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Articles Tagged with culture

“Music Can Take Us There”: Cultural Insights from an Ethnomusicologist

An interview with Stephanie Shonekan, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Black Studies

Born in Equatorial Guinea, Dr. Stephanie Shonekan is an ethnomusicologist who grew up during the height of funk music and television shows like Soul Train and the Beverly Hillbillies. Living in Nigeria during times of dramatic change, Dr. Shonekan learned about the world through music. As a young girl she heard many types of music on the radio and developed a deep interest in music and the cultures that create it, including Afrobeat, American country and black soul among others. Now an Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology and Black Studies, Dr. Shonekan has built a career in academia that combines her interest in culture with her love of music, studying identity and what can be learned through experiencing music and learning about the lives that create it. Today, her office is decorated with iconic black musicians including Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley – voices that echo across time, space and genre. While it can be difficult to come to an understanding of “the heart” of a culture, “music,” Dr. Shonekan says, “can take us there.”

When We Have What She’s Having: Cultural Influence and Collective Scholarship

An interview with Michael O’Brien, Professor of Anthropology, Dean of the College of Arts and Science

Michael J. O’Brien, Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Museum of Anthropology, and Dean of the College of Arts and Science, studies culture through the lens of evolutionary theory. His research interests range from the tangible Indian arrowhead to more abstract theories of social influence on consumer choices. The common denominator is that evolutionary theory can be applied not only to the biological sciences but the social as well. He explains, “If humans evolved—descended from other humans—the information that they carry has evolved as well. We’re interested in those paths of transmission of cultural information.” Dean O’Brien’s study of human interconnectedness also fosters it; he maintains that collaborative scholarship, or “wired brains,” produces scholarship more rigorous and expansive than does individual work.

Reading the Visual

An interview with Nancy M. West, Associate Professor, English Department

The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for the visual extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. “I love thinking about what photography means to people. Having grown up with very few photographs in my household, I’ve always been drawn to them,” she admits. It was no surprise, therefore, that West stumbled upon her first book project while scrounging through the bargain bin of an antique store: “I came across all of these old Kodak ads from the turn of the century, and I thought they were amazing. The images were just breathtakingly beautiful. The captions were unlike those we see now in ads. They were much more elaborate, much more descriptive. They addressed the consumer in very interesting, clever ways, and I just fell in love with them.” And at that serendipitous moment, the idea for Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) was conceived.

Translating the Classics

An interview with Daniel Hooley, Professor of Classics

As Professor in the Classics Department at MU, Daniel Hooley’s research includes Roman poetry, the classical tradition, and translation studies, about which he has written three books, including his most recent, Roman Satire (2006). Hooley first became interested in studying the classics through an “accidental journey,” studying the western classics as an English and Humanities graduate student at the University of Minnesota, where he focused his studies on modernism and wrote his dissertation on how Latin poetry was translated by American modernists such as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot. The dissertation became his first book, The Classics in Paraphrase: Ezra Pound and Modern Translators of Latin Poetry (1988).

Audio and Video Tagged with culture

Cultural Knowledge for Bilingual Lawyers

From an interview with S. I. Strong, Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law; Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution

Being bilingual, Dr. Strong relates, is the start of being able to practice law in two languages. However, she cautions, a comparative knowledge of law in different countries and cultures is also key. In this segment, she discusses her current collaborative project: a book for bilingual lawyers, and relates some of the differences between practicing law in Spanish and in English.

Dr. Shonekan's Background

From an interview with Stephanie Shonekan, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Black Studies

Dr. Shonekan tells us about her interest in music and culture, and explains how this interest impacted her studies and lead to a career in ethnomusicology.

Creating Lioness of Lisabi

From an interview with Stephanie Shonekan, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Black Studies

Dr. Shonekan tells us about her short film Lioness of Lisabi. The film is based on the life of Nigerian women’s activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and shows how Africans have driven their own social change.

That’s My Jam!

From an interview with Stephanie Shonekan, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Black Studies

Everyone has songs that stick with us and hold special importance. As a side project on her personal webpage StephanieShonekan.com, Dr. Shonekan interviews people about their own favorite song, and asks when it came into their life and why it lives on.

Nigerian vs. American Hip Hop

From an interview with Stephanie Shonekan, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Black Studies

Dr. Shonekan’s current research examines how African youth have made musical hybrids by incorporating elements of American hip hop. Dr. Shonekan examines how this process influences the identities of young Africans, and discusses a concerning trend towards emulation.

Teaching and Research

From an interview with Stephanie Shonekan, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, Black Studies

Dr. Shonekan explains how her teaching and reasearch enhance each other, and talks about how her own cultural background provides a unique platform for teaching about music and identity.

Training

From an interview with Peace Corps Fellows, MU's Peace Corps Fellows Program



Peace Corps volunteers are trained for about three months before being set loose in their assigned countries. The first step involves staging, which offers a general orientation and a place to meet the other volunteers in their group. “You get your first round of shots and this really quick and dirty cultural training,” Kate Fjell explains. Then they go to the assigned country, where they train intensively for three months. “You learn a lot about the culture, how to fit in, basically, and important cultural clues you should know about,” Julie Feeney laughs, “so you don’t end up getting married by accident!”


This phase is sometimes referred to as “the honeymoon stage,” says Nick Spina. “Everything’s new, everything’s exciting, every experience is the first time. You laugh a lot. You joke a lot because you don’t know how to communicate, so you use a lot of sign language, and you just try whatever you can to get across to people,” Spina recalls. “It’s challenging too, because they dump you with a host family immediately, and you are automatically in a situation where you are completely out of your element for the first time.”


For most of the volunteers, the language training is intense, covering every conceivable topic—“from how to buy things from the market to how to greet people, how to tell people you don’t feel good, and then how to have a conversation about AIDS.” Of course, language learning doesn’t end there. Once the volunteers arrive at their assigned site, the training continues. For instance, Spina had a language tutor, with whom he met once a week: “I would continue memorizing vocabulary and practicing my speaking skills with her, and I steadily improved. Some people work harder at the language than others, and some people learn it better than others. By the end of my service I could communicate whatever I needed to. I could have meaningful conversations. In hindsight, I’m proud of how much I accomplished, but it was a struggle. I mean, Armenian is not a language they teach you in schools, so learning it from scratch was a hard thing to do.”


Beyond language training, which is crucial to the survival of the volunteers, the technical training is also indispensable. “While you’re there, there may be ongoing training that happens throughout the service, depending on your project,” Craig Hutton says.


“We would go on fieldtrips and learn about the soil and different trees,” Matt Rysavy recounts. “We’d talk to different professionals in the government to get their feedback and see how systems worked, to make sure we were on a good starting page, so when we got to the village we knew we had a good background of their local customs, their local culture, and how we were going fit into the bigger national scene.”


“The technical portion was really good, especially for me,” recounts Fjell, “because I had an archeology degree coming out of college. I had done some work in the HIV/AIDS field, and knew the basics, but I didn’t feel very confident teaching about AIDS. The technical training really helped. “


West’s first book, Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000)

From an interview with Nancy M. West, Associate Professor, English Department

The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for photographs, and especially snapshots, extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. Traveling to Rochester, New York, home of the George Eastman House, West spent a week digging through boxes of advertisements (both published and unpublished) and documents ranging in date from 1888 to 1932. Her research eventually resulted in Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000), an interdisciplinary study that examines the advertising campaigns of the Eastman Kodak Company and reveals certain key fascinations in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century American culture.

Francophone author Calixthe Beyala

From an interview with Béa Gallimore, Associate Professor of French

Rangira Béa Gallimore’s second book, L’oeuvre romanesque de Calixthe Beyala: Le renouveau de l’écriture féminine en Afrique francophone sub-saharienne (1997), focuses on contemporary Francophone writer Calixthe Beyala. Whereas her first book subverts “the master’s language” by using the French of the slums (les bidonvilles) instead of classic French, her second book attempts to subvert patriarchy itself. Providing counterpart to male writers “who idealized the African woman as this beautiful symbol of the earth,” Beyala offers main characters who are forced into prostitution because of sexual abuse or poverty. “It’s very clear in her writing that she’s using the female body discourse. The body in writing is exposed, it is displayed,” explains Gallimore, and indeed Beyala’s tendency to address taboo subjects has created controversy. “It was very shocking for an African woman to write such things,” yet women’s bodies in Beyala’s novels stand as a “symbol of the violated earth, of the bad and the evil” that they have had to endure through their bodies. “You cannot deny the reality of Africa,” responds Beyala to her detractors.

Francophone author Calixthe Beyala

From an interview with Béa Gallimore, Associate Professor of French

Rangira Béa Gallimore’s second book, L’oeuvre romanesque de Calixthe Beyala: Le renouveau de l’écriture féminine en Afrique francophone sub-saharienne (1997), focuses on contemporary Francophone writer Calixthe Beyala. Whereas her first book subverts “the master’s language” by using the French of the slums (les bidonvilles) instead of classic French, her second book attempts to subvert patriarchy itself. Providing counterpart to male writers “who idealized the African woman as this beautiful symbol of the earth,” Beyala offers main characters who are forced into prostitution because of sexual abuse or poverty. “It’s very clear in her writing that she’s using the female body discourse. The body in writing is exposed, it is displayed,” explains Gallimore, and indeed Beyala’s tendency to address taboo subjects has created controversy. “It was very shocking for an African woman to write such things,” yet women’s bodies in Beyala’s novels stand as a “symbol of the violated earth, of the bad and the evil” that they have had to endure through their bodies. “You cannot deny the reality of Africa,” responds Beyala to her detractors.

How the classics have influenced our culture

From an interview with Daniel Hooley, Professor of Classics

For a long time the classics were thought of as foundational texts of western culture. Hooley sees the role of classics now as “one body of relatively coherent, related texts that constitute a tradition in themselves.” He says they have become the intellectual currency of our culture and are “great to think with.”

“Funnily critical, or critically funny?”

From an interview with Daniel Hooley, Professor of Classics

Most recently, Hooley has completed an introductory book on Roman satire. It covers the historical development of satire, explaining the genre as inherently human: “It’s in our blood; it’s hardwired into our brains.” Satire carries a very broad definition: it is partly a reaction to power and a way of expressing resistance, but at other times it provides a vehicle to poke fun at things.

Fostering the human spirit with satire

From an interview with Daniel Hooley, Professor of Classics

While Hooley’s first book focused on Latin translations, his second book, The Knotted Thong: Structures of Mimesis in Persius (1997), is a study of Roman satire—namely of Persius, one of the three major Roman satirists. Hooley was drawn to this man and his work partly because Persius was considered such a “strange guy.” Satire, Hooley says, “fosters all those things that are healthy for the human spirit—it makes us laugh at silly things and sometimes makes us laugh at things that are egregious and wrong.”

Hooley’s personal philosophy about studying the classics

From an interview with Daniel Hooley, Professor of Classics

Through Hooley’s work in classical studies he has developed a philosophy about why one should study the classics: “Classics is just good material. The historical distance makes it more refreshing because you see the difference and how we’re the same animals. These texts don’t dictate our ethics and laws, but help our imaginations, which I think is a good reason to study them.”

Langen’s research process

From an interview with Timothy Langen, Associate Professor of Russian

Teaching a general course on Russian civilization has helped Langen’s research process by allowing him to connect literary studies to other aspects of Russian life.

Why study the humanities and Russian literature?

From an interview with Timothy Langen, Associate Professor of Russian

Langen highlights three major reasons to study Russian literature and humanities more deeply than for simple enjoyment.

African influence in Spain

From an interview with Michael Ugarte, Professor, Romance Languages Department

Ugarte discusses the relationship of various ethnic groups in Spain throughout history and how the African “Other” is absorbed in the consciousness of Spaniards.