New words for language department: Literatures, Cultures, and Languages

By Cindy Weiss, CLAS Today

The language department in CLAS has a new name, reflecting the broader mission it has assumed in recent years.

The Department of Modern and Classical Languages is now the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages. The new name is as long as the old one, but LCL better describes the scope of a department in which students can study a variety of languages, comparative literature and culture, and film studies, to name a few concentrations.

“Students will just have a larger basis from which to choose,” says Rosa Helena Chinchilla, interim head of the department. “One of the big strengths of our department is, we are many fields in many ways.”

In some ways, the shift just consolidates what is already there. This year, two PhDs were awarded in French, two in Spanish, and two in Italian. Under the new name, they would be counted as six PhDs awarded in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, with an area of concentration in French and Francophone Literary and Cultural Studies, or Spanish, or Italian. (The name change for the PhD program still awaits final approval from the Connecticut Department of Higher Education).

Consolidating the degree programs strengthens the department’s standing in graduate rankings by bolstering its numbers, but it also reflects how its graduates need to be perceived in a competitive job market.

“We are situating ourselves to be able to prepare students for the 21st century market,” says Chinchilla. “Many state universities across the country are having to shift into this mode.”

The department’s name change also will help in recruiting new faculty whose interests are diverse. Two recent hires who will join the department in 2012 are a professor of French and Francophone studies whose interests are in the cultures of North Africa and the Middle East, and a Renaissance historian specializing in Spanish and North African Studies.

Chinchilla’s own research interest – Spain in the Renaissance – has branched into the colonial history of Guatemala and its exchanges with Spain.

To celebrate the new, the department will host a colloquium on ‘Image – Media – Text” on Sept. 15-16 at Konover Auditorium in the Dodd Center.  The topic and the new department name show that “in the second decade of the 21st century, scholarship in these fields needs to show awareness of, and exceed, boundaries set by disciplines, nations, and regions,” the organizers say.

The colloquium speakers themselves reflect the broad interests covered in contemporary literature and cultures departments. They are Susan Buck-Morss, professor of political and social theory at Cornell University, who will addressthe issue of cultural globalization; Francisco Goldman, who writes about human rights and Guatemala for The New Yorker and is the Allan K. Smith Professor of English Language and Literature at Trinity College; and Todd Presner, professor of Germanic languages, comparative literature and Jewish studies at UCLA, who will talk about the digital humanities – from Geographic Information Systems to social media.

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