Department News

This category captures all the news related to the department.

Daniel Hershenzon gives UCHI Fellow’s Talk on Ransoming in the Seventh-Century Mediterranean

daniel screenOn March 1, 2017 Dr. Daniel Hershenzon, a Fellow at the UCHI, gave his Fellow’s series talk entitled, Captivated by the Mediterranean: Early Modern Spain and the Political Economy of Ransoming. Hershenzon’s field of expertise is Early Modern Spanish and Mediterranean history. His work illuminates how the close study of the motivations and categories that were mobilized in the trade of objects and people between Christians, Muslims and Jews in the seventeenth-century Mediterranean transforms our understanding of value, commodification, and by extension, narratives about the emergence of early capitalism.

In this talk, Hershenzon developed a fascinating case study to illustrate his argument, the story of 13-year-old Fatimah, the Muslim daughter of an Algerian pasha taken captive by Christians in Livorno, Italy. Fatima becomes a pawn in a vast trade network involving the capture and ransoming of slaves in the Mediterranean, that is, people being held for ransom by antagonistic religious communities. On the one hand, infidels are salable because they do not belong to the “sacred” community of coreligionists, whether Christians, Jews, and Muslims. On the other, each community leverages the moral outrage caused in its religious rivals when confronted by the prospect of loosing a soul from its sacred community. What is sacred is what is by definition absolutely singular, and thus, what cannot be commodified since its value cannot be translated in terms of any opposing value. What made someone salable, then, depended upon where they fell in terms of the boundaries that defined the spiritual community of both ransomers and redeemers.

The enslavement of religious prisoners took place in a context marked by piracy, economic competition, the fallout of the Spanish Reconquista, the dynastic rivalries of Italy, France, and Spain as well the growing rivalries in the Islamic world, between local factions in Algeria and Morocco and an emergent Ottoman Empire. As the capture and sale of religious prisoners became routinized, the ransoming of slaves became the object of specialized trade routes that included not only merchants, but also religious envoys. The collaboration between merchants and friars was a routine matter; ransoming was viewed as spiritual/social activity. (Different actors, in fact, employed different frameworks to refer to the process of ransoming – redemption of souls, liberation of kin, selling goods.) As the ransom trade became semi-institutionalized, political leaders, notably Philip III of Spain and the pasha of Algeria, began to want to exert more direct control over the ransoming process. This allowed the pasha to impose his own ransom agenda on the buyers (friars or merchants) forcing them to buy his slaves first, and then the slaves of his clients. This set up a rivalry between the state and those who had developed a business (whether they were merchants or religious groups) in the redemption of slaves. As Hershenzon noted, during this time period, “ransom created ad hoc coalitions that crossed religious and political boundaries.”

During her journey back to Algiers, the bishop of Corsica converted Fatima to Christianity. It is not clear whether Fatimah wanted the conversion or whether it was forced upon her, but once she had been converted (becoming Mary Magdalena) her status as a slave was complicated. She had suddenly become a member of the sacred community of Catholics, thus inalienable as property. She could not be considered a slave, nor could she be delivered to an unbeliever, and thus she could no longer in good conscience be traded back to her father.

Historians have tended to view the trade in slave through an economic lens: the trade in people interpreted as symptomatic of the rising tendency towards commodification and capitalism. Hershenzon uses the Fatimah example among others to complicate this narrative, by carefully re-constructing the details of how the valuation of people, the conditions for their exchange, and the networks that controlled these exchanges challenge the assumption that economic interests and categories trumped all others. In other words, the ransom market had multiple functions—sacred, social, and political—that influenced how individuals were valued (a hostage, a slave, and a converso are not quite the same). These overlapping functions force us to ask, for instance, whether the Trinitarian friars sent around the Mediterranean to redeem slaves were economic actors or pastoral ones. Meanwhile in freeing slaves, political leaders demonstrated their social and spiritual duty to free coreligionists, even as they helped themselves to a cut in taxes and licensing fees. Hershenzon thus illustrates how contingent value or even the question of salability turned out to be, defined as it was at the intersection of sacred communities and the rivalries between political and even professional spheres on an almost case-by-case basis.

For more information see or contact Daniel Hershenzon directly at



On February 21st, the International Mother Language Day, the Konover Auditorium in the Thomas J. Dodd Center hosted the launch of UConn’s Program in Literary Translation, with the visit of three acclaimed translators of world literature who participated in the conference ‘Translation and Human Rights in Troubled Times’. The award-winning translators defended that translation can protect and celebrate human rights across the boundaries of language. The event was co-sponsored by UConn’s Humanities Institute and Human Rights Institute.


Carles Torner, Executive Director at PEN International – the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization – and Head of the Literature and the Humanities Department of the Institut Ramon Llull in New York, cautioned about the rapid disappearance of half of the world’s 7,000 languages and the increasing cultural homogenization due to globalization. Along with other writers, Torner helped put together the universal declaration of linguistic rights in 1996, which promotes equality among languages regardless of their status. Twenty years later, the declaration has been translated to 70 languages and has become a reference document for the linguistic laws implemented in Colombia, Paraguay and South Africa. Torner asserted that translation is key for the recognition of linguistic rights, and that no peace can be achieved without linguistic peace. He also argued that promoting translations into English has been detrimental to international translation and warned about the increasing persecution and repression of certain languages such as Kurdish in Turkey.


Following Mr. Torner’s presentation was Edith Grossman, the prestigious critic and translator of some of the major Spanish and Latin American literary works of all times including Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Grossman shared her struggles when she translated Spanish Renaissance poetry into English and read the opening stanza of her translation of Góngora’s The Solitudes in Spanish and English. She argued that the perception of the world and the language we speak are intrinsically connected, and that translations enable us to discover extraordinary works in fiction and poetry that otherwise would go unnoticed. Finally, she stressed that learning other languages evokes a unique sense of surprise and curiosity.


The final guest speaker of the evening was Esther Allen, translator of Zama by Antonio de Benedetto and Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos. Allen argued that poetry and fiction are translated more than any other kind of work, but in her view, translating journalism is also essential today because people often ignore discourses about what is happening around the world. She talked about the hyper-local media hub, Voices of New York, which embraces linguistic diversity – it has readers in 120 countries- and provides access to a larger multilingual community. This alternative digital media platform offers possibilities that were unthinkable before, such as posting comments in any language and even reciprocity in various languages. Allen criticized that translation is often hidden or disguised in international news agencies and that most mainstream media do not support translation. She reminded us that not so long ago, in the 1990s, many language departments saw translations as competition instead of a way of raising interest in other languages, and concluded that the knowledge of Latin American literature in the US has significantly contributed to make Spanish the most studied foreign language in the country.


For more information about the speakers’ work, please contact the Director of the Program in Literary Translation, Peter Constantine, at


Written by Adriana Alcina

Graduate Feature: Meet William Stark

William Stark, a Ph.D. candidate in the Spanish Studies section, has come a long way from his native Colorado to pursue research in contemporary Chicano and Latino performance art and cultural production. The fourth year student is writing his dissertation on transcultural performance by Latino and Chicano performance artists in the United States and Mexico. These include Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Coco Fusco, Violeta Luna, Roberto Sifuentes, and the performance-collaborative La Pocha Nostra. Stark’s research explores how their aesthetic projects critique hegemonic discourses in the US.

Winner of the Outstanding Scholar Award from faculty in the Spanish program last spring, and recipient of an LCL Summer Pre-Doctoral Scholarship, William used his awards to interview Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Balitronica (aka the “Phantom Mariachi”), and Emma Tramposch in San Francisco. While there he had the opportunity to attend a gala hosted by RADAR Productions, a non-profit that produces literary happenings in the Bay area, and provides a platform for queer and outsider writers and artists whose work reflects the diverse experiences of the LBGTQA community. He later flew to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had the opportunity to participate in one of La Pocha Nostra’s legendary radical performance pedagogy workshops.

Stark’s dream has not always revolved around an academic career. He has been interested in painting and writing and music and is also passionate about cooking. From a young age he worked in restaurants and eventually became a professional cook. Later, he became a chef in Seattle, during the period, in the 1980s, when the city was becoming the culinary capital of Washington State. He would go on to cook professionally in Ireland and Ecuador. It was during his time in Ecuador that he learned to speak Spanish. The ex-French major explored a lot of South America, traveling all the way from Ecuador to Tierra del Fuego and back, mostly by just walking and hitchhiking! When I asked him if he misses his days as a chef he admitted that it was an exciting profession, but an exhausting one. He feels his academic career brings him deeper gratification and is less stressful. One of the main challenges he has found in academia is staying focused since he tends to express his ideas through painting and music at the same time. UConn has helped him to learn how to channel his energies and thus to gain a more profound understanding of his topics. He enjoys the diversity of the faculty’s interests as well as the fact that everybody in the department is very research-oriented and academically curious.

Besides working on his teaching and dissertation, Stark is involved in numerous collaborations. He was one of the cofounders of The Quiet Corner Interdisciplinary Journal, and now serves as the Editor for La Ojuela Research Project, a group that produces and disseminates knowledge about the history of the Compañía Minera de Peñoles’ silver lead mine, La Ojuela, in Durango. William feels personally connected to this project, as his paternal great-grandfather, Hugh Callory Watson, was a superintendent at the mine at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.

Stark has already started working on his résumé and to apply for jobs and is looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him. His ideal job, he says, would be a small Liberal Arts college where he can teach and have time to work on his research. He intends to focus on Chicano and Latino cultural production/performance and its intersection with indigenous performance.

Professor Nan Meng Joins Chinese Program

Nan Meng joined the LCL’s Chinese section as Assistant Professor in Residence last Fall, after having studied and worked in four other universities in the US. Professor Meng received her B.A. in English Language and Literature at Shandong University, her hometown in northeastern China. She moved to the US to do her M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language at Bowling Green and completed her Ph.D. in Chinese Pedagogy at Ohio State. She realized that she wanted to become an academic while pursuing research as a graduate student. She has lived in Connecticut for four years after having worked at both Yale and Wesleyan. Before coming to UConn, she also spent a year working at the Department of Asian Studies in Pennsylvania State University. For Professor Meng, Penn State and UConn have a lot in common, as they are both public institutions outside of big cities. She loves working at UConn’s LCL department because of its friendly environment and great diversity.

This semester she is teaching three courses in Chinese culture and language. Some of her classes are very popular with enrollments of over 130 students, so managing such large groups is sometimes a challenge. Her classes include lectures, group presentations, hands-on group projects, discussions and online work. She is happy to see that UConn students are very energetic and active. In collaboration with the other faculty in her section, she helps organize group activities to celebrate the Chinese New Year and other cultural events with her students.

American students find it hard to learn Chinese because of the cultural differences and because the language is very different from English. She teaches Mandarin Chinese, the most commonly used language in China, which is spoken by around two thirds of the country’s population. Professor Meng also speaks some Japanese and French. Her research focuses on language socialization and the development of intercultural competence stemming from her interest in how people acquire competence in different cultures. Other areas of expertise include teacher education, sociolinguistics and computer-assisted language learning.

Since Professor Meng specializes in intercultural competence, I asked her about cultural differences in China and the US. A main difference is the relationship between professors and students. In China, professors are seen as absolute authorities. Even though questions are welcome, students tend to avoid challenging them and certainly do not negotiate. Most graduate students in China work and study in a similar fashion as in the US, typically as TA’s or RA’s. However, tuition fees at Chinese universities are not as high as in the US. Due to cultural differences, she says, it can be difficult for foreigners who study in China to mingle with the locals.

Professor Meng belongs to the first generation of the one-child policy in China (which started in 1979 and was lifted in 2015). Although she does not have any siblings, she is very close to her cousins. Whenever she has the chance, she visits them in China. When she worked with a study abroad program at another university, she used to go every year. Because she has been away from her home country for so long, when she does go back home she experiences “reverse culture shock”. For instance, because of the intensity of the traffic, she doesn’t like to drive there. She laughingly admitted that she doesn’t like taking the subway in Beijing either because it is always packed. As a result she ends up just walking everywhere. She has two children and likes taking them home so that they can experience Chinese culture and spend time with their relatives. In her spare time, she likes playing the violin, attending classical music recitals, and cooking Chinese as well as international dishes.

By Adriana Alcina

Transferable Skills for Humanities PhDs: Stacy Hartman and the MLA visit UConn

On February 1st and 2nd Stacy Hartman, Coordinator of Connected Academics at the Modern Language Association, gave a talk about alternative careers in the humanities and led workshops for PhD candidates and faculty across departments. Her main objective was to help students and faculty think more broadly about career opportunities available with a doctorate degree, both within and outside of academia.

Dr. Hartman kicked off the workshop for Ph.D. students from students English, History, LCL, and Medieval studies by asking them to introduce themselves by offering one thing that most people did not know about tem. Given the diversity of backgrounds each brought different experiences to the discussion that ensued.

Dr. Hartman explained to us that the reason we discuss transferable skills and resumes is because the two are bound to each other: the way that you talk about your skills affects the way that you write your resume. We started off our exploration of transferable skills through a packet, first completing individually a “Skills Self-Assessment,” evaluating our strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes in the workplace. Dr. Hartman asked us to discuss these results with our peers and examine what was surprising to us about our results.

During the second phase, we divided into groups and examined job advertisements, discussing the skills necessary and our impressions of the jobs. This led to a discussion about the many career opportunities available to PhDs and the strategies to use to search for non-academic jobs.

The next day, Dr. Hartman met with faculty from English and LCL. This workshop mostly involved inquiring about faculty perception of non-academic jobs and then exploring why we do not count students who end up in non-traditional careers as successful placements from our programs. Hartman and the MLA stress that this will involve a fairly substantial shift in how faculty understand both their own roles and the core missions of their programs. The second part involved brainstorming steps we could take to change perceptions in our departments. Part of this would, she stressed, must involve drawing students’ attention to alternative job markets as early as the admission letter. It would then be incumbent on departments to keep creating activities aimed at equipping our students with a wider range of skills and encouraging new ways to imagine the skills already at the heart of their academic training. This would advantage students in either case, whether they were applying for academic or non-academic jobs. The MLA is currently in the process of developing toolkits to facilitate these conversations within departments in the humanistic disciplines.

For access to the Career Exploration Activity Packet used during the workshop please visit:

For questions about her program, please contact Stacy Hartman at

Written by Ayjan Arik and Jennifer Terni

LCL to Celebrate New Program in Literary Translation on February 21rst

The Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages will host an evening of talks by award-winning translators to celebrate the launch of its new Program in Literary Translation.

Three distinguished speakers will present on literary translation and human rights.  These incluse Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, Edith Grossman, translator of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, and Esther Allen, translator of Zama by Antonio di Benedetto and Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellano.

Tuesday, February 21 at the Konover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.  A reception will be held to inaugurate the event beginning at 6 p.m.

Co-sponsored by UCHI and the Human Rights Institute.

For more information or to request accommodations, please contact Peter Constantine at

MLA specialist Tracy Hartman to explore alternative careers for Humanities PhDs this week

MLA hartman website ad Next week Dr. Tracy Hartman will be visiting UConn to engage graduate students and faculty about expanding their understanding of the career possibilities for those pursuing PhDs in the Humanities.  Dr. Hartman comes to UConn from the MLA, where she serves as Project Coordinator for Connected Academics ( whose mission is to “support initiatives aimed at demonstrating how doctoral education can develop students’ capacities to bring the expertise they acquire in advanced humanistic study to a wide range of fulfilling, secure, and well-compensated professional situations” thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which is slated to run through 2019.

The events include a workshop for graduate students on February 1 and 2 that will each run from 4:00-5:00 pm.  Dr. Hartman will also be holding a workshop for faculty on February 2nd at noon.  In addition Dr. Hartman will give a talk on the importance of Humanities PhDs in the current economic and political context. that will take place on Wednesday, Feb 1 from 1:30-2:30 pm at the Class of 1947 room at the Homer Babbidge Library.  The events are sponsored by LCL, the English Department, the Dean’s Office for CLAS and the UCHI.


Visiting Assistant Professor in French and Comparative Literature

chris bonner

Christopher Bonner joined the faculty of LCL this past fall to teach courses in French and Comparative Literature. He specializes in postcolonial studies and French Caribbean literature, and he seeks in his research to think through the relationship between literature and politics.

He completed his dissertation, The Alignment of Writing: Geopolitics and Literary Form in Cold War French Caribbean Literature, at NYU in 2015. In it, Bonner argues that the Surrealist-inspired avant-garde poetry that had been the touchstone of colonized black writers in the 1940s gave way, in the mid-1950s, to topical, referential prose as the prime vehicle for emancipatory politics in the French Caribbean. This formal shift, he shows, reflected a radically changed understanding of what it meant to write engaged literature, as authors adapted to a new, bipolar world order. Professor Bonner’s next book project builds on his first, but focused on modes of contemporary political engagement and resistance. In his new project, he will address the ways in which the critical strategies underlying the notion of “cultural politics” are themselves being challenged by living writers and theorists in the Caribbean. He has published his scholarship in the journal Small Axe, and has an article forthcoming in the upcoming issue of the International Journal of Francophone Studies.

Bonner grew up in Philadelphia, but has lived in New York City for most of his adult life.  He completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia University in 2005. He has had a particularly rich experience with respect to teaching. He admits that a high school teacher, Ms. Mulherin, was largely responsible for inspiring the love of French and Francophone culture that lead him to the path of a career in Francophone literatures. After completing his B.A, at Columbia, he decided to become a New York City Teaching Fellow, during which he taught middle-school English in the South Bronx.  Nearly all of his students were disadvantaged, struggling with a combination of poverty, undiagnosed learning disabilities, and unstable home situations. He was forced to learn to take charge of classroom discipline quickly, but more importantly, he says that his “eighth graders taught me the value of empathy. I began to see the classroom as a site for exchange and mutual learning, both among students and between students and myself.” Building a culture of empathy and solidarity have since become principles of his teaching, which Professor Bonner feels are especially important in foreign language classrooms. When voicing ideas in a second language, “students have to feel comfortable enough to risk making mistakes.”

While here at UConn, Professor Bonner will be offering an impressive range of courses, including classes on Global Cinema and World Literatures for the Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies program plus courses in literary theory, literature, and conversation classes.


On Friday morning at the LANGSA conference during the panel centered around Queer migrations, LCL graduate student Ryan Evelyn delivered his paper, “Small Places, Voiceless Faces: Ambiguity and Cultural Displacement in Two Novels by Gide and Guibert.” Ryan discussed gender representations, specifically the representation of masculinity in homosexuality as well as the concepts of cultural migration and spatial dichotomy in the two novels Les Faux-Monnayeurs, written in 1925 by André Gide, and À l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie, written in 1990 by Hervé Guibert. Ryan went on to compare and contrast the spatial representations of homosexuality in the two novels, making the distinction between the private domain and public domain. Through his analysis, Ryan demonstrated the migration from the private to the public domain that took place in time between the publications of the two novels. Ryan’s research brings to light questions of self-acceptance and marginalization, ideas that remain pertinent to discussions of identity within the homosexual community.

Ryan Evelyn is a second-year Master’s student studying French and Francophone literature in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. Though his research focuses primarily on the Early-Modern and Renaissance periods, he dabbles in literature of the 20th century. Gender, representations of masculine homosexuality, and spatial dichotomies remain at the forefront of his research.

Ryan Evelyn
Ryan Evelyn

A Visit From Raul Aguiar


On Monday, October 24th Cuban poet Raul Aguiar visited UConn’s Latin American Cultural Center to give a talk and workshop on the manipulation of the Spanish language within fictional writing.


Aguiar’s narrative writing seminars usually take place at the state-owned Onelio Jorge Cardoso Literary Center named after the famous Cuban storyteller and located in Habana. Classes are free of charge and provide Cuban students with the opportunity to learn about narrative techniques and the great classics of the history of Hispanic literature while practicing their storytelling skills in an interactive and amusing way. Even though the center is not lucrative, the author thinks its near-future existence is not threatened. The center often hosts prestigious writers such as José Saramago and features annual, short-fiction competitions in which the winners receive funding for their writing projects and have the possibility of publishing them afterwards. Over 1000 students have graduated from the center, among them LCL graduate student, Milena Almira.


We were excited by the diverse audience and relaxed environment of the event. Aguiar explained, in Spanish, “English is magnificient to speak of business, German to talk about war, French and Italian to talk about romance, and Spanish to speak with the gods.” Aguiar then engaged undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty in a conversation on the flexibility that exists within the syntactical structures of the Spanish language. Aguiar argued that Spanish offers an almost infinite liberty to exchange phrases and verbs, changing where the weight of the phrase lays, in order to convey different meaning or evoke various feelings in the reader.


During his workshop the novelist reflected on Cuban literary trends within the last decades. According to Aguiar, his generation avoided conflicts. This prepared the ground for topics that had never been examined before, such as youth diversity. He also spoke about how the current generation of Cuban writers likes experimenting with different literary genres and writing shorter stories due to the influence of blogs and social media platforms such as Twitter. Aguiar’s most recent work, by contrast, has been inspired by his love for hard rock music. While listening to it in English, he wrote La estrella boca arriba, a book about rock bands and the symbols surrounding them. A new edition of his novel has just been published in Spanish.


Aguiar also offered valuable advice to us as writers. All of us, whether student or faculty, have experienced writer’s block. Aguiar explained that when this happens the best thing to do is to revert back to the most simple sentences to express our thoughts. Upon getting the idea on paper, we can then start to re-order phrases and words to better evoke feeling and voice behind the language.


If you would like to support the center or learn more about Aguiar and his work, please contact Professor Jacqueline Loss at