood in Colombia and her longtime interest in history.

“My interests in violence, memory and culture stem in part from my own experiences growing up in Colombia during the 1980s and 90s, in a very complex region that has been marked by armed conflict, the hemispheric War on Drugs and different waves of migration. The combination of political turmoil and a vibrant cultural production that actively reflected on the histories of violence and crisis in the region fostered my interest in the relationship between aesthetics, politics and historiography,” she explains. “Realizing that it is in Latin American literature, art, fiction and performance where the most productive social and political reflections about the region have and are taking place led me to want to study it in depth.”

Ospina left Colombia when she was 18 to attend Brown University, where she studied history and cultural studies. After working in New York for a few years, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures from Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she traveled frequently between the U.S. and Colombia in order to coordinate and curate the Cartas de la Persistencia (Letter of Persistence) project. Ospina describes the project as “an important public trans-disciplinary project and archive funded by one of the country’s major cultural institutions. This amazing archive of thousands of recent testimonies about civil resistance to violence led us, among several public initiatives, to publish an anthology, which I edited in 2008.” After earning her Ph.D., Ospina went on to hold a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, where she taught several courses on contemporary Latin American culture.

Teaching at Wesleyan appealed to Ospina because, “I was looking for a liberal arts institution where teaching and research share equal importance—a place that values and fosters reflections about the intersections between arts and politics. Also, I was drawn by the collegial and collaborative spirit of the faculty here, and was particularly interested in the strength of Wesleyan’s arts, film and humanities programs.”

During her first year at Wesleyan, Ospina taught “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures,” the gateway class to the Romance Languages and Literatures major.

“It’s a wonderful course, which prepares students to delve deeper into the culture of Spanish speaking countries and to get really excited about further studying the area,” she says. She also taught a course called “Narratives of Crisis: Violence and Representation in Contemporary Latin American Culture,” which, she says, “explored the intersections between symbolic practice (film, testimony and literature) and histories of violence and crisis in contemporary Latin America and looked at the ways in which cultural texts operate vis-à-vis contemporary dynamics like drug trafficking and armed conflict.”

In the spring, Ospina taught a course called “Minor Tales: Narratives of Youth and Childhood in Latin America,” which focused on Latin American literature and film about childhood and youth in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ospina says she has found her students to be “creative, interested, and excited about politics in the broadest sense of the word. I feel extremely lucky to teach a very diverse group of students.”

Next year, she looks forward to teaching the “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures” course again during both semesters, as well as a course called “Dangerous Plots: Fictions of the Latin American Jungle.” This class will explore the ways in which nature has been plotted in fiction, films and popular culture, focusing specifically on the tropical jungle as a space that has been central to the way Latin America has been imagined for centuries. In the spring, she will teach “Spanish American Literature and Civilization,” which studies some of the major writers and intellectuals in Latin America from the colonial period to the present.

Ospina also had a very productive year in research. She recently finished an article about representations of Amazonia in the context of the War on Drugs, which will be published in Chile in the fall as part of a volume on virtual geographies of Latin America. She also presented work on memory and armed conflict in recent Colombian film at a conference in Lisbon focusing on post-conflict cinema, and attended the Cartagena International Film Festival.

Here at Wesleyan, Ospina is involved in organizing a mini film festival of recent acclaimed Spanish and Latin American film, which will take place at the Wesleyan Film Center in September. “Everyone is invited!” she says.

Outside of work, Ospina enjoys writing fiction, biking, dancing, and spending time in New York City. In addition, she says, “Recently, I’ve also taken up vegetable gardening, because I want to grow some of the food I eat. I grew up in a family of farmers and gardeners in Colombia, but I’ve never had the chance to plant a garden in the Northern Hemisphere—that is, in a place with seasons. It’s been fun, but I’m in a strenuous fight with the local ant population.” Of late, Ospina also has taken an interest in studying birds, particularly migratory species.

Students Inducted into French Honor Society, Pi Delta Phi

This year, 11 seniors were inducted into the French National Honor Society, Pi Delta Phi, on April 18. The students were recognized for their outstanding scholarship in the French language and literature. Pictured, from left to right, are inductees Rachel Tretter, Carina Kaufman, Sarah La Rue, Emma Mohney, Kelvin Kofie, Rachel Silton, Meera Suresh, Hahn Le, Alexandra Kinney.

Catherine Poisson, associate professor of romance languages and literatures, led the initiation ceremony. The society seeks to increase Americans' knowledge and appreciation of the cultural contributions of French-speaking countries, and to stimulate and encourage French and francophone cultural activities.

Rachel Tretter , in the foreground, signs the Pi Delta Phi book, making her membership official, while Poisson watches on.

Carina Kaufman, Sarah La Rue, Emma Mohney recite a pledge in French. Members of the society pledge to continue to promote and celebrate the French language and the Francophone culture throughout their life.

In foreground, Alexandra Kinney, and behind, from left, Rachel Silton, Meera Suresh and Hahn Le recite the pledge. (Photos by Charlotte Christopher '12)

Video Feature on Professor Ellen Nerenberg

Ellen Nerenberg, the Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and department chair, discusses her passion for Italian studies and her new book, Murder Made In Italy: Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture in this video:

YouTube Preview Image

Rider a Royal Flemish Academy Fellow in Brussels

Jeff Rider, professor of romance languages and literatures, professor of  medieval studies, has received a residential fellowship from the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts in Brussels for the second semester of the 2011-12 academic year.

Jeff Rider

Rider is in Brussels working with two other fellows on the topic, “Perception and Performance of Social Identity in the Nascent Urban Societies of the High Middle Ages.” In addition to presenting a lecture to other fellows at the center, he’s presenting lectures at the University of Ghent, the Catholic University of Louvain, the Royal Library of Belgium, the Charles University in Prague, and to a European research group (Interfaces: The Integration of Latin and Vernacular in a New History of European Medieval Literature) in Rome.

Rider also is at work this semester on an edition of the most important medieval Flemish chronicle, Ancient Chronicle of Flanders, which will be published by the Royal Historical Commission of Belgium.

Nerenberg Authors Translation of Baliani’s Corpo di Stato

Book by Ellen Nerenberg

Professor Ellen Nerenberg, chairperson of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, recently published a new book, Body of State: The Moro Affair, A Nation DividedIt offers a translation of Marco Baliani’s acclaimed dramatic monologue, Corpo di Stato, concerning the 1978 kidnapping and assassination of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the terrorist Red Brigades.

Nerenberg authored the translation along with Nicoletta Marini-Maio and Thomas Simpson. She also co-wrote a critical introduction to the book, with Marini-Maio.

Corpo di Stato was commissioned by Italian state television in 1998 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the “Moro Affair.” Through over 100 performances of Baliani’s monologue since its debut, the piece has evolved in response to the forceful reactions of Italian audiences. The first draft of this English translation offered the supertitles for performances of Baliani’s 2009 U.S. tour, and was subsequently expanded to reflect the most recent version of the text. Body of State features a translation of the dramatic monologue; a preface by translator and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins; a critical introduction; Baliani’s thoughts about the 1998 production for Italian television; an interview with Baliani and his artistic collaborator, Maria Maglietta; and the afterword they wrote in light of the 2009 tour. It also provides reviews, contributed by scholars, students and spectators, of Baliani’s 2009 North American tour.

Also contributing to the book were William Stowe, the Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language; Nadja Aksamija, assistant professor of art history; Antonio Gonzalez, professor of romance languages and literatures; and Pamela Tatge, director of the Center for the Arts.

5 Questions With . . . Catherine Poisson on the Benefits of Bilingualism

Catherine Poisson

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask 5 Questions of Catherine Poisson, associate professor of romance languages and literatures.

Q: Professor Poisson, you were recently named a Chevalier L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (a Knight of the Order of Academic Palms) by the Minister of Education for your contribution to the promotion of French language and culture. What was your reaction to receiving this award, and why do you think you were nominated for the honor?

A: I was puzzled and somewhat apprehensive on receiving the notice of Certified Mail, so when I opened the envelope at the post office, it was a happy surprise; I felt flattered. My nomination is in recognition of my contribution to the association Education Française à New York (EFNY). I confess I went to Wikipedia to check exactly what L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques was. I discovered it was founded by Napoléon to honor eminent members of the University of Paris. It consists of a medallion of palms attached to a purple ribbon, which will be presented to me at a ceremony at a later time.

Q: Last June, you were featured in The Wall Street Journal as the president of the EFNY (Education Française à New York). What is the purpose of this organization?

A: EFNY was created in 2005 by Francophone parents who were struggling to have their children not lose their ability to speak French. Those parents – myself included – could not afford private bilingual schools, and believed that private tutoring was not an answer. Bilingual children feel somewhat estranged and we needed to place them in social situations with other peers. EFNY’s mission is to promote French in the Public School System both for Francophone and Anglophone children. We do so in two ways: creation of after school programs (we have 10 sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn) and launching French/English dual languages classes in elementary schools. And we are now moving towards a continuation of the program at the middle school level.

Q: Why is it important students learn a foreign language at a young age?

A:  I would gladly write 20 pages on the subject!  But in a nutshell: the brain is a spectacular sponge till you are 12. From age 12 on, learning a second language becomes increasingly difficult and the results are not as good. Teaching a 5- or 6 year-old child a second language is a true gift; she/he learns to think in several dimensions and the effects are long lasting and far-reaching. Bilingual children are more open to intellectual questions, more curious, and perform better on tests. There are numerous experiments to prove that it is a spectacular advantage in life. My colleague Ana Pérez-Gironés used to have a poster on her office door that said: “Monolinguism can be cured.” I use the motto whenever I can.

Q: Do you encourage your Wesleyan students to study abroad? What is your involvement with the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris?

A:  Studying abroad is not a requirement for the major, but at least 90 percent of the French studies majors do spend a semester or a year in a Francophone country, as do most of the many other Wesleyan students who study French but are not FRST majors. In the French section of Romance Language and Literatures, we believe it is a key component of learning French, whether or not you are a major, and we can usually spot students who spent a semester abroad upon their return. Not only is there a change in their language ability but also a slight change in the way they dress or interact; it can truly be a life changing experience. The French faculty are all very involved in the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris, from the orientations that take place on campus to the change of curriculum. I will be the resident director in 2012-2013 and am very happy about it even though it is a tremendous amount of work, much more work than teaching courses here on campus.

Q: Where are you from, and what led you to teach French at Wesleyan? Also, what classes do you teach at Wesleyan?

I am from Paris, came to the States to work on my M.A. on the American Thriller of the late 30s, completed the degree, then decided to settle here and did an M.A. and a Ph.D. in French Literature at New York University. It is a pretty common trajectory for French faculty in U.S. universities. The year I completed my Ph.D. I was offered a position at Wesleyan and have been happily teaching here ever since. I go back to France twice a year for about six to eight weeks per year. Being bilingual is one thing, being bicultural is another. For myself and my students, it is important to keep up with what’s going on in France.

My focus is literature and culture of the 20th and the 21st century. This semester, I teach a new course on French Popular Culture from 1840 to today examining the question of high and low cultures through sentimental, detective and graphic novels. Very new material for me and very absorbing. I also teach a language class which we believe all tenured and tenure-track French faculty should do.

Curran Recipient of Clifford Prize for 18th-Century Research

Andrew Curran

Andrew Curran, professor of romance languages and literatures, is the co-winner of the 2010-11 James L. Clifford Prize.  The prize is awarded annually by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies to the author of the best article regarding any aspect of eighteenth-century culture.

Receiving the award is Curran’s Rethinking Race History: The Role of the Albino in French Enlightenment Sciences.

The Clifford Fund was originally established to support an annual prize in honor of James L. Clifford. Clifford founded The Johnsonian News Letter in 1940, was Secretary to the English Institute, twice a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and third President of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. During his long and energetic life, he produced numerous books, articles, bibliographies, essays, edited collections, editions and, of course, the much beloved, imitated, and quoted Johnsonian News Letter. Accordingly, the Clifford Prize is awarded to the author of the best article on an eighteenth-century subject, interesting to any eighteenth-century specialist, regardless of discipline.

The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies is a non-profit, educational group founded to promote the study of all aspects of the eighteenth century.  It sponsors conferences, awards, fellowships and prizes, and publishes Eighteenth-Century Studies and Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture.

Shapiro Translates Gautier’s Selected Lyrics


Book translation by Norman Shapiro.


Norman Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, is the translator of Théophile Gautier’s Selected Lyrics. The book was published in December by Yale University Press.

Théophile Gautier [1811–1872] was a prominent French poet, novelist, critic, and journalist. He is famous for his virtuosity, his inventive textures, and his motto “Art for art’s sake.”  His work is often considered a crucial hinge between High Romanticism—idealistic, sentimental, grandiloquent—and the beginnings of “Parnasse,” with its emotional detachment, plasticity, and irresistible surfaces.

According to the book’s preview: “Norman Shapiro’s translations have been widely praised for their formal integrity, sonic acuity, tonal sensitivities, and overall poetic qualities, and he employs all these gifts in this collection.  Mining one of the crucial treasures of the French tradition, Shapiro makes a major contribution to world letters. “

Lowrie Translates Rimbaud’s Illuminations

Translation by Joyce Lowrie

Joyce Lowrie, professor of romance languages and literatures, emerita, is the translator of the book, Arthur Rimbaud ILLUMINATIONS, published by XLibris in 2010. Norm Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, wrote an introduction to the book.

According to Lowrie: “to see – or not to see: that was[ Rimbaud’s] option. ‘To See’ became his will. In his poetic career, Rimbaud chose ‘to see’ by confounding the very instruments of vision: his eyes and his intellect. He dreamed about and ‘saw’ the Crusades, he ‘saw’ enchantments, magical dream-flowers, a flower that says its name, a digitalis that ‘opens up over a tapestry of silver filigree, of eyes, and tresses,’ flowers that were like crystal disks, or made of agate and rubies. He ‘saw’ giant candelabras, grasses made of emeralds and steel, theatrical stages that could accommodate horrors or masterpieces, circus horses and children. He ‘heard’ rare music, the sounds of waves and of water, or ‘the rare rumor of pearls, conchs, and seashells’ hidden deep in the ocean. He saw russet robes, objects made of opal, sapphires, or metals. He ‘saw’ objects made of steel studded with golden stars, angels of fire and of ice, carriages made with diamonds. He also described what one might call ‘nothingness’ as opposed to ‘being,’ in these days of ours.”