Language, Literature, and ... ?

Thursday, 05 January
7:00–8:15 p.m., Issaquah, Sheraton 

151. Language, Literature, and ... ? New Models for Foreign Language Departments

Chair: Jessie Labov (Ohio State U.)

Thomas Garza (U. Texas, Austin)
Tomislav Longinović (U. Wisconsin-Madison)
Gabriella Safran (Stanford U.)
Lisa Wakamiya (Florida State U.)

About the Roundtable:

In response to the 2012 Presidential theme, "Language, Literature, Teaching," this roundtable will foreground the questions of how foreign language/literature departments are changing, and how to preserve the core mission of those departments while adapting to new demands from administration, students, and the discipline itself.

By more clearly articulating how and why foreign language departments are adapting to such changes, and by suggesting productive models to use in moving forward, this roundtable will contribute to the larger task of defining the contribution of the humanities to higher education as a whole. In his recent op-ed responding to Drew Faust & Susan Hockfield's request for increased funding of science & technology, Russell Berman made one such defining claim: "It is a tragic illusion to imagine that the United States will be able to fare well in a global economy if we continue to pretend that everyone everywhere will always speak English" (Boston Globe 3/19/11). Foreign language departments have always been enrollment-driven; by arguing that language training should be a higher priority in the mission of the American university, we can ensure that such departments are better valued for this service.

A more specific task of the roundtable will be to confront Slavic (and other) Departments' lack of a clear identity beyond providing language training and an introduction to a literary canon. They have evolved from the philological principles under which most of them were founded. Every department represented on this roundtable has had to substantially revise its curriculum and reading lists in the last 20 years in order to teach that canon differently. How and why? Here we arrive at the ellipses and question mark in the title "Language, Literature, and ...?" Foreign language departments are under significant pressure to include more and more course offerings beyond language and literature. At one point that added value might have been simply literary theory. Now it can extend to include other media, historical contexts, anthropological/sociological approaches, and at times even politically engaged interventions in current events. How do we draw the boundaries around this set of extra practices, already very much a part of foreign language departments' activities? Can the word "culture," often added or substituted for "literature" truly encompass this mission creep? While extending our identity to include "...", how do we work successfully with other departments and programs, instead of provoking disciplinary turf wars? And finally, with reference to the Presidential theme and concerns raised above, how can we communicate the extended profile of foreign language departments in a meaningful way to students, administrators, and a larger public?

With these larger questions in the background, the roundtable will take on a very pragmatic focus. The goal is not to spend our time diagnosing the current state of affairs (i.e. from the University in Ruins to the University in the Marketplace), but rather to compare approaches that have been successful, or that we deem should be successful. Faced with budget cuts, shifting enrollments, and territorial disputes over interdisciplinary approaches, what are the work-arounds, stop-gap measures, but also long-term strategies that presenters have seen or suggested? Issues quite specific to Slavic Studies (but which could be extrapolated to other fields) will also be on the table: What are the benefits and drawbacks to working closely with an area studies center? How do government definitions of "critical languages" affect our research and teaching? What minor languages are included within the rubric of the larger department, and how can they serve to enrich the life of the department instead of adding a burden of preservation and protection? Useful models of sessions at the previous two MLAs include "Comparative Literature Past & Present: How Should We Teach Our Discipline?" (2009, #690), and "German in the Life of the University: A View from the Trenches" (2010, #7).

We have done our best to include a range of faculty with experiences at very different institutions, as well as those who are not in stand-alone Slavic Departments. Such discussions often stop at the borders of nationally-branded language departments, but in fact much teaching of foreign language, literature, and ...? goes on just as much in joint or amalgamated departments, divisions, and programs (and this is the future for many stand-alone departments, in any case). Gabriella Safran, who will represent Stanford's Slavic Department, is also currently the head of the Division of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures. She will draw on her experiences in both roles, as well as the Director of the Slavic area studies center (CREES) in addressing the above questions. The other participants are all working at large, state universities: Lisa Wakamiya from Florida State; Tomislav Longinović from U. Wisconsin-Madison; Tom Garza from U. Texas, Austin; and Jessie Labov (Presider) from Ohio State. Wakamiya will describea very innovative, multidisciplinary plan FSU has imagined which offers both breadth and specialization in a wider Slavic context. She work in an amalgamated Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, and represent 1/3 of the Slavic Division within that Department. Conversely, U. Texas, OSU, and U. Wisconsin-Madison, have three of the largest Slavic Departments in the country (with 12, 11, and 10 full-time faculty, respectively). As a specialist in South Slavic literature and "...", Longinović will also provide an important voice on the question of minor languages, as well as the place of Cultural Studies in a foreign language/literature department. In addition to teaching many of the courses in U.T.'s Slavic Department, Garza also directs the Texas Language Center. As our one presenter with a background in linguistics and language acquisition, he will play an important role in keeping Language present in our discussion. Jessie Labov will moderate the discussion, and also read a prepared statement on behalf of the OSU Slavic Department Chair Helena Goscilo. 

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About the participants:

Tom Garza teaches in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies and is the director of the Texas Language Center. Garza's research on vampires was featured in the History Channel's docudrama, "Vampire Secrets," and in HBO's vampire documentary to launch the "True Blood" television series. Recent publications include: "Breakthrough! American English for Speakers of Russian," with Lapidus, Barchenkov and Tolkacheva, "Ne Trozh' Molodezh'! A Portrait of Urban Youthspeak and the Russian Language in The 21st Century" in Russian Language Journal, vol. 58, 2008, "From Aga Khan to Dim Sum: New Russia's Asian Appetite" in Ulbandus vol. 10, 2008, "Conservative Vanguard? The Politics of New Russia's Youth" in Current History, and "Getting from Gorbachev to Grunge: Constructing Ethnographic Portraits to Introduce Contemporary Russian Culture" in The Learning and Teaching of Slavic Languages and Cultures, Olga Kagan and Benjamin Rifkin, editors.

Jessie Labov  is Assistant Professor in Slavic & East European Literature at the Ohio State University. She has written on the film industry in Eastern Europe, underground culture before and after 1989, and new models of disseminating culture online. Her current publishing projects include a co-edited volume of essays with Friederike Kind-Kovacs, From Samizdat to Tamizdat: Transnational Media During and After Socialism, and a monograph entitled Transatlantic Central Europe.

Tomislav Longinović is Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Borderline Culture (1993), Vampires Like Us (2005), the co-edited and co-translated volume, with Daniel Weissbort: Red Knight: Serbian Women Songs (1992), and the edited volume with David Albahari, Words are Something Else (1996). He is also the author of several books of fiction, both in Serbian (Sama Amerika, 1995) and English (Moment of Silence, 1990). His forthcoming book Vampire Nation: Violence as Cultural Imaginary will be published by Duke University Press in 2011.

Gabriella Safran is Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Stanford University, as well as the Chair of the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. Her first monograph, Rewriting the Jew: Assimilation Narratives in the Russian Empire, received both the National Jewish Book Award (East European Studies Division) and the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2001. She is also coeditor (with Steven Zipperstein) of The Worlds of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Intellectual at the Turn of the Century and has recently published her own monograph on this topic, Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk's Creator, S. An-sky (Harvard, 2010).