News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

National grants let Root explore ‘Tillett Tapestry’

[For the original release, please click HERE]

With two prestigious, competitive grants in hand, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Regina Root is continuing her research on what is known as the “Tillett Tapestry,” an embroidery chronicling the conquest of the Aztecs.

Forgotten Treasure. A scene in the 104-foot-long tapestry depicts the brutality the Spaniards visited upon Aztec families. Courtesy, the Tillett family.
Forgotten Treasure. A scene in the 104-foot-long tapestry depicts the brutality the Spaniards visited upon Aztec families. Courtesy, the Tillett family.

Root has been awarded $50,400 by the National Endowment for the Humanities and another $15,000 from the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design to continue the project.

With the funds, Root will study and photograph the tapestry, a 104-foot-long embroidery depicting the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs from the points of view of both the victors and the vanquished. The tapestry features 231 scenes, including almost 1,500 human figures, using more than 55 million stitches.

“When I received a call from Sen. Mark Warner’s office, I was so excited to learn that my project, ‘The Tillett Tapestry and Post-Revolutionary Mexico,’ had been chosen for funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Root said. “What a tremendously thoughtful and meaningful gesture that was for this humanities scholar!”

Root, an expert in the material and environmental culture of the Americas, was intrigued when in 2011 the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York called to ask if she’d be interested in researching the tapestry.

Prof. Regina Root
Prof. Regina Root

Cooper Hewitt’s Associate Textiles Curator Susan Brown said that shortly after she saw the Tillett Tapestry for the first time, she met Root.

“I knew she was the perfect person to interpret this remarkable object,” she said. “The tapestry tells a complex tale of creative exchange in post-revolutionary Mexico, encompassing design practice, political history and the creation of cultural narratives – precisely the territory where Regina’s research interests and expertise lie.
“I think the tapestry is a forgotten American treasure, so I was so happy to introduce it to someone I believe will tell its story in a deeply intelligent and compelling way.”

The tapestry is actually an embroidery, a classification that reveals part of its uniqueness: The embroidery represents a chronology of the conquest of Mexico in a linear sequence, much like the 11th-century Bayeaux tapestry (also an embroidery) depicts England’s conquest by the Normans.

The genesis for the tapestry stemmed from conversations between Leslie Tillett and Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. In the mid-1960s, Leslie Tillett started the hundreds of drawings and lithographs that formed the basis of the embroidery’s sweeping chronology.The work of art is the masterpiece of renowned textile designer Leslie Tillett. Born in England in 1915, Leslie Tillett arrived in Mexico with his brother James in 1940, planning to work with Spanish Civil War refugees. Shifts in the Mexican cultural realm meant that the Tilletts joined a thriving artistic community.

Forgotten treasure. A detailed scene of conquest in the Tillett Tapestry, which was widely shown through the 1990's but has since fallen into obscurity. Courtesy, the Tillett family.
Forgotten treasure. A detailed scene of conquest in the Tillett Tapestry, which was widely shown through the 1990’s but has since fallen into obscurity. Courtesy, the Tillett family.

Over the next 12 years, Leslie Tillett, then living in New York, carried the tapestry across the U.S.-Mexican border to collaborate with embroiderers who hand-stitched the detailed scenes. He engaged hundreds of artisans and seamstresses in Mexico, Haiti and Queens, New York, before finishing the tapestry in 1977.

“Leslie Tillett referred to his embroidery as ‘El Tapiz’ – The Tapestry,” Root said. “He researched its many details with precision and impeccable care. Over decades, he documented in stitches what was to become a work representing the conquest of Mexico from all viewpoints, both indigenous and Spanish.

“El Tapiz offers us a unique opportunity to wrestle with what it means to be conquered or the conqueror and to understand the terms of cultural heritage and historic memory.”

Root’s book will contain detailed, large-scale photography and the first scholarly treatment of the tapestry and its history. She hopes a traveling exhibit follows in 2019, 500 years after the conquest.

Tapestry detail. Courtesy of the Tillett Family
Tapestry detail. Courtesy of the Tillett Family

“Reading Root’s work has given me an academic appreciation for the study of fashion as a durable record of human activity,” said Dennis Manos, William & Mary vice provost for research and graduate professional studies, “starting with weaving and tanning as primary tools to satisfy basic human needs; through coloring, decoration and arrangement as artistic expressions of subliminal drives; and most importantly, to seeing customs of dress as powerful mirrors containing nonverbal statements of the political, religious and cultural content of societies.
“But really, I love reading Professor Root’s work for the fun of being surprised by her connections and insights. I expect her very deep-dive on the Tillett Tapestry will be the best yet. I can’t wait to see it.”

Root’s project will involve archival research and interviews to explain the tapestry’s significance. The Craft Research Fund Project Grant is helping with the photography and travel to archives, while the NEH grant will allow Root to examine and write about artifacts and materials that help translate its meaning.

“A lot of detective work goes into the projects I choose,” she explained. “Worthwhile scholarship is not instantaneous. Archival research can be tedious, although there are wonderful moments when one exclaims, ‘Eureka!’ Especially when finding an amazing piece of information sure to unlock the next piece of the puzzle.”

She hopes to involve students when she gets a little further along in her research and expects that it will inform some of her classes in the future.

Forgotten treasure. Here the Aztecs have the upper hand, though heavy losses are hinted at by the heads in the water. Note the hundreds of knots that make up the sea. Courtesy, the Tillett family.
Forgotten treasure. Here the Aztecs have the upper hand, though heavy losses are hinted at by the heads in the water. Note the hundreds of knots that make up the sea. Courtesy, the Tillett family.

“There will be the opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to get involved,” she said. “That would be a wonderful thing. I can see using this work of art as a jump-off point to read the texts that influenced post-revolutionary culture quite profoundly.”

News News: German Studies News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

MLL Faculty at the Center for Liberal Arts

The new general education curriculum (COLL curriculum), rolling out in August, calls on faculty to inspire future William & Mary students as they themselves were inspired. General education requirements comprise about a quarter of the 120 credits needed for an undergraduate degree and are taken alongside electives and the classes required for majors. For more than a year, the Center for Liberal Arts Fellows have been working closely with faculty behind the scenes to develop the new COLL Curriculum.  And Professors John Rio Riofrio (Hispanic Studies) and Bruce Campbell (German Studies), as Fellows of the Center, have had a important role in the discussions across campus.

Read the full piece, including a video with Prof. Riofrio, HERE.

News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

Johanna Hribal (’13) presents research on Julio Cortázar

Julio Cortázar (1914-1984)
Julio Cortázar (1914-1984)

As she finishes her coursework to earn an M.A. in Spanish at the University of Louisville, Johanna E. Hribal (HISP ’13) recently presented her research at KFLC, The Languages, Literatures and Cultures Conference, the longest-standing foreign language conference in the US. Her presentation, entitled “El sadismo y la reivindicación femenina en ‘Recortes de prensa’ de Julio Cortázar,” focuses on female agency and solidarity against the phantoms of State-sponsored terrorism during the last military dictatorship in Argentina, in a text that had originally been censored when Cortázar tried to publish his collection of short stories Queremos tanto a Glenda (1980). For a full abstract of Johanna’s research paper, please click here.

Before entering the MA program in Spanish at Louisville as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Johanna spent a semester in our W&M program in La Plata, where her passion and interest for Argentine culture deepened.  A Phi Beta Kappa member and a recipient of a Gilman Scholarship, Johanna also served the program as an undergraduate Teaching Assistant.

Faculty Awards News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

Prof. Jonathan Arries to receive The Thomas Ashley Graves Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence (2015)

The Graves Award is presented annually to a member of the faculty in recognition of sustained excellence in teaching.

arries_jJonathan Arries, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies, received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialty in Foreign Language Education. His dissertation title was “Ideology and Social Studies Textbooks Used in the Education of Hispanic Americans,” and his current area of research is the scholarship of teaching and learning, focusing on service-learning in two different locations: in the Latino community in the U.S. and also in Nicaragua. His most recent contribution to that field is an article titled “Searching for Conscientização: Mentoring Fieldwork in International Service-learning,” coauthored with alumna Lauren Jones and published in Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 9.1 (2009). Professor Arries was also associate editor of Juntos: Communty Partnerships in Spanish and Portuguese, Heinle, 2004.  Professor Arries’ courses address such topics as action research in Nicaraguan schools, Hispanic Cultural Studies and service-learning in the Latino community, dialects of Spanish and national identity, farm worker culture and art, and medical interpretation for clinics that serve farm workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Throughout his distinguished career, Prof. Arries has received several awards, including the President’s Award for Service to the Community (2005), the University Chair for Teaching Excellence (2002), the Pew National Scholarship for Carnegie Scholars (2001), the VA COOL Faculty Award (2000), and the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000), among others.

News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

Morgan Sehdev (’17): Interdisciplinary Work and Community Outreach

Morgan Sehdev (’17)

Morgan Sehdev, class of 2017, is a Hispanic Studies major and Biology minor at the College. Her interest in the full liberal arts experience has led to her involvement in research in the fields of natural science, social science, and the humanities. Her work in Dr. Saha’s developmental biology lab has earned her a primary authorship and a Goldwater Scholarship. Her experience in social science research, particularly field work,  includes her participation with the Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability in the Dominican Republic. Morgan’s courses in Hispanic Studies program this year included a course in Medical Interpretation, and a subsequent research experience this summer will be a four-week internship as a  volunteer medical interpreter with Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Inc. Her goal while on the Eastern Shore is not only to assist health care professionals and the farmworker community, but also to learn deeply about the migrant experience through research. In collaboration with Prof. Jonathan Arries, Morgan’s research project will be to adapt and implement a model of popular education known as “Gente y Cuentos” under the auspices of the Literacy Council of the Eastern Shore.

News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

Collaborative Research in Pilgrimage Studies

Three undergraduate research assistants in Hispanic Studies, William Plews-Ogan (’15), Emma Kessel (’16), and Bobby Bohnke (’17), collaborated with Prof. George Greenia on an original article on the exhausting nature of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.  Their team effort will be published under the title of “The Bartered Body: Medieval Pilgrims and Spiritual Transaction” in the forthcoming anthology The Pilgrim Body: An Anatomy of Intentional Movement.  As they explain in their opening paragraph,

greeniaThe medieval Christian pilgrim was nothing without his body.  All the sacred debris that he ferried and fondled–all the gifts he carried forward, and relics and souvenirs he clutched on his return–were mere accessories. … The journey physically disciplined and dirtied the body, exposed the traveler to danger and death, and denied him normal comforts.  To sustain their worthiness, pilgrims scrupulously cleansed before entering the sacred precincts, and emblazoned themselves with badges and even tattoos for the return home.  Their bodies were tabernacles for their devotion, their best offering on arrival, and their principal relic on return.

Sections of their essay explores topics as diverse as The Body as Risk, The Diseased and Weary Body, The Legal Body, The Bartered Body and The Sacred Body.  Kessel presented portions of their shared findings during the 2015 Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the William & Mary Program in Medieval & Renaissance Studies, and will continue her research during William & Mary summer study abroad in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.  She will both narrow her scope to specifically the medieval woman’s bodily experience, habitually underreported in pre-modern sources, and expand the team’s scope to consider the body of the mature modern pilgrim.

Graduating senior Plews-Ogan is a veteran pilgrim from two trips on the pilgrimage routes to Santiago and has completed a senior honors thesis in sociology on alternative forms of judicial sentencing–including being sent on pilgrimage.  Bohnke has studied abroad too, in William & Mary’s program in Cádiz, Spain, and already as a sophomore is enrolled in a senior seminar in Hispanic Studies at the College.  During the summer of 2014, Bohnke worked as a research fellow with Professor Francie Cate-Arries and the Cádiz Memory Project.


News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

Interpreting the Environment, Communicating Nature, and Encouraging Stewardship

Caitlin Verdu ('14) and the Blue Goose, the mascot of the National Wildlife Refuge
Caitlin Verdu (’14) and the Blue Goose, the mascot of the National Wildlife Refuge

Since graduating last year, Caitlin Verdu (’14) has found herself actively combining her love for nature, her outreach engagement, her linguistic skills in Spanish, and her intercultural communication skills.  A double major in Environmental Science & Policy and Hispanic Studies, Caitlin spent the summer of 2014 interning with the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) at the Manassas National Battlefield and the Conway Robinson State Forest, where she designed interpretive materials and assisted on land management projects.  Caitlin then moved to Ohio, where she currently works as a Visitor Services Intern with the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  She regularly leads guided hikes and participates in their urban outreach efforts to instill in urban youth a sense of stewardship regarding nature and the environment.  She recently published an article on her work, “What’s the Buzz at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge? Creating Pollinator Habitat Through Urban Outreach,” in the February 2015 issue of the  Midwest regional newsletter of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

During her undergraduate studies, Caitlin had already had the opportunity to combine her interests in ENSP and Hispanic Studies.  Her study abroad experience in Central America (Nicaragua and Costa Rica) with the Center for Ecological Living and Learning allowed her to work on community sustainability projects (organic farming, solar energy, etc.) while testing her linguistic and intercultural communication skills, as she had to interpret from Spanish to English in various formal and informal settings.  At W&M, Caitlin worked as an EcoAmbassador, and as a research assistant for several projects.

Faculty Awards Jefferson Award News News: Hispanic Studies Spring 2015 More

Riofrio honored with Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award

[Original story by Cortney Langley; for Prof. Riofrio’s remarks upon acceptance of the award during Charter Day, February 6, 2015, click here]

John 'Rio' RiofrioAssistant Professor in Hispanic Studies
John ‘Rio’ Riofrio
Assistant Professor in Hispanic Studies

To John Riofrio, the day a student walked out of his class in frustration represents as large a teaching victory as the day a quiet conversation led another one to remain in William & Mary and later choose teaching as a career.

That might seem a strange posture for an instructor who during Charter Day will be bestowed the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award. But it’s a perfectly consistent attitude for the Hispanic studies professor who goes by “Rio” and who daily tries to prod students into challenging intellectual territory.

His efforts will be rewarded on Charter Day, Feb. 6. The award is given annually to a younger faculty member who has demonstrated – through concern as a teacher, character and influence – the inspiration and stimulation of learning to the betterment of the individual and society.

“I’m not a highly awarded anything,” Riofrio said. “This is the first big award I’ve won, and it’s an amazing feeling.”

Hispanic Studies Professor Ann Marie Stock said in a letter of support from the Modern Languages and Literatures Awards Committee that in 2009 the department envisioned hiring a Latino cultural studies specialist mainly to create and offer courses in the emerging field.

“But we gained so much more: a brilliant scholar whose work is shifting paradigms in ethnic and area studies across the hemisphere; a highly effective teacher consistently lauded by his students for ‘life-changing’ experiences and sought out by his colleagues for pedagogical advice and curricular enhancement; and a generous citizen devoted to the greater good. Professor Riofrio inspires us all, and his leadership and collaborative spirit have left us changed,” she said.

Riofrio emphasizes a hemispheric approach to identity politics by examining Latino cultural production, border studies, globalization, immigration and migration, Stock said. Classes such as Border Theory, Constructing the Barrio and Critiquing the American Dream expose students to new perspectives, and they respond enthusiastically in evaluations that rank Riofrio and his classes “well above” the departmental mean.

“It was one of the first classes I had that really required me to think,” wrote Chenoa Moten ’12 in a letter of recommendation. “There was no ‘remember, recite, repeat’ going on in Rio’s classes. He would constantly challenge us to have an opinion and to share it.”

Another student, Jin Hyuk Ho ’16, said the class lit up when Riofrio walked in. “He was genuinely interested in what everyone had to say and, for the first time in my life, I got to experience a classroom in which no student held back his or her thoughts for fear of sounding stupid.”

For his part, Riofrio dodges credit, pointing to the nature of teaching and the students themselves for his success.

“Good teachers are constantly critiquing themselves. One of my advisers once said that good teachers were inherently like thieves: They would see a good idea and steal it, take it for their own classrooms and their own pedagogy. He’s absolutely right about that.

“William & Mary is absolutely sincere about its dedication to teaching. I never felt like if I had published two brilliant books in my field and had been a terrible teacher, I would have been able to stay.”

In the classroom Riofrio sparks discussion and sniffs out dissent. If students feel like it’s the first time they are being asked to think deeply about a subject, Riofrio said it’s more a commentary on K-12 education emphasizing standardization than it is on him.

“William & Mary students are often the students who have best been able to negotiate that context. The problem is I don’t know that that necessarily qualifies you to be a critical thinker. But what does it mean to actually spend time teaching critical thinking? It’s time consuming, and it’s often really frustrating for students.”

Enter the student who exited. Riofrio recalls the class was discussing consumerism, and what it means to live in a country whose economy is dependent on citizens buying all the time. One student argued that “sometimes shopping just feels good,” but balked when asked what generated that good feeling.

“I remember she was upfront that this was so frustrating, that she just felt like, ‘Where’s the right answer? Should we buy stuff or not?’

“And that frustration is actually what my classes are about. I don’t pretend I have any answers to these things. And our efforts to work through them, to just wrestle with them, was precisely what they hadn’t been asked to do in high school. What I love about teaching here is that when they do come to my classroom, almost across the board they are ready to think about these things.”

Students say Riofrio is just as inspiring outside the classroom. Daniel Vivas ’11 had already met with a recruiter, having decided to drop out of school to join his brother in the military, when he went to see Riofrio.

“What was said in that office will stay between him and me,” but the conversation changed his mind, Vivas told the awards committee. Today he’s himself teaching while pursuing a doctorate. “Every day I’ve spent as an educator, I’ve spent it trying to be as good a teacher as [Riofrio], and to be as impactful with my students as he was with me,” he said.

Riofrio denies he has a particularly nurturing demeanor and actually gave up freshman advising because he felt he wasn’t good enough at it.

“Mine is not the kind of office where a steady stream of students comes in to sort of pour their hearts out,” he said. “I don’t have a box of Kleenex ready to go. But I care about them, and I respect them.”

On campus, Riofrio is one of the inaugural group of Center for the Liberal Arts Fellows implementing the new COLL curriculum. He sits on the W&M Diversity Advisory Committee and has also served with the Ad Hoc Admissions Committee for Latino Recruitment. In 2011, he organized a national colloquium on minority studies on campus.

His forthcoming book, Continental Shifts: Migration, Representation and the Search for Justice in Latin(o) America, will be released by University of Texas Press this year. He has also published a series of opinion pieces inThe Huffington Post.

Off campus, he serves on the board of directors of All Together Williamsburg, a group promoting diversity in the Historic Triangle. He participated in a Virginia Department of Health workshop on Latinos and has co-facilitated public workshops in Williamsburg on Latino immigration.

“I’ve really wanted whatever I do to be relevant, particularly trying to bridge the disconnect between the public perception of Latinos in the United States and the reality,” he said. “There’s still an enormous amount of misunderstanding. I feel like my academic work shouldn’t be entirely distinct from my role in the community.”