Author: Terni, Jennifer

LCL Professor Shines Light on Massacre of Herero and Nama People

Katharina von Hammerstein, Professor of German Studies, and a member of UConn’s Human Rights Institute was interviewed by Courthouse News about a lawsuit being pursued at the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York against Germany. The lawsuit concerns the massacres of the Herero and Nama people in what is today Namibia (Africa) by German troops between 1904-1908. This less-known genocide was the first genocide of the twentieth century.


Documenting the treatment of the Herero people at the hands of German colonists has been a focus of Professor von Hammerstein’s research for the past several years. She has published on testimonies surrounding the Herero genocide by survivors and the statements of the descendants of victims as well as on sources documenting the views of German colonists describing these same events.


We are providing a link to the fascinating story about the role of U.S. Courts in mediating claims for reparations here:

The Practical Side: Equipping Graduate Students for Jobs

The Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages welcomes a mix of Masters and Ph.D. students in German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Comparative Literature (which includes a Chinese Studies Program). Graduate students in programs in the humanities are well aware that the employment landscape has shifted decisively in the past twenty to thirty years. This said, MA and PhD students have very different goals and needs. MA students tend to come to the program to explore an interest in advanced studies and to take time to chart a career path while studying, working, and upgrading their credentials. As a result, they tend to be fairly comfortable using their degrees as steppingstones for a broad array of non-academic careers. Although some still come with the intention of using their degrees as springboards for language teaching careers (a well-compensated sector which has recently seen an upsurge in demand) our MAs graduate and work in fields as diverse as politics, university administration, translation, publishing, artifact conservation, and business.


The level of specialization that is the hallmark of the Ph.D. poses more challenges, but also potentially more rewards, when entering the job market. Most students enter doctoral programs with the idea of pursuing a career in education, academia, government, or in a wide range of fields that require an advanced understanding of the intersections between culture, language, media, and the arts. To this end, LCL offers doctoral students hands-on preparation for teaching, doing research, and also for identifying and communicating with researchers who are the lifeblood of any field and which, in many cases, form a global community. The good news is that the proficiencies students will need for the academic market involves an impressive range of skills. The practical flexibility and the excellent communication skills that PhDs must hone for their teaching and writing make them extremely valuable contributors in a wide array of professional environments.


In 2016 LCL developed a specialized course to prepare doctoral students for the different arenas that PhD candidates have to navigate—conferences, grant writing, publishing, teaching—if they plan to prepare for academic jobs. This course, Scholarship and the Profession, was taught for a second time last fall. It was designed by LCL’s Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Jacqueline Loss. The course is recommended for all starting PhD candidates. Students are given the full picture of the steps students must take to build an academic career. One of the strategies Professor Loss uses to help students manage this challenge is to ask them to develop a five-year plan for their graduate studies, charting the benchmarks they would like to hit for each year.


The first step for incoming Ph.D.’s is to develop a compelling topic for their project. In a structured series of collaborative workshops, Professor Loss teaches students how to recognize good research topics, how to perform in-depth literature reviews, and how to devise methods for conducting research that are appropriate to the topic. The rest of the course is devoted to preparing students with the hands-on experience that is necessary for actually getting that research done, i.e. by writing abstracts and grant applications, learning how to identify venues (and thus by extensions audiences) for publishing their work, and, towards the end of the course, gaining some hands-on practice in the unwritten rules for the preparation of academic CVs, job letters, interviews, and job talks.


Loss also adopts a practical approach to prepare students for the job market. For instance, she shows that writing job documents (whether a cover letters or a teaching statement) requires a familiarity with the conventions of technical writing: ideas need to be articulated with precision and clarity. By working through multiple drafts, doing peer-review sessions, and getting constructive feedback at each step, students learn how to create their own job documents. This exercise is also lesson in genre writing since the conventions of professional writing are distinct from other genres of academic writing in which there is more space to develop ideas. The course also helps students in a number of other practical ways, training them to navigate standard academic job databases, use reliable online sources for academic job support like ChronicleVitae and Higheredjobs, and provides them with a first-hand taste of what it means to interview for academic jobs.


Senior graduate students in different phrases of their projects are frequent guests in Loss’s course. They coach younger Ph.D. students on how to present their work in conferences, to write prospectuses and to share their strategies to manage time and the pressures of graduate school as productively as possible. International students in the program help provide perspective on the nuances of the style and structure of the American academic system. While this process can appear daunting for new PhD candidates, it is helpful to gain a realistic picture of the pressures on the horizon. Gaining confidence in the various skills that will eventually make for a well-rounded professional help PhD students feel that they equipped to apply for talks, grants, and jobs.


Overall, graduate students see this course as a much-needed opportunity to not just think about how to make the most of their degrees, but also how to strengthen their overall academic profiles. Michael Pfremmer, a second year Ph.D. student in German confessed that taking the class was an eye-opening experience. While he will only be entering the job market in a few years, he found the course invaluable in making him think about the next steps in preparing his profile. Xiaoqiao Xu, a second year PhD student in CLCS found it useful in making her aware of the many opportunities that graduate students have in strengthening their academic portfolios. “Before the class, I was not aware of the importance of conferences for graduate students.” Taking the course helped her polish practical skills like writing an abstract or identifying conferences for which she should apply and reinforced the importance of such extra-curricular activities at the graduate level. She has now applied for two major conferences. Although it brings up certain fears students have in confronting the job market, it also prepares them to address them systematically in productive and fruitful ways.

Daniel Hershenzon Awarded Fellowship at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies

The Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages is very proud to announce that Daniel Hershenzon has been awarded a fellowship at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies for the academic year 2019-2020. This is one of the most prestigious fellowships in North America.


Professor Hershenzon joined UConn in 2012 after having received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan. He has won many fellowships over his young career, most recently at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute and the Bard Graduate Center. Before coming to UConn, and among many other prizes, he earned a Max Weber Post Doctoral Fellowship at the European University Institute and a Bernadotte Schmitt Research Grant from the American Historical Association. His work has appeared in Past and Present, the Journal of Early Modern History and Philological Encounters.


His new project builds on the work of his first book The Captive Sea: Slavery, Commerce and Communication in Early Modern Spain and the Mediterranean (University of Pennsylvania Press), but shifts emphasis to the unstable status of religious objects often looted, sold, or held for ransom side-by-side with people.


In his abstract for Institute for Advanced Studies, Captive Objects: Religious Artifacts and Piracy in the Early Modern Mediterranean, Hershenzon describes

how religious artifacts trapped in the maritime plunder economy became the contentious subject of conflicting claims by a host of actors. Religious artifacts—Korans and Bibles, prayer shawls, crosses, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and relics—circulated in their thousands in the early modern western Mediterranean, crisscrossing the boundaries between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This mobility was largely a byproduct of piracy to which 2 to 3 million persons from all sides fell fate between 1500 and 1800 and which intertwined Spain, Italy, Morocco, and Ottoman Algiers. Reconstructing objects’ trajectories and their involvement in human trafficking sheds new light on the experience of captivity and the practice of redemption, of both people and objects. More importantly, the project argues, the captivity of religious artifacts turned objects previously isolated in their respective realms into contentious objects that formed a distinct category and acted as religious boundary markers within and among confessions.


The Department warmly congratulates him for this notable distinction.

Women’s Patronage: Wielding Power in Sixteenth-Century Spain

Rosa-Helena Chinchilla gave the opening lecture in the third year of the LCL’s Faculty Lecture Series. Professor Chinchilla specializes in Golden Age Spanish Poetry and Prose, Spanish Humanism and religious life in colonial Guatemalan culture. Her talk presented the final stage of a new book project on women’s literary patronage in sixteenth-century Spain. (She received the contract from Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs-Delaware UP).

Literary historians have acknowledged the role of famous women patrons. Chinchilla looks, however, to deepen our understanding of how they acquired the influence, education, and wealth they needed to launch their own projects or to nurture the works of others. The women she described were all from prominent aristocratic or royal families, most spoke many languages and had extensive educations, some modeled on humanist ideals. All took advantage of their educations and proximity to power to contest for control over their financial affairs often in legal conflicts over inheritances with sons, as was the case with Mencía de Mendoza y Figueroa (1421-1499) and Mencía de Mendoza y Fonseca (1508-1554). Both were able to separate and restore some of the property brought to their marriages or even acquired through it, and this wealth in turn became the source of endowments, gifts and protections. Political skills were as important as wealth for patronage to be effective. Princess Joanna, who was married to Prince John of Portugal before she returned to Spain as queen regent in 1554, proved her mettle in protecting religious luminaries like the Dominican preacher Louis of Granada and the newly established order of the Jesuits. Her interventions on behalf of the Jesuits were so effective that she was secretly and exceptionally inducted into the all-male order in honor of that protection.

The abilities and energy that allowed these women to maneuver in political and legal systems designed to limit women’s power were no doubt part and parcel of why they went on to develop and support a rich array of landmark cultural projects. Chinchilla’s highlights Juana of Aragon’s patronage of the first Spanish translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy by Pedro Fernández de Villegas; Mercia de Mendoza y Fonseca’s support of the poet Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, and many works of botany and the second Spanish edition of a Greek grammar; Maria Enriquez de Luna founded institutions, the Santa-Clara convent and a colegiata both in Gandía. These women and others also supported the production of a devotional works, volumes of poetry, religious letters, books of hours. They commissioned paintings, sculpture, and buildings and in so doing helped to shape the cultural heritage of Spain. In exploring their contributions, Professor Chinchilla seeks to shed light on the vital roles women played in early modern cultural production.

Spotlight: Jacqueline Loss

Dr. Jacqueline Loss, professor of Latin American Literary and Culture Students and the Director of Graduate Studies at LCL, is an internationally published researcher and educator. She is the author of two books, numerous articles and book chapters and is the coeditor of one collection of essays and another anthology of short stories. Her primary research interests include Cuban literature, history, and culture, and she has translated into English the works of many prominent Cuban writers and artists such as Víctor Fowler Calzada, Ernesto René Rodríguez, Jorge Miralles, Jorge Mañach, and Anna Lidia Vega Serova.


Born in Connecticut, Loss developed a love for literature in translation from Latin America at a very early age. While Spanish is not her native language, she gained a familiarity with it early through her extended family. Her great-aunt, originally from Austria, had emigrated to Mexico, and her maternal grandfather, also an Austrian refugee, spoke Spanish fluently, attending to his many Spanish-speaking patients as a doctor in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “From the moment I learned to read,” Loss confessed, “I poured over books and started using literature as a means to escape.” She went on to do her undergraduate studies in Hispanic and Continental European Literatures at Boston University, where, through the guidance of some wonderful mentors, professors of Spanish themselves, she started speculating about a career as a professor. She carried out her graduate studies in comparative literature at the University of Texas at Austin.


In her research, Loss threads a delicate balance between her work in cultural studies, theory, and as a translator. Rather than having theory imposed on translation or having translations being wholly disconnected from theory, she believes in finding a middle path where both act as organic foils to each other allowing for the exploration of interesting questions of identity, politics, and history. Her second book, Dreaming in Russian: The Cuban Soviet Imaginary weaves this balance in exploring how Cubans remember the approximately three decades of diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba and how they shaped the histories, identities, cultures, and linguistic orientations of Cubans both on the island and in diaspora. Drawing on interviews with Cuban artists and scholars along with resources from cinema and archival collections, Loss paints a rich tapestry of Cuban cultural heritage that shows how many in the island (and abroad) still retain aspects of the Soviet era in negotiating their lives, identities, and social relationships. Similarly, her translations highlight a range of complex psychological states, historical heritages, and personal testimonies that capture the diverse postcolonial and post-Soviet experiences of Cubans and Cuban Americans. They particularly show how such experiences can provide valuable interventions in thinking about theoretical questions related to local and global discourses of identity politics.


Loss’s interest in translation studies has also made its way into her classroom. She believes that effective teaching involves collaborative thinking and maintaining a dialogue with students that sometimes takes everyone out of their comfort zones. In her classes, students not only read and engage Latin American literatures and histories both in Spanish and in translation, they are also encouraged to be translators themselves, to gain a first-hand experience about challenges and rewards of working with multiple languages and cultural contexts. She recalls that a few years ago in a writing seminar, filled largely with seniors and Spanish majors, students collaborated with one another and with her in carrying out a rough initial translation of a canonical essay by Jorge Mañach. From this act of translating,” she notes, “students learned not just about history, literature, and translation theory, but also about how to transplant early twentieth century registers of Cuban writing into US English.” Students also made use of various digital tools, and were fortunate enough to hear first-hand from several expert guests, including our very own librarian Marisol Ramos. Praising the guest lecturers that influenced her strongly throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies, Loss tries to regularly invite scholars and artists to our department. Since the class, Loss has been steadily revising this translation. In fact, it has recently been published by Linkgua in Barcelona, Spain, with acknowledgements to the contributions of all of her students. In the near future, she hopes to offer a translation studies class at the graduate level where she envisions doing similar collaborative work with students.


Arnab Dutta Roy

Spotlight: Simone Puleo

Simone Maria Puleo is a PhD candidate in the Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies section of LCL. He is a native of Palermo, Sicily and moved to the United States when his parents decided to relocate their pastry business, living briefly in New York and Connecticut before settling in South Florida. Before coming to UConn Simone obtained a BA and an MA in English at Florida Atlantic University. After the bustle of Boca Raton, Simone loved the tranquility at the University of Connecticut.


Growing up in the United States, Simone was exposed to English novels, such as Lord of the Flies, while in the American school system. At home he had access to many classics of Italian literature, such as Dante’s Divina Commedia. When he applied to CLCS at UConn, Simone decided to build on the interdisciplinary approach acquired during his undergraduate degree to bring together his interests in English Literature and in his Italian roots. He has found a real home in CLCS because it has provided him with the freedom to pursue work across disciplines: he is working under Wayne Franklin in English, Sarah Winter in CLCS, and with Norma Bouchard, an Italian professor previously in LCL who is now Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at San Diego State University.


Reflecting on his hybrid of cultural background, Simone developed an interest in works at the intersection of Italian and American literatures and cultures. He decided to explore an unusual vein of nineteenth-century travel writing—Americans traveling to Italy during the Risorgimento (the Italian Unification Movement). These visitors to Italy arrived during a moment when liberal and anti-clerical political sentiments were on the rise. The Americans travelers, mostly of Protestant background, tended to fall into two categories: those that saw Italy as an “open-air museum” that fetishized Italian artworks and the legend of the Renaissance, and the travelers who enjoyed art and history, but who were more invested in its people, in contemporary Italian politics, and in what was happening in Italian society. This latter group of travelers, including the famed transcendentalist author Margaret Fuller, became active in the political debates of the Risorgimento instead of contenting themselves with a more superficial cultural engagement.


Simone brings his personal interests and bi-cultural background into the classes he teaches and to his music. He’s played music his whole life, experimenting with genres ranging from Brazilian percussion to punk rock. While he says that he sees his music as a “respite from academic work,” the two nonetheless inform each other. He uses the poetry and the poetics he has internalized while studying literature to help him write lyrics for his songs. His tendency to merge disciplines has not only been beneficial to his music, it has also shaped his approach to teaching. In a twentieth-century Italian literature class he taught recently, Simone had his students look for visual representations of the cityscapes in Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities. From this vantage point, students could reflect on the connections between modes of storytelling whether oral written, or visual. Simone believes that the merging of fields is essential to cultivating geopolitical and critical awareness in the students.

Valerio Cappozzo’s Medieval Dream Dictionary

The Italian Studies and the Medieval Studies programs welcomed the return of Valerio Cappozzo to present his just release book, Dizionario dei sogni nel medoevo: Il Somniale Danielis in manoscritti letterari (Dream Dictionary of the Middle Ages: the Somniale Danielis in literary manuscripts). Dr Cappozzo directs the Italian Language program at The University of Mississippi. He had presented the early results of his work during a visit to UConn in 2007. Although passionate about how dream symbolism relates to literature, he joked that his project had been such a long time coming that it had “become a real nightmare” for him.

Cappozzo discussed the significance of dreams and how the interpretation of symbols found in dreams can be applied to literature to make sense of an author’s intentions. We know people have been interpreting dreams since at least the beginning of representation and in that history, there is a remarkable coherence between dream interpretations and dreamed symbol archetypes. He used “tooth” as an example for a dream symbol: between 1220 BC Egypt and today, losing a tooth has been consistently viewed as a bad omen, most often as a premonition of death. He notes that the desire to find meanings in dreams was as manifest in the Middle Ages as it is now, though the frameworks for exploring this has changed profoundly due to vast transformation in culture, science, and religion since then. That dreams retain a certain symbolic consistency over time despite that change is one reason we keep returning to them.

In his talk Dr Cappozzo focused on the dream symbols found in the Somniale Danielis, “the Dreams of Daniel”, a book of symbols used by Daniel in the Book of Daniel to interpret dreams he believed to be prophetic. He then went on to an analysis of the dream symbols in the Divina Commedia a work in which dreams are used systematically to foreshadow events later in the cycle.

Prof Cappozzo said that there is a disconnect between dreams and reality that makes it difficult to establish simple equations between them the link between the one and the other. While dreams can recall fragments of reality, they do so following an unconscious logic of their own. In the original manuscript of Somniale Danielis, the complexity of dreams is reduced to a series of symbolic structures in order to make their potential meanings more available. Dr Cappozzo concluded with a quote from Cinderella to encapsulate one of the reasons he believes we keep searching for their meaning: “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

by Olivia Merchen

Translating Cuban Letters with Kristin Dykstra and Anna Kushner

On September 12th, the award-winning translators, Anna Kushner and Kristin Dykstra, spoke about the challenges of translating Cuban works for an English-speaking audience in the US in an event titled “Translating Cuban Letters” hosted by LCL. Kushner is the translator of prominent Cuban works such as The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes, and The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales. Dykstra is a writer, literary translator, and scholar who has translated authors including Reina María Rodríguez, Juan Carlos Flores, and Angel Escobar among others. Both the speakers emphasized that the work of a translator does not only involve an attention to differences in language, but also to the contexts in which language makes meaning.

The translators discussed translation as a mode of understanding and making visible the immense diversity in the diasporic experiences of Cubans and Cuban Americans both within and beyond the United States. Kushner used the example of her translation of The Halfway House to emphasize how Guillermo Rosales captures many of these experiences in stories that include meditations on complex psychological states, crisscrossing cultural narratives, and interweaving histories involving the US, Cuba, Spain, and Russia. Dykstra, on the other hand, foregrounded the way her work helped to break stereotypical perceptions of Cuban culture, replacing the images of “mojitos and old cars” with new narratives that capture the diverse lived experiences of the people of Cuba. Translating figures like Rodrigues, Flores, and Escobar, each from different regions of Cuba, has allowed her to offer a more complex image of the island’s many cultures and peoples.

The event garnered an active participation from an audience that included LCL faculty and graduate students. Professors including Jacqueline Loss, Odette Casamayor-Cisneros, and Peter Constantine enriched the conversation by sharing their views on issues ranging from the challenges and rewards of translating across linguistic and cultural barriers, the institutional and identity politics of translation to the future of translation studies within the broader fields of the humanities and the social sciences in the US.

by Arnab Roy

LCL Lecture: Valérie Saugera and the Secret Language of Butchers

On February 21st, Professor Valérie Saugera described her current research on “Louchébem,” a secret language spoken by Parisian butchers. Saugera has expertise in lexical borrowing and has published widely on Anglicisms in the French language. In this new project she marries linguistic and ethnographic research to explore a trade argot that many considered dead. Saugera’s research shows that it is still alive and used by a significant number of butchers in Paris.

Saugera first heard about Louchébem over ten years ago in a sociolinguistics class, while doing her Ph.D. She describes Louchébem as a “means of disguising words from the common language so as not to be understood by customers.” It relies on a code: speakers replace the first consonant in a French word with the letter “L”, move the original consonant to the end, and attach one of ten suffixes to it. Thus, when you apply this rule to the word boucher (‘butcher’), it produces the form Louchébem.  In her lecture, Saugera focused primarily on the linguistic mechanics of Louchébem and the reasons for using it in butcher shops today.

We know that Louchébem emerged in the second part of the nineteenth century in one of the oldest guilds in France; the butchers organized themselves into a guild as early as the eleventh century. Studying what is essentially an oral practice, “means accepting gaps in the data and unanswered questions,” Saugera says. The “literature is sparse… There is a plethora of myths and tales,” she adds. Only a few articles are available on the topic, but via a wide corpus of interviews, Saugera has been able to uncover many details about this supposedly dead argot.

Saugera has interviewed 153 Louchébem speakers in their traditional butcher shops. What is most fascinating is that some of the butchers she interviewed do not know how Louchébem is formed, they have simply acquired memorized words – a finding that she describes as the “most surprising” thus far. She has also learned from the interviews that, because butchers in France are traditionally male, female family members usually have only a passive knowledge of it; that is, they can often understand it, but do not speak it.

Butchery is a declining industry due to the rise of vegetarianism/veganism, competition of halal butcher shops, scandals with slaughterhouses, among many reasons. Therefore, another question Saugera will pose in her ongoing research concerns the consequences of losing a trade argot like Louchébem and why it is crucial to save these “micro-languages”. According to one of her interviewees, “… in some ways the practice of Louchébem is a miracle of its own”.

by Clare Boers

Spotlight Sherry Shamash

Sherry Shamash, a beloved instructor of Hebrew has been teaching in LCL for more than 35 years. A Massachusetts native, Sherry earned an MA in Religion from Smith College with a concentration on Jews in the Muslim World. She became a full-time faculty member in the LCL department in 2012.

She is recognized for her dedication to teaching. Her priory, she explains, is “to communicate enthusiasm and get students excited.” In her three classes – elementary, intermediate, and advanced Hebrew – she continually ties her language lessons to current and historic global events. Each semester, her students give an oral presentation. In the first semester, they act out a skit, in the second they tell a story, in the third they produce a commercial, and in the fourth they prepare a cooking presentation. In the advanced courses, the students choose a special topic or period and Sherry designs the course content accordingly. One semester the class covered the Jewish experience during Islamic rule in Spain. Another semester, Sherry discussed the Six-Day War and how popular songs reflect on the events. “This was very emotional at times,” she recalls, “because the students watched videos that re-enacted tragic events during the war.” This year Sherry’s class chose Israeli humor. “There is so much material!” she says, some of which includes short videos or little jokes that stem directly from the WhatsApp conversations between her and her family in Israel.

When it comes to student enrollment, Sherry wishes that there was more cross-pollination between the different sections and departments. “There are so many archaeological excavations in Israel, for instance,” Sherry says, “and knowing some Hebrew would be very useful to students in anthropology.” However, she is aware that students do not always have a lot of flexibility in their schedules to study languages on the side. In the case of Hebrew, she wants students to know that they should not be intimidated by the alphabet. “It is completely phonetic,” she explains, “and students master it within the first two weeks.” Her students all have very different backgrounds, “but everyone who makes the effort succeeds and I am always willing to give extra help.” A nice treat for her students is the movie night she organizes each year. The students do different assessments of the films depending on their level and she brings dinner for them. To see her teaching in action and to hear some of her students describe their experiences in class, take a look at the short video “Why Hebrew?”, produced and posted by UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies.


By Maria Reger