Ever since the third grade, when an assistant principal generously offered to teach him and two classmates French, John Miles Foley has been curious about how languages work. Starting with the early epiphany that language is always embedded in culture, Foley followed this line of thinking until it led to oral tradition, which the MU Professor of Classical Studies and English has now been researching for over three decades. It will surely be a lifelong journey, for the field far outstrips written literature in size, diversity, and social function. In fact, all the written literature we have, Foley is fond of saying, “is dwarfed by oral traditions.”
Anne Rudloff Stanton loves romance. She loves the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the way it smells—but only when it’s found in the margins of 14th-century books. The professor of Art History and Archaeology describes one example—a small drawing of a man leaving a woman—and she leans forward as if she were talking about a mutual friend of ours. “There’s this long sequence of the story of Moses, who, as you may not know, was married before he married Zipporah,” she begins. “He first married the daughter of the king of Ethiopia.”
Rangira Béa Gallimore has spent much of her research career speaking about the unspeakable, that is, the trauma of rape. As Associate Professor in the Romance Language department, Gallimore’s research history may be divided into two periods: pre- and post-Rwandan genocide. Her earlier work focused on African Francophone women’s writings, African women of the Great Lakes Region in the conflict and peace process, as well as the representation of African women in social discourse and the media. Following years of studying fiction, Gallimore began the second phase of her work in response to the Rwanda genocide of 1994, when the country was “plunged into a frenzy of ethnic butchery” stemming from long-standing tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi groups.
Foley distinctly recalls the roots of his interest in languages and oral tradition. During the third grade, assistant principal Jean Buteau offered to teach French to Foley and two other students as an alternative to study-time. In graduate school, two teachers were especially influential. One of them, Robert Creed, introduced Foley to oral tradition by performing parts of the Old English Beowulf during every seminar meeting, illustrating how — unlike the written word — oral traditions live in embodiment. The other, Anne Lebeck, was Foley’s most inspiring teacher of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which also derive from oral tradition. Seeking a modern analog, Foley later began to study the living oral traditions of the Former Yugoslavia.
Within the Romance Languages Department, Gallimore has been teaching French composition, French literature and drama, and Francophone studies. During the Winter 2008 semester, Gallimore served as a Taft Visiting Research Fellow in a seminar about racism in French and Francophone literature. “Your research gives you insight for teaching,” she says, as she develops a new course on Afro-Persian writers and a new graduate seminar on testimonial writing.
Gallimore has merged her academic research with social activism. While her background in linguistic theory is useful in understanding certain linguistic phenomena, she acknowledges that “if I go speak about the semiotics of the language of the genocide, that’s something that academicians would understand, but it may not be useful for someone outside of the association.” Realizing this limitation, she founded Step Up! American Association for Rwandan Women, an organization that recognizes the reality that “the needs of the Rwandan women are enormous. Not only are there concerns for practical things such as jobs, food, and school supplies, but the mental health needs have largely remained unaddressed. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety remain as an aftermath of the intense horror of the genocide.” Step Up has developed a number of projects to help redress these problems.
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.