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.”
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.
M. Heather Carver is framed by her clown shadow—a black mannequin head wearing a pink camouflage hat and red clown’s nose—as she joyfully begins to describe her place at MU. “I come from a background of performing,” the Associate Professor of Theatre offers. “As a means of studying something, we perform it.” As a way of studying autobiography, for example, Carver performs autobiography.
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.
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).
Serendipity led Tim Langen, Associate Professor of Russian, to his research field. A language requirement in college caught him at a crossroads; pondering the possibilities, he decided that “French, German, and Spanish seemed too familiar, and Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic maybe seemed too foreign. Russian seemed just distant enough and just close enough.” He soon discovered that he enjoyed studying the language and so decided to major in Russian history and literature, a combination that allowed him to connect two fields he cared about.
Like many researchers, Michael Ugarte finds his research to be rooted in his personal history. "My research is connected directly to who I am, what part of the world I come from, and where I grew up," begins the MU Professor of Romance Languages. As we sat in his tiny office, I found myself staring into the kind eyes of this gentle soul, mesmerized as he described the personal connections involved in his research.
Dr. Strong relates how her interests shifted from literature to law, and describes her education and early career.
Since about 1975, field reports have revealed the tremendous size and diversity of oral tradition as a cultural phenomenon. In fact, Foley notes, “written literature is dwarfed by oral traditions.” Despite our “ideological fixation on texts and print, the communications technology we call oral tradition” has been with us for most of homo sapiens’ existence, whereas writing was introduced only relatively recently.
The teaching honors awarded to West bear witness to her pedagogical skills, including the Gold Chalk Award (1999, 2005), the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching (2004), and the English Graduate Student Association’s inaugural award for Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member (2005). Reflecting on her teaching, West states: “I really believe in interdisciplinary work—not just to present students with a reference every once in a while to an artistic or scientific movement, but to really see things from inside those disciplines. I think there are very rich connections to be made, and so I try to get students thinking in interdisciplinary ways.”
West teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in the English Department on subjects bridging—like her research—the literary with the visual. She offers courses, for example, on British literature, film history, crime films, film adaptation of novels, novel illustration, and photography.
West is currently finishing a book, From Celluloid to Tabloid, in collaboration with Penelope Pelizzon (University of Connecticut), on Hollywood crime films and tabloid journalism from the 1920s through the 1940s. Unlike the tabloids of today, which West decries as “pretty trashy scandal magazines and newspapers…often designed to expose and ruin people’s careers,” the tabloids of the earlier era contain much more liveliness and inventiveness. “Although the cliché is that the tabloids have always been pitched to the uneducated, these early ones from the 1920s are surprisingly literary, replete with metaphorical word play, allusions, wit, and irony.” Tabloid writers often went on to become celebrated novelists and screenwriters for Hollywood. Beyond their literary value, these tabloids also teach us about urban culture and modernity, especially about New York in the 1920s and 1930s. West and Pelizzon refer to these tabloids as “adaptation-ready sites,” because they know how to spin information so quickly from one source.
West also works in the field of Victorian Studies, yet even in this regard her work still revolves around visual culture. Recently West researched how Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations was serialized in the American magazine Harper’s Weekly from 1860-1861. Specifically interested in some of the trans-Atlantic issues involved, West considered how an American audience might have read the novel differently from a British audience and how an American illustrator drew decidedly American scenes for the British story. West argues that scholars need to pay more attention “to the places where novels were originally serialized…to look at how the stories were illustrated by different artists, and pay serious attention to those artists as collaborators on the work of the fiction.”
Heather Carver describes herself as “a performance studies artist/scholar,” someone who investigates an issue through performance—“so we study autobiography, and we do autobiographical performance.” Carver teaches several kinds of creative writing, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, in adaptation and performance of literature for theatre and the screen. She also co-directs the Writing for Performance Program, which helps students adapt different kinds of writing for the stage or screen, including poetry, short stories, autobiography, or ethnography. And Carver serves as creator and artistic director of the Life and Literature Performance series to showcase original and adapted work by MU students for the stage.
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 been drawn to Beyala’s novels because of their powerful realism, which deeply resonates with her own experience of growing up in the Congo. “When I first read her book, I was amazed. I was looking at things I had seen myself. It was a reality in Africa we cannot deny; you maybe don’t want it in writing, but it’s a reality for women. Those are the things women have to endure to survive.”
Gallimore’s early research addressed how African Francophone writers subvert the French canon by drawing from their culture’s oral tradition to create different levels of meaning. In Gallimore’s first book, L’oeuvre romanesque de Jean-Marie Adiaffi. Le mariage du mythe et de l’histoire: fondement d’un récit pluriel (1996), Gallimore examines author Jean-Marie Adiaffi, particularly the novel La Carte d’Identité (1995). The main character in the book, who was a prince before colonization, loses his I.D. card. In the system imposed by the colonial French government, the loss of this I.D. card results in the loss of the man’s name and identity, so it becomes an allegory for the impact of colonization on the identity of the colonized.
As her first foray into comparative ethics, Welch recounts the origins of her book A Feminist Ethic of Risk (2000, 2nd edition): “I wrote it because one of the things I noticed, as a graduate student and then teaching at Harvard University, was how easily white middle-class people give up. At first people wouldn’t want to take a stand on an issue, whether apartheid or nuclear weapons, because they thought they didn’t know enough about it. Once they learned more about the issue, they were still unable to act, but now for a different reason—they thought the problem was too big to do anything about. I saw this as a phenomenon of cultured despair, being aware of large issues and arguing against the futility of partial efforts.” By contrast Welch learned from the work of the ethicist Katie Cannon about a type of “moral wisdom in the black women’s literary tradition,” an ethic of resisting over the long-haul in spite of seemingly overwhelming oppression, and the “confluence of spirituality and aesthetics” that sustained their activism over time.
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.”
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.
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.”
Hooley talks about his first book, The Classics in Paraphrase: Ezra Pound and Modern Translators of Latin Poetry, and how it opened a door for him to begin studying the various theories of translation.
Dan 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.
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.
Langen is gearing up for his next research project that will focus on late nineteenth-century Russian intellectual history. “These people thought of literary studies as something you could do scientifically,” Langen explains, and he plans to begin by exploring “the rules for responsible, scholarly discourse.”
Langen’s most recent project, The Stony Dance: Unity and Gesture in Andrey Bely’s Petersburg (2005.
Langen describes the rewards of two collaborative projects: Eight Twentieth-Century Russian Plays (2000) is an anthology of Russian plays that he translated and edited with Justin Weir. He also worked with his brother, Jesse Langen, examining how the music by Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich drew upon the poems of Alexander Blok.
A language requirement in college caught Langen at a crossroads where he decided to give Russian a try. He soon discovered that he enjoyed studying the language and decided to major in Russian history and literature, a combination that allowed him to make connections between a scholarly field and other things he cared about.
Langen highlights three major reasons to study Russian literature and humanities more deeply than for simple enjoyment.
Ugarte talks about the study of culture as found in literature, film, and the press.
Madrid in 1900: How the city became so central to the work of so many Spanish authors.
Making connections between his intellectual work and his political work, Ugarte has explored how being in exile has had a significant impact on important Spanish writers.