Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News: Hispanic Studies

Welcome New Faculty: Rachel Varra

How has your first semester at William & Mary been?

It’s been fantastic. Everybody assured me I’d be amazed by the students, and it’s true. It’s tough to learn the new ways of an institution but the students have made it easy: they are highly engaged, on the ball, insightful … I know I can come to the classroom with new ideas and they can think through a problem on the spot, in class discussion. They are remarkable.

Also, the colleagues have been great here, genuine in their offers of support. So many people have come forward and offered their piece of support from their expertise. From all these individual people, I as a newcomer have cumulatively been offered a lot of time and expertise. There’s a generosity of spirit here.

How did you become interested in linguistics?

My family was Spanish-speaking. I heard it growing up, and my first spark of interest in language was when I started seeing bilingual speech practices on TV (in particular The Cosby Show where the mother spoke Spanish on the phone to her friends – I realized what she was doing was worthy of notice). I was young, but that stayed with me. I ended up going to Puerto Rico, to where my grandparents had returned. I saw things that explained to me why my family did what it did and I wanted to communicate with them to find out more, but they were losing their English and I didn’t really speak Spanish. So at 14, I started taking formal Spanish classes in high school (I had been taking Latin before). In college, I planned to go into business but I had some internships that made me realize that business wasn’t for me. I loved languages and found out there was a field called linguistics, and I ended up majoring in Spanish. In my last year of college I got into research and decided to apply to grad school. It was a natural progression, over many years, but the spark came early, from that TV show.

What type of classes do you enjoy teaching the most?

I like keeping my fingers in a range of classes, both highly theoretical and applied ones. They have a lot to offer to each other. I like teaching classes that have a defined goal, where the student produces something creatively that can be applied to the world, where the student can have a sense of accomplishment. For instance, in a class like Teaching Methodologies – students create a personal portfolio, and learn how to plan lessons; concrete and usable products are produced. I also enjoy bringing to bear the findings of linguistics to applied fields like teacher training.

In general, I like teaching classes where students to do their own creative research that would fit into the 3-month span of the semester. (This is actually a feature that I like to incorporate into linguistics and upper level Spanish classes.) I ask students about the questions they want their project to answer and consult individually with them on these projects during the semester.

What I want to work on next is developing training modules and resources for the students who in the future will be working with me in my language lab: Interviewing persons, maintaining social media, data analysis, … Students come with different areas of interest, so developing materials particular to the ways in which they will participate with me is where I’m focused now.

What is the focus of your research? What projects are you working on right now?

My focus is on Spanish in the U.S. and how it changes when it comes into contact with English, either with monolinguals in a community or within the individual. My past research has dealt with lexical borrowings and the extent to which they appear in speech and how they are distributed. What are the chances that these borrowings become a part of the language and are not seen as borrowings anymore? It’s also about who would practice these borrowings, and the perception of what types of individuals would engage in language mixing. For example., middle class Spanish speakers in New York City engage in more borrowing than the working class, and of course the second gen more than the first. For my current research, I am working on Spanish in eastern Virginia. I am interested in an understudied aspect regarding the system of prepositions and how it changes when it comes into contact with English. I want to look at change in the semantics of these systems. Do these changes also subtly communicate something about identity? I expect that Spanish here changes more in unconscious ways, and possibly less in terms of borrowed lexical items.

Any advice or words of wisdom for students starting Spanish this year?

Language learning is a lifelong practice and takes a lot of time. Also, human beings are amazing: when we ask a question earnestly, we get an answer. Any question a person asks will get answered. So I tell my students: Keep asking questions. An answer may come after many hours or years of pursuing it, but an answer always comes.


Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News: French & Francophone Studies Uncategorized

Welcome New Faculty: Vanessa Brutsche


Welcome to our new faculty member Vanessa Brutsche, Visiting Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies with a specialization in the intersections between spatial theory, the politics of memory, and historical violence in French and Francophone literature and cinema. Her broader interests include 19th–21st century literature, film history and theory, Holocaust and memory studies, and theories of space, place, and geography.

What have you most enjoyed about the courses you’re teaching at William and Mary so far?

 This semester I’m teaching FR393, “Flânerie on Film: Urban Space in French Cinema,” which explores not only various representations of the modern city inbutschex200 French cinema, but also how cinema has been used at times to critique or theorize new forms of urbanism and the changing politics of space. I’ve especially enjoyed the opportunity to visit so many historical moments (from the late-19th century to the present) and read different kinds of texts with this class, including cultural history, sociology, philosophy, and critical theory.

Of course, one of the best parts of teaching this class is getting to rewatch the films – ranging from avant-garde, surrealist films to classics by major filmmakers like Renoir and Godard. I find it thrilling that films made decades ago can still feel radical to students watching them for the first time, even though we live in such a media-saturated culture. That defamiliarization of what we are surrounded by every day – moving images – can lead to truly exciting and productive class discussions.

I’m also currently teaching Intermediate French (FR201). The thing I enjoy the most about teaching at this level is getting to witness the students’ progress – which happens so quickly! – especially because they are typically so focused on getting through the semester that they don’t realize how far they have come. It’s exciting to hear their use of the language get progressively more sophisticated.

Now that you’ve been here a few months, how has your time at William and Mary been so far? 

My time so far has been wonderful! everyone is incredibly welcoming. I’m continuously impressed with how open, inquisitive, and talented the students are, and the motivation they bring to the classroom. I’m also very much enjoying being a member of the Modern Languages & Literatures Department, in which there is such a strong sense of community across the diversity of languages and cultures represented.

How do you approach teaching cinema and film to students who have never taken a course on it before? 

I try to strike a balance between introducing the vocabulary and methodological tools that are specific to the study of cinema and addressing the analytical questions that advance our class discussions. In my current course on cinema and urban space, this has been somewhat facilitated by the fact that we began with the first films produced in France (by the Lumière brothers in the 1890s) and have progressed through film history more or less chronologically. Seeing how certain techniques develop as the technology advances and as filmmakers experiment with the medium allows a lot of formal qualities to stand out in early cinema that we otherwise take for granted in more recent, narrative cinema – like the effects of montage, or how our point of view is constructed by framing and camera movements.

What are your current research projects?

As a literature and film scholar, I specialize in modern and contemporary France, with an emphasis on 1945 to the present. My current research focuses on the intersections between critical theories of space and the memorial legacies of historical violence. The book project I am working on explores how the language of what was called the “concentrationary universe” appears in texts and films to describe the conditions of modern life, at a moment when France’s urban landscape was undergoing massive changes. Overall, my work is dedicated to understanding the ways in which writers and filmmakers refused to allow the camps to be remembered solely as a thing of the past, closed off in space and time, and instead insisted on the political and ethical urgency of continuing to grapple with the phenomenon of the camps.

Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News: German Studies

Welcome New Faculty: Anna Horáková!

Anna Horáková joined our faculty this fall. I asked her a few questions about her research and her teaching:

How did you become interested in the field of German Studies? When did you start learning German?

I was born in Brno in what back then was Czechoslovakia, about eighty miles away from Vienna. When I was born, however, the two cities were divided by the Iron Curtain, which of course also divided Czechoslovakia from Germany, so the German language and German-speaking culture were both quite close and very far. To me they represented a parallel world. IMG_9334But the real interest in German Studies began for me when I started pursuing my undergraduate degree in England. During my studies there I became acquainted with aesthetics and continental philosophy, and realized that German – with its language, literature, and philosophy – stood at the crossroads of my interests.

Tell us something about the main focus of your research, and why you think it is relevant for today?

My research looks at poets and artists whom one could call dissidents under the really existing socialist conditions of East Germany. What I found in archives and in interviewing these authors – most of them are still alive – is that while they were not singing the country’s praises and, in fact, often experienced state repression, they did not necessarily wish to abolish the East German project wholesale and were interested in the horizon of possibilities it had opened up. By this I mean that they saw in the socialist project a potential to build a society that would combine active solidarity with the possibility of individual fulfillment. The reason why this is compelling for us today is because we need to remind ourselves that the way we organize our life in common is not the only way possible. There is a widespread concern about the state of the world today and the direction that the economy is taking, including how it affects social and environmental conditions. Personally, I don’t believe in things being determined to have failed from the beginning, and that it is more interesting to interpret a phenomenon from a dynamic perspective, rather than its end.

What are some of the favorite topics you like to teach? How do you explain German culture to your U.S. students?

Generally, I try to get a variety of students in U.S. institutions acquainted with thought patterns with which they are not necessarily familiar. However, I don’t view teaching modern languages and literatures as bringing one culture to another, but as opening up a space where the language and culture of German-speaking areas provide a gateway to the multiplicity of voices that can be heard within it. For instance, I often assign works by German-speaking authors who write in German but who were born elsewhere, such as authors with migration backgrounds or from German-speaking minorities outside of the German-speaking countries – and thus push us to reconsider what we may have come to expect of German literature and culture. In other words, it’s not all sauerkraut and beer!

What do you think about W&M so far?

It’s a wonderful place to work! Collegiate, friendly, and supportive, with fantastic students who care about what they study, not to mention our beautiful campus. Recently I discovered the trails around Lake Matoaka and I can’t wait to see the forest in different seasons!

Thank you, Anna!

Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News: Japanese Studies

Meet Daniel Johnson, New Faculty in Japanese

1) Johnson photoDaniel Johnson received his PhD from the joint program in East Asian Cinema at the University of Chicago in 2015. He previously taught at Union College in Schenectady, New York. His research interests include the relationship between language and popular media in Japan, and the perception of vitality in the moving image. His work has been published in journals such as Japanese Studies and Games and Culture.

For the fall semester of 2018 Dr. Johnson will teach the course “Modern and Contemporary Japanese Literature” and two sections of “East Asian Cinema.” His literature courses examines the relationship between the human body and issues of identity, technology, and sensory perception, while the two sections of East Asian Cinema are focused on “Youth Culture” and “Transnational Cinema.”

Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News: Hispanic Studies

Welcome New Faculty: Angélica Serna Jeri


Welcome to our new Faculty member, Angélica Serna Jeri, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies. Professor Serna Jeri is a Peruvian scholar specializing in the indigenous cultures of Latin America. Among her research interests are the colonial archive, biopolitics, material culture, and its circulation in the emergence of Quechua writing.

How your first few weeks have been at William & Mary?

What stands out to me has been the chance to meet scholars and teachers across the sections of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. It has been a very welcoming experience—I think having the chance to talk with my new colleagues and learn about their projects both in talks as well as in the context of small, informal gatherings has helped to make me feel like part of this very diverse community of scholars. About the students, I can only say how impressed I’ve been by their curiosity and motivation. They have fearlessly jumped into new material—and in a second language—bringing fresh and new questions into the discussions. Their spark makes the classroom enjoyable and stimulating, and there is always space for incorporating multiple points of views.

What are you teaching this year?

I am teaching HISP 208, “La imaginación cultural: arte y literatura en el mundo hispano-hablante,” a class that introduces students to strategies for reading texts critically, covering the main critical approaches to the study of literature and cultural production in the Hispanic world. I am also teaching HISP 290, “Las lenguas indígenas y sus hablantes” a class that focuses on the role of indigenous languages and their speakers in the literatures and cultures of the Hispanic world. A fundamental goal in this class is to learn about the continuities and ruptures between the pre-Columbian past, the colonial experience and the present. 

What is the focus of your research? What projects are you working on right now?

My research focuses on the intersection of indigenous studies, literature, and visual and material culture, with a geographical focus on the Andean region. I study the material aspects of writing in indigenous languages from the Hispanic world in order to shed light on issues of indigenous agency, coloniality, subalternity and the role of indigenous speakers in the production of literary and cultural artifacts. Currently, I am working on an article about the role of Quechua speakers in the development of cartography in the Andes. The processual aspect of cartography and its simultaneous representation of space and language has fascinated me since I started to study literature.

What classes will you be teaching next semester?

I will be co-teaching HISP 281, “Introduction to Hispanic Studies,” with Prof. Sylvia Tandeciarz. The course will introduce students to critical and analytical practices that will allow them to develop their own understandings cultural production such as narrative, film, oral tradition, and material culture. I’m excited to have the chance to guide students as they learn to approach such forms in a sophisticated fashion that takes into consideration their historical, social, political, and intertextual situation.

Any advice or words of wisdom for students starting Spanish this semester?

You certainly can’t speak a language without the grammar, but the grammar isn’t everything either. As you use a new language—whether to read texts, collaborate with native speakers, or even just to watch TV—making sense of words most of the time calls on knowledge of cultural and historical background. Think about learning Spanish as learning not just a language, nor even a single culture, but as a complex history of interactions through which cultures, identities, languages and art forms emerged and transformed.


Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News News: Hispanic Studies

New Faculty Profile: Matteo Cantarello


Welcome to our new Faculty member, Matteo Cantarello, Visiting Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies with a specialization in crime fiction in contemporary Mexican and Italian literature, especially the cultural representations of organized crime, violence, and youth cultures in urban spaces and on the border.

How your first few weeks have been at William & Mary?

The first weeks have been great. To be honest, I did not sleep much at the beginning as everything was new and I was very excited at the idea of becoming familiar with the school, the department, and of getting to know students and colleagues. In line with this, by now I am sure that many in the department have noticed my addiction to coffee. These past two weeks have been much better. After six years in a city like Baltimore—which I love—Williamsburg is allowing me to continue my work at a faster pace but in a more relaxing environment.

What are you teaching this year?

I am teaching three classes in the fall and three in the spring and my teaching will be equally distributed between language, culture, and literature. I am really thankful for such an opportunity. It will allow me to have classes very different from one another and lots of students with distinct interests and expectations. Thanks to this, I will be working on adopting new teaching strategies and on selecting class materials in line with the taste and pre-existing knowledge of the student population. I just hope that my classes will not be on the opposite sides of campus!

What is the focus of your research? What projects are you working on right now?

The core of my research analyzes fictional representations of phenomena of organized crime. I work mostly on Mexico and Latin American productions but, at the same time, I keep an eye on Italian literary and filmic fictions. The scope of my research is twofold: first, I work to demonstrate why and how fiction can be so powerful and efficient in describing organized crime phenomena. Second, I aim at inserting these fictions into a broader discourse: that of national identity and national culture. Right now, I am converting my dissertation into a monograph and I am in the preliminary stage of my future project, The Expendables: Women, Adolescents, and Latin American Organized Crime.

What classes will you be teaching next semester?

Next semester I will be teaching intermediate Spanish, Issues in Mexican Culture, and Literary Criticism. I am thrilled to teach three classes so different from one another because I will be able to enjoy three audiences with completely different expectations. It will be challenging, but I am going to enjoy the whole spectrum of opportunities a literary scholar has, as I will combine languages, cultures, and literature.

What would be your dream class to teach and why?

Last year, at Johns Hopkins University, I was awarded a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship that granted me the opportunity to teach a course of my own design. In “Transatlantic Mafias: Organized Crime in Mexico and Italy,” students read Mexican and Italian fictions that portrayed literary representations of organized crime. It was terrific to see how enthusiastically students reacted to the ideas I had in mind. They truly enjoyed the possibility to read in parallel novels belonging to two different literary traditions. I think that, as a scholar, this is what I enjoy the most: finding similarities between cultures and literary traditions even if they are separated by continents or oceans. I hope that such an opportunity could happen again soon.

Faculty Profiles Fall 2018 More News: Hispanic Studies

New Faculty Profile: Davinia Pastor Pastor


Welcome to our new Faculty member, Davinia Pastor Pastor, Visiting Lecturer of Hispanic Studies with a specialization in linguistics and second language acquisition. Among her research interests are the interaction between language and society and the teaching of Spanish language through cultural production.

Can you tell us a little about where you come from and how you are adjusting to Williamsburg?

I am from a city called Sant Vicent del Raspeig (Alicante, Spain). There I studied my BA in English Studies and my MA in Teaching English as a foreign language. At the University of Barcelona (Spain), I did a second MA on Applied Linguistics and Language Acquisition in Multilingual Contexts.

In relation to my international experience, I decided that I needed to explore what was happening outside Spain and I moved to Penn State University (USA) where I worked as a Spanish teaching assistant and I did graduate studies in Hispanic Linguistics. I also worked in Aberdeenshire (Scotland) as a Spanish language assistant. Most recently, I worked in Madrid (Spain) at the Ministry of Education from the Government of Spain at the Department of Foreign Languages.

So, as you can see, for the last couple of years, I have been in different places all around the world and that is what I am going to try to transmit to my students: you need to live abroad, to go away from your comfort zone so as to discover a new whole world of opportunities, people, and different ways of understanding the world.

How your first few weeks have been at William & Mary?

I think the word that summarizes my first weeks is “chaos”. I moved from Alicante (Spain) to Williamsburg a couple of days before the classes started, so I was just running around the campus trying to get everything done on time. Despite this, now that I am in my fourth week, I think I am starting to feel more like at home and trying to enjoy every step of this crazy adventure.

What are you teaching this year?

During the Fall 2018, I am teaching three different courses: Elementary Spanish (HISP 102), Combined Beginning Spanish (HISP 103) and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (HISP 207). In Spring 2019, I am going to be teaching two courses of Intermediate Spanish (HISP 203) and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (HISP 207) again.

What is the focus of your research? What projects are you working on right now?

During the last 5 years, the main focus of my research was language attitudes (minority vs. majority languages) and bilingual/plurilingual educational systems in the Valencian Community (Spain). So, as you can imagine, all the aspects of the interrelation between language, society, and culture are important for my research

Any advice or words of wisdom for students starting Spanish this semester?

Learning a foreign language is a long adventure that entails investing a lot of time. But as I said, it is an “adventure”. A language is not just a system to transmit ideas but also a way of looking and understanding the world that is around us. A language is history, folklore, media, culture, expressions, feelings and a long etcetera. So to those of you thinking about starting to learn Spanish, I would say “go ahead because it is going to be an amazing experience that would make you see your native language and world in a different way”.

If you could teach your “dream course,” what would that look like?

When I think about this question, two possible courses come up to my mind. The first one would be based on the importance of language attitudes to learn and to speak a foreign/native language and how different elements affect those language attitudes. The second dream course would be based on teaching Spanish culture from Spain through TV shows, movies, music and pieces of news.