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Katharina von Hammerstein: Women’s Perspectives on Colonial War

On November 29, Katharina von Hammerstein gave the second presentation in LCL’s Colloquia series on “Women Writing War: Polyphony on Violence in the German-Herero Colonial War.” A professor of German studies, von Hammerstein’s areas of expertise include literature and culture from the eighteenth to the early twentieth-century, women’s literature, and (post)colonial German-African connections. In her talk, she demonstrated the many ways in which both German and Herero women made sense of and attempted to come to terms with the eruption of violence in former German South West Africa (today’s Namibia).

Building on Johan Galtung’s concept of violence, von Hammerstein explained how structural violence from the German side led to the Herero and Nama uprising in 1904. During this uprising, Herero and Nama targeted white men as the “representatives of [oppressive] power,” including settlers and soldiers. They nonetheless explicitly spared women and children, often even bringing them to safety in the midst of violence. In contrast, the German response was merciless and driven by a racist ideology. Few voiced any protest about it with the exception of the German socialist politician August Bebel. The twentieth century’s first genocide was therefore carried out unopposed under the leadership of the now infamous general Lothar von Trotha who killed black men, women, and children alike. Herero and Nama people were deliberately driven from their homes, left to perish in the Omaheke desert or in concentration camps.

While the women’s perspectives differed depending on which side of the conflict they found themselves on, there are parallels in the ways they frame their interpretations. The white German voices von Hammerstein presented were those of settler wives. Else Sonnenberg, for instance, vividly describes the horrors of witnessing the murder of her husband and the looting of her home during the rebellion. Von Hammerstein argued that Sonnenberg foregrounds her victimhood while at the same time claiming agency in helping to “write colonial history.” Testimonies from Herero women are harder to find not only in terms of the quantity of records left, but also in their accessibility to Western scholars. They exist in form of interviews, songs, or oral histories in Otjiherero, the Herero language. Herero women bewail their traumatic losses like the white women, depicting their victimhood through the atrocities against themselves and their people. They, too, express agency in supporting, preserving, and advocating for their community. The critical difference between the two groups of women and their testimonies, von Hammerstein concluded in her compelling talk, resided in the role race played in the colonizing dynamic: while the white womens’ lives were “respected in their precariousness,” black lives did not matter to German imperialists. The advances in “emancipation” for German women in Africa “[thus came] at the expense of non-whites.”

Susan Einbinder Speaks on The Black Death to Initiate LCL Lecture Series

On October 11, Susan Einbinder inaugurated this year’s LCL Lecture Series with her talk “Bone, Stone, and Text: Tàrrega 1348.” Eibinder, who is a professor of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and of Comparative Literature, has earned many of the most prestigious fellowships in the humanities including a Guggenheim, and fellowships at the Center for Advanced Studies at Princeton and at the National Center for the Humanities in Research Triangle Park, NC among others. Her talk presented a case study from her forthcoming book After the Black Death: Plague and Commemoration among Iberian Jews (University of Pennsylvania, 2018) that explores the history of Jewish persecution and its representations during the Black Death in Spain.

Eibinder’s talk gracefully layered archeological findings, a patchy historical record, and eyewitness representations of the events, some of them poetic, to weave together a complex narrative about a massacre of Jews that occurred at Tàrrega, just north of Barcelona, following an outbreak of the plague in 1348. Einbinder reconstructs what she can of the sequence of causes and motives leading to and then following from the massacre. As she does so, she articulates what is particular about the massacre in Tàrrega even as she connects it to a longer chain of Jewish persecutions in response to the Black Death across Europe. Her careful vetting of the evidence then itself becomes a platform from which she asks her audience to recognize conventions that tend to organize testimonies about persecution and violence. She describes how such narratives tend to cast victims and victimizers in fairly stark opposition for reasons that include scriptural tradition, poetic, cultural, and narrative convention, as well as a psychological need to apportion blame unambiguously.

The case of Tàrrega was one in which the violence against Jews was particularly unsparing, and yet, even here we find deviations from the script that neatly divides antagonists and victims. Though the murders at Tàrrega were at least partly the result of religious intolerance among its Catholic inhabitants, counter-intuitively the Catholic court stepped in to punish the perpetrators, including even the mayor and other notables. And yet, although the court imposed fines and required that the town reconstruct its Jewish Quarter, in the end, it never followed through on most of its sanctions. As a result, the few records that have come down to us suggest that those Jews who did survive did not feel safe enough to return to their former homes. And though the evidence suggests a harrowing level of persecution, it turns out that many towns did not experience the levels of violence witnessed in Tàrrega. Ultimately, Einbinder’s work points to a need for special attention when we encounter persecution narratives, not in the aim of dismissing them, but instead with an eye towards restoring what we can of the specificity that they often conceal. What is at stake is not only a better understanding of the causes of ethnic violence, but also a better history and knowledge of how language is used to mobilize, commemorate, denounce or rationalize collective violence.

~JT

Silke Graefnitz: Bringing Research into Action

Silke Graefnitz is a fifth year PhD candidate in LCL’s German section, specializing in human rights, intercultural studies, and German literature. Silke completed her BA and MA at the University of Tübingen, not far from where she was born in Southern Germany. Her university

studies sprang from her passion for literature and learning languages: she has studied French, English, and Japanese in addition to her native German. In her mind, learning a language is beneficial in working towards intercultural competence. As her studies advanced at the University of Tübingen, she focused on comparative approaches to topics including human rights, fascist ideologies and women in theater and literature.

Between 2010 and 2013, Silke supplemented her studies by working part-time in international departments at Mercedes-Benz and Bosch. Her positions at Bosch and Mercedes reflected her academic research interests and allowed her to apply these interests to professional contexts. Silke was responsible for leading intercultural training sessions which provided an overview of cultural differences as well as techniques for communicating and collaborating so that the companies’ intercultural projects could flourish. She says that providing intercultural training and working with colleagues across the globe was one of her “favorite things to do”.

Since arriving at UConn in 2013, Silke has continued research in cross-cultural studies and intercultural competence. She collaborated with a group of colleagues on a project under the supervision of Professor Manuela Wagner in which they redesigned foreign language curriculum. Silke contributed to a book about the process and the findings of this project, titled Teaching Intercultural Competence Across Age Range, which was published in November, 2017. After her first two years at UConn, Silke took on an assistantship with Community Outreach, the Human Rights Institute and First Year Programs. During this time, she worked with the Human Rights and Action Learning Community which promotes student engagement and leadership as well as community outreach. She has taught undergraduate courses on these subjects and has co-organized events such as workshops around the Implicit Bias Exhibition and the Race and Revolution Art Exhibition on multiple UConn campuses.

Her current literary scolarship focuses on war, self-writing and female agency. This work involves analyzing texts in which women, especially those from marginalized cultural groups, bring their life stories to a broader context by writing. She is in the final stages of writing her dissertation Writing the Self, War Studies and Human Rights in German Literature. Silke is dedicated to translating her research into action, not only by way of teaching, but also by volunteering, engaging with community and listening to the community’s voices. She points out

that it is one thing to analyze and write about how women seize their voices, but another to actually listen to them. “That’s what I love about my research,” she says. “my dissertation is very specific, but I live it every day”.

By Claire Boers

Faculty Feature: Meet Nicola Carpentièri

Nicola Carpentieri joined our department as Assistant Professor and Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies this fall. He comes to UConn after having held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona and Research Associate position at the University of Manchester following his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Born and raised in Italy, he became aware of linguistic diversity and the multiple registers used to address people during his childhood. His mother, a high school teacher of literature and Latin, encouraged his curiosity for languages, particularly dead ones. This said, when it came to choosing a field of studies, he did not go with the classics. He felt a need to engage with a question that was too often ignored. “In school we learnt that Italian literature was born in Sicily, that there were Provençal troubadours”, he said. But where did these troubadours come from? While a mainstream academic discourse conveniently neglected the Arabic literary tradition in Sicily, Nicola was intrigued by the cultural overlaps and intersections of the medieval ages. Over the years, he has honed a research focus on medieval Arabic poetry in the Western Mediterranean, within a broader interest in Islam in the West and in the transmission of medical theories on psychosomatics from Greek to Arabic into Latin. The working title of his upcoming monograph reads “From Imru ‘l-Qays to Dante: the Poetry and Poetics of Muslim Sicily”.

This semester he is teaching two Arabic courses: one in advanced composition and one special topics class. “People suggested to offer more modern courses – and I am going to. Next semester there will be a course about Arabic cinema”, Nicola said. Nevertheless, he found that his students are actually fascinated by the medieval material. They are covering folktales, science, and songs this semester, which has resulted in a 50% increase in enrollment in one of his classes. Starting out with only two students, he is now working with five, and they are eager to learn more about medieval cultures and literatures. The enthusiasm Nicola sees in UConn’s students has been a pleasant surprise for him.

When I asked him about his biggest academic accomplishment, he was hesitant to reply. It is more of an ongoing undertaking, he says, of trying to make knowledge available beyond academic circles. So he would love to be asked for cool facts about the history of medicine at the next dinner party if he is not busy talking about music or playing his flamenco guitar. We saw this side of Nicola at our beginning of the year BBQ. One colleague mentioned later with a smile: “There are not many people who show up to their first social event on a new job with a ukulele.”

Revenge, Love, and Sacrifice: BOT Distinguished Professor Patrick Hogan on Style, Story Universals, and Shakespeare’s Integration of Genres

What do we mean when we talk about an author’s style? This question was served up as the starting point of Professor Patrick Hogan’s Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Lecture on October 16. Hogan, an English and Comparative Literature professor at UConn for 30 years, provided a close look at one of the most commonly used terms of literary analysis. In order to understand what it is exactly that lets us recognize stylistic differences between literary works, Hogan used a structuralist approach and related his findings to the writings of William Shakespeare.

Style, Hogan defined, is a “distinctive pattern” which you may identify in a single work like James Joyce’s Ulysses or in a literary movement like Realism. At best, Hogan continued, style “is […] isolated by reference to a set of partially interrelated, generative principles”. A particular word choice, perspective, sequence of action, and more are generative principles that make up literary style. In his talk, Hogan zoomed in on genre.

In earlier works, he developed a working description of genre-as-prototype. Hogan detects so-called story universals that appear to have psychological significance across cultures, namely: romantic, heroic, sacrificial, familial, seduction, and revenge and criminal investigation stories. While literary works may focus predominantly on just one of those prototypes, Hogan argues that Shakespeare’s style is characterized by the integration of various story universals. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, combines basically all of them. Notably, we don’t find distinct subplots that deal with love, sacrifice, family, etc. one after the other. Instead we see how Shakespeare actually intertwines the genres and, in this way, motivates the plot. Here the hero Romeo kills Tybalt in an act of revenge, which leads to Romeo’s exile and the separation from Juliet. The lovers’ sacrifice will eventually reconcile the political feud embedded in their love story. In the discussion following his talk, Hogan elaborated that this mixing of genres complicates our interpretation with regard to the goals and motivations of protagonists. Did Hamlet, for instance, love Ophelia or did he merely seduce her? Shakespeare’s complex integration of revenge, familial, and heroic genres, Hogan suggests, allows both readings.

 

By Maria Reger