Casey Swann ’12 spoke to me a few days before graduation this May about her self-designed Italian Studies major, her study abroad research in Rome, Italy, and about her plans for after graduation.
Kelly Houck ’12 sat down with me a couple of days before graduation to talk about her experiences in the Arabic program at the College, her study abroad in Morocco, and what her plans are after graduation.
Bridget Carr, one of our graduating seniors in French and Francophone Studies, was kind enough to sit down and talk with us right after she defended her Senior Honors Thesis on French relations in Senegal. Prof. Nicolas Medevielle and I talked to Bridget about her study abroad research, how she used that research to develop her honors project, and what her plans are after graduation.
Modern Languages and Literatures and Global Studies Graduates celebrated with family, friends, and faculty on Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, in graduation ceremonies at Phi Beta Kappa Hall (Global Studies and International Relations) and on the Wren Lawn (Modern Languages and Literatures). Here is a selection of photos from the events.
On March 17, four Russian Studies students – along with professors John Lyles, Alexander Prokhorov, Elena Prokhorova, filmmaker-in-residence Jes Therkelsen, and Russian House Tutor Viktoria Kim – participated in the Third Annual Slavic Forum at the University of Virginia.
For the past few years, the Slavic Graduate Program at UVa has held student-organized conferences designed to provide practical experience with academic conferences, paper preparation, conference organization, and panel chairing for their students without the pressure of an official conference. This year, thanks to Professor John Lyles, newly arrived at William & Mary from the UVa program, W&M students submitted papers and joined in on the conference. There were also two students from Duke University participating. This year’s theme was “adaptation”. As can be expected, this theme garnered a wide range of paper topics, from the more conventional themes of adaptation in film and literature to examinations of music, radio programming, and oral histories.
Jacob Lassin (’12) presented a part of his thesis (Iremember.ru, Oral Histories, and the Myth of World War II in Russian Cyberspace), Maggie Burke (’12) presented her paper “Winnie the Pooh and the Soviets, Too: Animated Adaptations of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh Stories in America and the Soviet Union,” and Alex McGrath (’13) and Sophie Kosar (’14) presented documentary films made during William and Mary’s 2011 summer program in Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately, two panels were scheduled in each time slot, so it was impossible to attend all of them, but everything which I was able to attend was very interesting and well received.
This event has the potential to become something really useful both for UVa graduate students and graduate students and undergraduate seniors in the surrounding areas. With a more active recruitment of papers from surrounding universities and advertisement for a wider audience among the undergraduates at UVa, this conference could become an excellent source of experience both for students heading toward grad school and for graduate students heading toward academia. As it is currently structured, though, the conference still provides a fun, laid-back opportunity to practice presenting papers and chat with other Russian Studies folks over coffee and lunch.
Jacob Lassin recently won the American Council of Teachers of Russian’s (ACTR) Post Secondary Russian Scholar Laureate Award. This award, according to the ACTR newsletter, “honors those students who embody a love for and dedication to things Russian that is unparalleled among their peers.” Each college or university where Russian is taught may nominate one junior or senior as that school’s most outstanding student for that year. The award is given out annually from a nation-wide pool of candidates.
Jacob has had a very prolific and successful career here at W&M. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including W&M’s Russian and Post-Soviet Studies Excellence Award, and his senior thesis, “Iremember.ru, Oral Histories, and the Cult of World War II in Russian Cyberspace,” received the highest honors. Jacob will be joining the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department at Yale University this fall.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jacob and talk with him about his experiences abroad, his undergraduate research, and the mentoring he has received from the Russian faculty.
In November 1989, pictures of jubilating East and West Germans dancing on the Berlin Wall went around the world. Chanting “We are the people”, East Germans had demanded their freedom and finally brought down the authoritarian GDR regime during the Peaceful Revolution. The Fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the reunification of Germany in 1990, drastically changed the country’s geographical and political landscape. This watershed moment in German history also deeply affected many areas of everyday life and culture. More obviously, it transformed Germans’ definition of personal and national identities and attitudes toward perceived and actual imbalances between the former East and West. Different electoral behavior, divergent income and unemployment rates as well as waves of “Ostalgie” (nostalgia for the former GDR) are only some of the most evident signs and challenges of the still ongoing process of re-unification.
Students in Prof. Kathrin Seidl-Gómez’s advanced conversation course, “Writing on the Wall”, worked on representations of the Berlin Wall in literature, film, and music to develop an understanding of the importance of the mid-twentieth century separation and later reunification of Germany for today’s society. Examining a trove of sources, students learned about the unbroken desire for freedom that persevered in the GDR in the shadow of state surveillance and the artistic responses to a life in the shadow of the Wall. They studied how East Germans attempted, and in many cases succeeded, at escaping the GDR using manifold courageous and inventive strategies. East Germans used underground tunnels, self-built balloons and airplanes, forged IDs and hid in vehicles of all sorts.
During a guest lecture, students enjoyed the unique opportunity of hearing firsthand Peter Golisch’s experience of living and escaping the GDR. Mr. Golisch, born in Berlin in 1936, lived as a teenager in the GDR where he came under Stasi-surveillance due to critical remarks against the regime. He managed to flee into the West in the early 1950s, leaving behind an oppressive regime but never escaping from the formative impact these years in the GDR had on his life. Students also discussed the identity-constitutive aspect of the national borders as demarcation lines whose sudden disappearance came to force people on both sides to reevaluate their values, political allegiances, and cultural identity/ies. Particularly illuminating was a case study by the anthropologist Daphne Berdahl we studied. Berdahl’s ethnographic account of the lives of people in the East-German border village of Kella in the early 1990s gave students insight into a socialist society’s transition into capitalism. Reading the novel Aus dem Schneider by Katrin Askan allowed for a different kind of aesthetic experience and intellectual engagement with daily life in the former GDR. Askan portrays five decades of German history (1936-1986) through a family story and discusses the political events and conditions under two dictatorships including the role of chance versus self-determination in totalitarian societies, the import of the idea of Heimat (home), memory, and how identity is created in such circumstances. For the analysis of Askan’s novel we departed from questions such as: How it might have felt to live under an authoritarian regime: Would we be the same? What are the choices between compliance, protest, and escape? What were the consequences of such choices on your personal life and the well-being of your family? Reading Askan’s novel, we learned about daily life in the GDR, about mandatory flag ceremonies at school, and found ourselves exploring stunning oddities such as the layout of the Berlin train station Friedrichstrasse that – while located in the East – belonged in part to West-Germany.
Students made indeed a number of surprising discoveries. They learned, for instance, that the GDR sold some of their imprisoned dissident citizens to West Germany to fight the deficit of their failing economy with injections of hard currency; that there were more than 400 cases of illegal crossings of the border from West into the East; and that hundreds of East Germans left behind all of their belongings to spontaneously seize the opportunity to flee into the West during the Pan-European Picnic in Hungary in August 1989. More than twenty years later, these events still form part of the lived experience of many Germans and condition the ways in which they define themselves and interact as a society. They inform their political views and the decisions of supporting other nations in their struggle for independence from dictatorships, or for survival during the hardships of the current crisis of the European economy.
We explored in this course how the Fall of the Wall has created a new conceptual framework that shapes the perception of borders, language, space and traditions. Senior Suzan Ok, who developed a research project comparing the Berlin Wall with other walls in history, points at the value of exploring this specific aspect of German history for an understanding of historical and cultural processes pertinent to other periods and regions: “In this course, I learned not only about the political and cultural influence of the Berlin Wall, but also the commonalities and differences among major walls and barriers in the past and present. This was a valuable lesson on the meaning of national identity.” The research project of Peter Lecce, also a Senior, drove the point home: He wrote a nuanced thesis on the applicability of lessons learned from the Berlin Wall to the situation created by the erection of the U.S.-Mexico Border Fence.
These two projects are just some examples of the variety of interesting, informative, and well-research work that students presented as their final projects of this course. Every student gave a 15-20 minute long presentation, discussing yet new aspects of life, media, culture, and politics and also of literature and artistic production both in the GDR and in Germany after the reunification. Sophomore Amanda Morrow notes how much she “enjoyed the conference-style presentations at the end of the course, because it was a great way for us to research a topic that we personally found very interesting and to learn about the interests of our classmates.” By being continuously engaged with relevant readings and in discussions, students not only expanded their knowledge about this essential part of German history, but also their competence of expressing opinions and constructing arguments in German, and they had fun. As Max Lazar put it, “it was an absolutely fantastic class.”
Other course materials included poetry by Sarah Kirsch, Uwe Kolbe, and Volker Braun, essays by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, short prose by Claudia Rusch and Durs Grünbein, and Peter Schneider’s novel Der Mauerspringer, narratives of contemporary witnesses, West German TV interviews from the 1980s with people who escaped from the GDR, political caricatures, documentary and feature films (Clayton Nemrow’s The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall, Wolfgang Becker’s classic Good Bye Lenin! and Roland Richter’s The Tunnel), and recordings of the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth’s in Berlin in December 1989 under Leonard Bernstein who altered for the occasion the words of the acclaimed “Ode to Joy.”
The course was offered as a joint 200/400-level course, and several students who took it at the higher level completed additional readings, attended extra meetings and led discussion groups. The Junior Sean Vadas reflects on the resulting learning experience: “This course was unique in how much I learned from my peers as well as my professor.”
On March 11 last year, northeastern Japan was struck by a threefold catastrophe—a massive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake, a devastating tsunami, and level-seven nuclear meltdowns at three reactors. Sixteen thousand people perished in the disaster, and the country sustained economic losses equivalent to $235 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in world history. The long process of recovery began almost immediately, and continues today. Since the start of the Fall 2012 semester, William and Mary students have been researching the earthquake, its antecedents, and the recovery. In April, these students presented the results of their research at a poster session and student conference, ‘After the Quake: Japan Responds.’
Seven students gave presentations at the conference on various aspects of the disaster and the recovery efforts, including comparisons with the 1923 Kantō Earthquake and the 1995 Kobe; the US military’s relief effort, Operation Tomodachi; and the prospects for a greening of the Japanese economy in the aftermath of 3.11. The first panel comprised Elizabeth Denny, Michael Harrington, Allison Kennington and Sara Caudill; and the second panel, Steven Pau, Peter Dorrell and Wen Chen. Each panel was followed by a lively Q&A session.
During a lunch break, members of the audience had the opportunity to view a poster session, where the presenters as well as students from Ms. Tomoko Kato’s Spring course, The Culture of Nuclear Fascination, were available to discuss their projects on various aspects of the events of March 11 and the political and cultural history of Japan’s involvement with nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Presenters from Ms. Kato’s class included Roger Chesley, Kelly Constance, Shun Fukuda, Jiamin Ku, Adam Labriny, Callum Lawson, Kazunari Nakamura, Rhode N’Komba, David Ranzini, and Jessica Wang.
After lunch, Alex Bates, Assistant Professor of Japanese at Dickinson College, in Pennsylvania, delivered the keynote address entited ‘Fire Guns and Bear Gods: Fear of the Outsider in Disaster’. Doctor Bates discussed how authors have used literature to help process the trauma of catastrophe, citing literary works written in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 as well as last year’s Tohoku Earthquake.
The conference was only the latest event in the college’s continuing engagement with this disaster and its aftermath. The Japanese section thanks all the participants, and hopes that everyone will keep the victims of the 3.11 in mind as the recovery proceeds. During the conference, a collection was taken for the Japan Relief Initiative, a project set up by William and Mary undergrads, alumni, staff, and faculty, which helps to support smaller, local relief agencies. The need remains great; if you would like to donate to the JRI, you may do so here.
Professor Regina Root’s book Couture and Consensus: Fashion and Politics in Postcolonial Argentina was recently awarded the Middle Atlantic Council of Latin American Studies 2012 Arthur P. Whitaker Book Prize at American University. Professor Root’s book, which explores the interaction of power, identity and fashion in post-colonial Argentina. Editorial Edhasa will publish the Spanish translation later this year.
by Beth Stefanik and Megan Shearin
The College of William & Mary officially opened its Confucius Institute on Monday, April 16, with a day-long celebration of events involving William & Mary faculty and administrators, as well as delegates from Beijing Normal University (BNU), the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.
The William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI) is a collaborative partnership with BNU and Hanban, and will offer Mandarin language and Chinese culture classes, provide teacher training, and augment other programs on Chinese culture for the College and local communities.
“The William & Mary Confucius Institute will contribute significantly to the study of Chinese language and culture at our university and throughout the region,” said President Taylor Reveley. “It’s a special delight for us to celebrate the opening of our Confucius Institute together with President Liu of Beijing Normal University, Deputy Director Wang of Hanban, and Minister Counsellor Fang of the Chinese Embassy, as well as many other distinguished representatives of their organizations.”
The WMCI will become part of a network of more than 300 Confucius Institutes worldwide, and is only the second Confucius Institute established at a university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“It’s especially significant that there are only two Confucius Institutes in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Provost Michael R. Halleran. “The William & Mary Confucius Institute will meet a growing interest in and demand for information about China and Chinese language education here in southeastern Virginia.”
Yanfang Tang, director of the WMCI, echoed these sentiments.
“The opening of William & Mary’s Confucius Institute is a significant event for the College and for our surrounding Tidewater community, providing further international educational programs and activities,” she said. “I expect a bright future where these varied initiatives will lead to a greater understanding of Chinese language and culture.”
The grand opening schedule included a private tour of Rowe House, the home of the Confucius Institute at William & Mary, as well as a trip to the College Child Care Center to observe Mandarin language classes in action. A guided tour of Chinese scrolls and exhibits at Swem Library was led by Dean Carrie Cooper and Bea Hardy, director of the Special Collection Research Center, after which delegates witnessed a College Mandarin class in the Wren Building’s historic grammar school classroom.
A formal lunch was served in the Great Hall of the Wren Building, with musical entertainment provided by four folk musicians from BNU. The quartet included four traditional Chinese folk musical instruments: guzheng, erhu, pipa, and yangqin. Ms. Wang Jie, a visiting instructor of dance from Beijing Normal University, performed a dance entitled, “A Uygur Girl,” which expressed a girl’s happiness after falling in love. An official WMCI plaque was also unveiled at the end of the lunch program.
“This is just the very beginning stage of the William & Mary Confucius Institute,” said Deputy Director General of Hanban Wang Yongli. “We are very dedicated to continuing this relationship between the U.S. and Hanban, and to help the development and understanding of Chinese language and culture through Confucius Institutes such as this one at William & Mary.”
Following the celebratory lunch, a traditional dragon dance was performed in the Sunken Garden. Professional lion dancers and martial artists from Washington, D.C., were on hand to lead the parade while William & Mary students participated with a drum performance, a Yangge dance performance, a Tibetan dance performance and a Uygur dance performance. Three students also engaged in a martial arts display, and Emily Wilcox, a visiting assistant professor of Chinese Studies, performed sword choreography. The events were a culmination of a Chinese Cultural Semester organized by the WMCI.
“We are living in a fast changing world and it’s important to understand each others cultures together, and language is key to the understanding of cultures,” said Liu Chuansheng, Chairperson of University Council for Beijing Normal University. “I believe the WMCI is creating a bridge between our two universities, which will lead to mutual understanding between our two cultures.”
On Tuesday, April 17, the WMCI will host its first official event, the Faculty Forum on Confucian Classics. Participating in the forum will be W&M faculty members T.J. Cheng, Eric Han, Yanfang Tang, Emily Wilcox, Tomoko Connolly and Xin Wu, as well as eminent scholars from BNU, including Professors Wangeng Zheng, Zhen Kang and Zhen Han. Participants will present their research and perspectives on Chinese classics such as the Book of Changes and works by authors such as Confucius and Sun Zi, also known as Sun Tzu.
“The William & Mary Confucius Institute builds directly on our remarkable strengths in the study of Chinese language, culture, history and society here on campus,” said Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center. “The generous support of our Chinese partners will propel us to an even higher level of visibility and prominence in Chinese and East Asian Studies in the years ahead.”
Fang Maotian, Minister Counsellor for Education Affairs, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, summed up the day in his remarks during lunch.
“Education is one of the core elements in the China and U.S. people to people communication framework,” said Fang. “Young students are our future. Through the Confucius Institute we hope that the students at the College will learn Chinese language, be exposed to our rich culture and develop a cross-cultural communication capacity.”