Department News

This category captures all the news related to the department.

Why we shouldn’t worry about who is speaking – The Theory of the Lyric with Jonathan Culler

On Thursday, September 21, UConn’s English department, in conjunction with the department of Literatures, Cultures & Languages, hosted Jonathan Culler, a renowned literary theorist and Class of 1916 Professor of Literature at Cornell University. In his lecture, Dr. Culler discussed his book Theory of the Lyric originally published in 2015, but released in paperback in October of this year. Theory of the Lyric focuses on the lyric tradition in Western poetry from ancient Greece to the twentieth century. In less than an hour Culler discussed not only the conventions of lyric poetry, but the challenges associated with analyzing it.
As Culler put it, lyric poets “produce poems that make claims about the world”. To make these broad claims, lyric poetry employs features that are not found in ordinary speech acts. In other words, “lyric poetry does not imitate a person’s voice, but rather, voices something [that is of lyric poetry…] itself.” For this reason in lyric poetry, the simple present tense works in contexts that would never work in day-to-day speech. In ordinary speech, Culler says, we use the progressive present tense, such as, “I’m walking to school” as opposed to the simple present tense declaration, “I sit in the pub, I drink the liquor,” the latter being examples of speech that we would only hear from a foreign speaker or in poetry, Culler says. This use of the simple present tense “lifts us into a special poetic register” of descriptive subjectivity, a distinctive trait of lyric poetry.
Despite the importance of the modes of subjective description that inform and are even constitutive of the genre, Culler raises a problem that affects students and educators alike when it comes to the reading of lyric poetry: Does trying to answer the question of who is speaking actually help our understanding or experience of the poem? Culler argues that “No, in fact, we must experience the progression. Working out who is speaking actually obscures the experience rather than clarifying it.” In an academic context, we are tempted to worry about who is narrating the poem and in uncovering the narrator’s motive. However, “a hypothesis of an imagined speaker is useless,” Culler concluded, “it would be a diversion” in terms of trying to understand the poem, its themes, temporalities, and the point of view it expresses. He added that good “critics focus on what the poem is doing rather than on the perspective of an alleged speaker.” Meaning, Culler wants us to shift our attention from the singer of Whitman’s Song of Myself to the agency of the lyrics themselves.

Challenging a Persistent Myth: What Professors Do

A proposal built into the new budget would require professors to increase their teaching loads from four to five courses per year. This proposal plays on a myth about the nature of the work that university professors perform. The fact is that professors must juggle three areas of activity which are profoundly inter-connected and without which a research university could simply not function. This is because, unlike other kinds of teachers, professors actively participate in the creation of the knowledge that eventually gets taught in the classroom as well as in the complex processes that verify the reliability of that knowledge over time.

If you’ve ever marveled at the complexity of a large international airport, a university like UConn is like that airport on steroids. Each professor belongs to two different cohorts: the teaching cohort within their departments and the research cohort that mostly exists outside their university. This last is because each professor participates in a network made up of other researchers from around the globe with whom they are in conversation about their particular specialty. This is true whether their field involves the DNA signaling in the production of a given protein, or the impact of temperature variations on ocean currents, or patient outcomes from early versus delayed angiography, or about how social media transform people’s sense of experience, presence, and connection. This global community works and competes to set the agendas about what is most important and promising, and in the process, also monitors the protocols and review processes for that particular field.

The on-campus cohort is the department, which is typically composed of specialists who work in very different fields. This is so that universities can provide maximal educational coverage to its students. What this translates into practically is that the activities in a given department are so varied and complex that no department head can really keep track of them all nor understand even the central debates of many of the fields covered under his or her disciplinary remit.

This is why the service end of what professors do is just as crucial as research and teaching and why universities are largely run via committee. Only the people who actually do the research on the ground are in a position to communicate what lines of research are important and thus which new hires need to be prioritized, which equipment purchased, which journals need to be acquired or founded, what new classes and programs might need development and which ideas and processes might need to be included in the constant vetting and quality-monitoring that are part of the process of creating knowledge based on verifiable standards. When one considers all of the different disciplines that co-exist across the university, the staggering level of a university’s complexity as an institution and the challenges that are involved in managing it come into better focus. The fact is no one has figured out a more efficient way of running things than via committee because committees staffed by stakeholders from different fields guarantee the bottom-up decision-making and resource allocation that keep universities innovating. It can be frustrating, but anything else, that is to say, more top-down structures end up doing critical harm to the research mission of universities because no small group has the expertise to see in what direction so many different fields and subfields are evolving.

All of this is why professors must be actively engaged in teaching, research, and committee work to perform their jobs. This does not even include the work of implementing and running all kinds of programs designed to improve the student experience; the bureaucracy that comes with such a large institution serving so many people and so many ends; the writing of grant applications that support research and teaching; outreach, recruitment, and compliance; and the vetting letters for peers and for students at each step of this incredible ladder of increasing specialization and innovation. The intersection of all of these activities is why professors work very long hours indeed (80 and more hour weeks are common) and rarely take time away; time off is time to focus on research without the distractions that are part and parcel of the dynamic semester. No leg of this three-legged stool is more important than the other; they are all indispensable to the function of any serious research institution.

The above explains one reason why the myth that all professors do is teach “two courses a semester” is so absurd. If one merely looks at the cohort of people being described this way—check out the CVs of professors in any department at UConn—what you find are people who have been among the most successful of their cohort for their entire lives. In other words, they are demon workers. Becoming an academic is choosing a path that is always against long odds. Academics are essentially entrepreneurs: they make everything happen for themselves, creating opportunity out of whole cloth. They must have the capacity to develop innovative ideas for their research, convince funding agencies to support it, and then get well-established peers to publish their results. They have their accomplishments vetted with a scrutiny that would be hard to fathom in most other professions. What is different about professors compared to other entrepreneurs is that they are primarily motivated by their love of knowledge, teaching, and discovery. These priorities are why, despite years of salary freezes and being asked to do more with less, UConn professors have dug in to support their institution. They strongly believe in its public mission.

Finally, two classes per semester is not an arbitrary number somehow chosen for UConn; it is the global standard for a research university. To ignore this standard by increasing the teaching load would effectively transform UConn into a backwater. To remain competitive, our most productive researchers would be forced to look for work elsewhere. Over the longer term, UConn would no longer attract premier scholars, whether as teachers or as students. From economic engine and knowledge-generating hub the university would be relegated into a merely buttressing role, and over time that change would seriously diminish Connecticut’s ability to compete. The already approved cuts will wound us, but the current state budget proposal is suicide.

This editorial was written by Jennifer Terni

LCL Turns Out to Support UConn’s Core Missions: Teaching and Innovation

LCL’s faculty and graduate students turned out in force at the state’s capitol in Hartford Friday afternoon to support the core mission at UConn: providing an affordable degree to Connecticut students and to act as an engine of innovation for Connecticut now and in the future. Despite years of austerity since 2010, a period during the state has reduced its appropriation to UConn by $142 million, the university’s ranking and competiveness have consistently improved despite layoffs, pay freezes, and other cuts. Ironically, just four days prior to the budget vote, UConn received its highest-ever ranking from U.S. News & World Report, which rates the University as the 18th best public school in the country alongside the University of Texas and Purdue.
The budget approved last week by the General Assembly would reduce the state appropriation to the University of Connecticut by just shy of 30 percent from where it currently stands, meaning campuses would close, financial aid would be slashed, and thousands of jobs in the private economy would be lost.
Although the full effect of such an unprecedented cut is difficult to know, President Susan Herbst said in a message to the University community they would include the possibility of closing UConn Health (which treats 1 million patients each year) and some regional campuses; ending some Division I sports; closing some academic departments and potentially some schools and colleges; enacting major reductions to all financial aid; and ending international programs, among others. Herbst supported an earlier proposed budget that would have cut the University’s funding by $108 million over the next two years. Under the budget approved by the legislature, UConn would see its state appropriation cut by $309 million in just two years.
The adopted budget would bring the advancement that UConn has made to a halt, but its impact would not be limited to the University. According to a 2015 analysis by the Tripp Umbach research firm, UConn accounts for more than $3.4 billion worth of economic activity in Connecticut every year, and sustains one in every 90 jobs in the state, more than half of them in the private sector.

What’s more, UConn has a proven track record in keeping talented young college graduates in Connecticut, something the state has struggled to do in recent years. While more than 39,000 people between the ages of 20 and 34 left Connecticut in 2014 alone, 78 percent of recent UConn grads from Connecticut remain here.
Graduating in four years would become a significant challenge as class sizes balloon and waitlists lengthen; top Connecticut students, like the record number of valedictorians and salutatorians that were part of this year’s freshman class, would go to other states for college; and businesses ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local restaurants, which rely on UConn, would be damaged.
“It is difficult to describe how destructive the approved budget would be to UConn and higher education in Connecticut,” Herbst wrote.









Sourced from material that originally appeared in UConn Today on September 20 and 21.

Successful Eurotech Program Prepares Global Engineers

Originally published in UConn Today on April 26, 2017

For almost 25 years, UConn’s Eurotech program has turned engineering undergraduates into global citizens by allowing students to learn a language that is linked to their studies. Students in the five-year Eurotech program double major in German and an engineering discipline. They also spend a year studying at one of the universities in Baden-Württemberg, one of Germany’s states. Students are also encouraged to participate in a full-time internship in German, called a practicum. Brian Schwarz, director of experiential engineering education initiatives and co-director of the program, says the goal for Eurotech’s development is for students to seek out UConn as a destination for international engineering.

Travis Braisted ’17 (ENG, CLAS), a participant in the Eurotech Program who is currently completing his practicum at Porsche. The German language and engineering program is now serving as a model for new language-based, dual-major programs.(Michael Fiedler for UConn/File Photo)

“We want incoming freshmen to think of UConn as a place to become a global engineer,” he says. “A place where they’ll have the opportunity to integrate engineering and studying a language, a culture, and study abroad into one cohesive program.”

The Eurotech program capitalizes on a student’s interest in engineering as a way to explore a language and culture. Friedemann Weidauer, professor of German literature, cultures, and languages and co-director of Eurotech, said that approach is a natural outgrowth of how language is most effectively taught.

“The big concept is what we call content-based instruction. You take someone’s special interest in a certain field and you do that in a foreign language, because it’s much easier to motivate students,” Weidauer says. To that end, the language courses are designed to incorporate engineering topics.

Karl Music ’13 (ENG, CLAS), a graduate of the Eurotech program who currently works at Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield, Connecticut, poses next to a car at the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany

Weidauer has been involved with the program since 1998, when Eurotech only had a few students each year. Around 150 alumni have gone through the program since it was launched in 1993. Interest in the program has significantly increased recently; 120 students are currently in the program. Another 28 freshmen will join in the fall, up from 22 in the fall of 2016.

“I think we’ve really put the program on the map,” says Schwarz. “It’s a team effort that makes this program work, all of us together running like a machine.”

World Experience, Expanded Horizons

Alex Kinstler (pictured at the top) is a fifth-year senior in the program, who returned from his time in Germany last August. After spending the academic year at Tübingen University, he took part in a full-time summer practicum at Mahle, an automotive parts manufacturer in Stuttgart.

Kinstler encourages engineering students to consider the Eurotech program.

“I would recommend the Eurotech program to absolutely everyone. Even people not interested in German,” he says.

Learning about other cultures, he says, is one of the major benefits of the program. It includes getting to know students from countries outside Germany, who are also studying abroad. He says the benefit is emphasized during the practicum, since German companies have an approach and outlook on how they do business that is different from other countries.

“I think that really builds the foundation to be a successful communicator in the workplace,” Kinstler says.

Weidauer echoes Kinstler’s sentiment. He says the students who return from the year abroad are more polished, with stronger communication skills.

“They’re much better at dealing with situations that aren’t familiar to them,” Weidauer says. “The whole cultural exposure seems to also help them with social skills and communication skills.”

The practicum is where the language skills the students develop come to the fore. Five years ago, Weidauer polled Eurotech graduates, asking where in the program German language skills were most useful. The students overwhelmingly responded that the practicum was where they most needed those skills.

“Their supervisors and the company HR people will be fluent in English, but the people they work with, who can actually help them with the tools and machines, they will most likely not be fluent in English,” notes Weidauer. “That’s where they need the language skills.”

A Stable of Resources

Outside of their engineering and German coursework, Eurotech students have access to a number of resources designed to blend the two programs into a cohesive whole. One of those resources is a one-credit second-year course that studies rollercoasters. After covering the physics of rollercoasters, the class takes a trip to Six Flags New England in the fall.

“It’s not just a thrill ride,” Weidauer says. “They sit in the car with the measurement instruments and get to see the physics in action.”

In the spring, the students take a field trip to Europa-Park, Germany’s largest theme park.

UConn students in the Eurotech program pictured at the High Performance Computing Center in Stuttgart, Germany. From left, Artur Ulatowski ’14 (ENG, CLAS), ’16 MA, Stephen Kimble ’14 (ENG, CLAS), Christian Stockinger ’14 (ENG, CLAS), Kimberly Sayre ’15 (ENG), and (kneeling, behind Sayre) Robert Domin ’14 (ENG, CLAS). The person kneeling in the center is unidentified.

Weidauer also serves as director of Eurotech House, one of the UConn Living Communities, which gives students academic, social, and cultural support as they learn about international engineering.

And there is a Eurotech Club that helps students explore German culture. Schwarz says the club organizes tours of German companies with a local presence, such as Trumpf in Farmington and MTU Aerospace in Rocky Hill.

Expansion to Other Languages and Cultures

The Eurotech Program is now expanding to include a Chinese language and Spanish language program. The Engineering Spanish Program currently has its first student; and the Asiatech Program, focused on Chinese language and culture, will be launched in fall 2017. The Engineering Spanish Program takes participants to Valencia, Spain to study at Polytechnic University of Valencia, while the Chinese program will be located at Shanghai University.

Expansion into France in partnership with the Université de Toulouse will begin in the fall of 2018 and the possibility of expanding into Italy and Israel.

Until recently, Schwarz was director of advising for the School of Engineering. His title was recently changed, as the school expands these language-based, dual-major study programs.

“All of these programs are going to fall under the umbrella of an International Engineering Program,” he says.

Schwarz notes that these programs also benefit the corresponding language programs: “The Chinese program is fairly new at UConn, this will help grow the number of Chinese majors,” he says. “We’ll continue to grow these programs with them strategically.”

By Josh Garvey

For original link see:


LCL Professors Peter Constantine and Jacqueline Loss and PhD student Charles Lebel conducted the workshop on April 13th about translation and the job market organized by LANGSA. First, Professor Constantine reflected on the role of translation within the academia today and pointed to a paradigm shift that took place in 2009. Until then, translation was not much discussed in academia and had not been emphasized in people’s resumes. Catherine Porter, the President of the MLA that year, spoke about how English language literary works were not enough. Her intervention, which argued that translations played an indispensible role to transmit knowledge across linguistic disciplines, completely changed the place of literary translations within the academic world. Professor Constantine mentioned a couple of helpful resources for translators: the free guides from the PEN organization and ULTA, and the MLA’s website guidelines for peer review, ‘Evaluating translations as scholarship’.

Professor Jacqueline Loss personalized the discussing by speaking about her own experiences with translations. Even though her advisor did not encourage her to pursue translations (they were not considered scholarly articles), the process of translating brought her into contact with living writers. Translating changed her relationship with Cuba. Not only did she become more informed about the country of her research, but also about her own country, as she accessed a kind of literature, culture and language that she hadn’t been exposed to before. Professor Loss recommended that scholars limit their translations to texts from their fields of specialization so that they can use their expertise to decipher the context and flavor of the lexicon from that particular time and place. She recommended the website ‘Words without borders,’ which contains helpful tools and resources.

PhD student Charles Lebel, who worked as a translation editor for Corporate translations, a leading, life science translation firm based in East Hartford, emphasized that translation extend to many different fields, for instance the thriving area of medical translation. His advice for prospective translators was to find points of intersection between their research interests and linguistic capabilities. Based on his own working experience, Lebel stressed how reputation plays a key role in the amount of work translators receive and how much they are paid. He added that many large business organizations have in-house translators and they are in high demand. Lebel pointed to the many available online resources such as translation message boards and the online translation company The workshop ended with questions from students interested in working for the translation industry.

By Adriana Alcina

Reading/Rethinking Refugees with Sebastian Wogenstein

Sebastian Wogenstein, professor of German and Comparative Literature, presented the fourth of this year’s LCL colloquia series lectures in a talk entitled Reading/Rethinking Refugees. He began with a breakdown of the numbers of current worldwide refugees to illuminate why the issue is such a pressing one. Wogenstein referred to the refugee crisis as “one of the most urgent and consequential issues of our time,” quoting the UNHCR (2015), saying that as many as 65.3 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, 21.3 million of them, refugees. He noted that the reaction of most governments has been to close borders in order to limit influx and compares this practice to the closing of borders to Jews in World War II. Wogenstein highlighted the countries that are currently hosting large numbers of refugees, including Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan.

Wogenstein reflected mainly on the works of two authors, German-born Jewish American political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, and the Austrian playwright and novelist, Elfriede Jelinek. Through his discussion, he showed the continued relevance of Arendt’s work, especially of We Refugees originally published in the Menorah Journal in 1943 to today’s refugee crisis. Arendt’s idea that refugees live and die without leaving a trace remains particularly relevant today, Wogenstein explained. He cited statistics of refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean, numbers that are not complete of given our inability to recover every body lost at sea. What this means is that we do not know the identities of many of these victims.

Against this backdrop, Wogenstein then turned to Jelinek’s play, which draws attention to the refugee experience as an essential element of the human condition. Within Jelinek’s play, characters who are being persecuted are seen as “Jews”, though they are nothing but human beings. This points to the conclusion that in a world where only sovereignty counts, only your national belonging can protect you. “Human beings have ceased to exist in our society for a while,” stated Wogenstein, alluding to the claim supported by Jelinek’s play: national identity has taken precedence over humanity. Through his discussion of both Arendt’s and Jelinek’s work, Wogenstein forced us to rethink the refugee experience as well as the concept of human rights, both in history and the current political moment.

By Ayjan Arik

Puerto Rican Author Mayra Santos Febres Returns to UConn

The renowned Puerto Rican author, poet, and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayra Santos Febres returned to UConn on March 11 to give a talk in Spanish for undergraduate, graduate students, and faculty. Santos Febres is the author of many celebrated novels, including many she discussed in her talk: Sirena Selena vestida de pena (2000), Cualquier miércoles soy tuya (2002), Nuestra Señora de la noche (2006), and Fe en disfraz (2009).

Santos Febres insisted that much of her work focuses on forms of knowledge distinct from the Eurocentric binary system of thought. She explained the history behind this system of thought, delving into ideologies that formed during the Enlightenment from Descartes onwards. Following a line of inquiry originally introduced by Jacques Derrida, Santos Febres retraced the history of dualities that structure the Western tradition, many stemming from the division of body and the soul. The backbone of this tendency developed around a linear model of time, place, and ideas. Santos Febres illustrated her point with examples such as the movement of a classical ballerina whose posture is straight up and down, or the way in which many Western cities, such as New York, were drawn according to system of grids. Santos Febres poignantly declared, “I do not do this.”

Santos Febres’ work emphasizes the pensamiento caribeño, or the Caribbean form of thought, which focuses more on the movement, curvature, and non-linear traits of the body. Body language and types of knowledge that come from the body, not the mind gave rise, she argues, to salsa, spoken word, rap, all of which involve non-linear dynamic movements. This is one reason her work focuses on trauma, because trauma is an experience that manifests itself in the body. Santos Febres suggested that there are times when words cannot express or describe the violence that we experience. “This is where I base my novels,” she said.

Santos Febres elaborated on her favorite novel, Fe en disfraz, about an educated black woman, Fe, who represents monstrosity, a recurring idea in her novels. In her discussion of Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, Santos Febres explained how the Caribbean city suggests a fractal structure, rather than a grid. Similarly to cities, the families that interest her are also “fractal,” without form, without a center, and without a strong patriarchal line. Within Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, Santos Febres revealed that she wanted to connect the ways in which humans interact within the Caribbean city to draw a sort of relational map that revealed these fractal qualities in an attempt to create consciousness about other forms of knowledge that may be able to give form to a uniquely Caribbean reality.

By Ayjan Arik


LCL’s Assistant Professor Chunsheng George Yang presented, on March 8th, his contribution to the departmental lecture series entitled ‘Acquiring the pronunciation of second language Chinese’. Since his graduate studies, Dr. Yang has been interested in language pronunciation and has wondered why people have an accent when speaking a second language. His pedagogical research examines the relationship between the first language and speech. During his talk, Dr. Yang spoke about how our accent in a second language (L2) is likely to become stronger the older we learn it, and how our first language (L1) will influence the second one we acquire.


In his research, Professor Yang named two important factors that affect L2 speech learning: the phonetic similarity between our first and second language, and the effect of the number of sounds and vowels comprising our mother tongue. He explained that if we lacked a sound in our first language, we might not be able to detect it in the second language; on the other hand, if our native language had a similar sound, we could struggle to produce it because we might put it together with another sound. In that sense, he said, the new sound can turn out to be easier than the similar one. As an example, he spoke about Japanese learners of English who struggle to pronounce the ‘r’ sound because it does not exist in their own language. Dr. Yang emphasized the importance of lexicon, as it helps to discern differences.


Two of his latest studies tested the effect of sound inventory size on L2 speech learning and showed that L2 learners with a larger and more complex L1 vowel inventory were better at L2 vowel learning than those whose first language had a smaller vowel inventory. Professor Yang exposed the complexity of mastering the tone system in Mandarin Chinese, which might lead learners to misunderstandings. He compared the 4 tones of Chinese to the 3 tones of Yoruba language and 5 tones of Thai language and shared the results of his cross-linguistic study with Yoruba and Thai learners of Mandarin Chinese. He found that Yoruba learners made more tone errors than Thai learners, supporting his theory based on tone inventory size and phonetic similarity. Between the two factors, sound inventory size seemed to be a better L2 learning predictor than phonetic similarity, although more research needs to be conducted in this area.


Lastly, Dr. Yang argued that L2 speech learning is a very complicated task and that learners’ proficiency level depends on a series of individual, social and affective factors. In addition, motivation, talent and age also play a fundamental role in learning a language. He concluded that in ESL studies, accentedness does not correlate with neither intelligibility nor comprehensibility, which are the ultimate goals of language learners.


By Adriana Alcina

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