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

German Studies Professor Makes Climate Change a Humanistic Field

Have you been worried about rising global temperatures? Concerned about fossil fuel emissions? Perhaps distressed by the destruction of the Earth due to climate change? Good news: Professor Sabine von Mering discussed a more positive outlook on climate change and what is being done to stop it in her talk “The Good News About Climate Change” on Thursday afternoon.

Von Mering, a professor of German studies at Brandeis University, presented a hopeful discussion of the measures Germany and other European countries are undertaking to halt climate change. She spoke on how the world can look to Germany as a leader in creating sensible, environmentally-friendly policies.

To start her presentation, von Mering passed out index cards and instructed the audience to write down any words that they associated with climate change. When she asked for some words, the audience members gave her such words as “ozone,” “greenhouse gas” and “fracking.”

She then asked the audience members for words that described their desires for their future and the future of their children. This request elicited such words as “health,” “happiness” and “safety.”

Von Mering noted the difference between the two groups of words, stating that the first set was more scientific and the second set was more general and included things most people want for themselves and for others. She used this difference to launch her discussion on why climate change needs to be considered a socio-cultural problem. She insisted the scientific debate about whether climate change is happening is over and the people who study culture must now advocate for environmentally-friendly ways of living.

“Climate change belongs in the humanities,” von Mering said.

Throughout her talk, von Mering discussed the proven ways of mitigating climate change, including building renewable energy infrastructure, using public transportation, consuming less and from local sources, eating a plant-based diet with less dairy and meat and, perhaps most controversially, she noted, family planning.

During her discussion, von Mering gave examples of how Germans are leading the fight against climate change and pollution. For instance, she played a video taken in the town of Vauben, a German city in which traffic patterns were rearranged so one part of the city was free from noise pollution. This allowed residents to better appreciate nature. She also noted similar action taken in Clichy-Batignolle, a neighborhood of Paris, France.

Von Mering explained bikes can serve as alternatives to personal cars, a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. She detailed the rich bicycle culture in Glasgow, Barcelona and Warsaw and the widespread public transportation in Zurich. She also emphasized Germany’s decision to refrain from using nuclear power and Germany’s fossil fuel divestment.

She explained Germany had been able to make so many strides forward because of its stable policy-making environment. Von Mering pointed out “there is a culture of coalitions [in Germany], which means there’s negotiation, there’s compromise and continuity from one administration to another, whereas here [in America], it is almost built-in that that can’t happen.”

Von Mering ended her discussion optimistically by noting how effective change can be made by a committed group of people, noting the example of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“I think that you all have a job to do and that starts with raising your voices,” von Mering told the audience.

“I thought it was an interesting statement, embedding environmental concerns in Germany into European and worldwide concerns and showing the example of Germany as one of the countries that try to find solutions for current environmental and, specifically, climate change problems,” Katharina von Hammerstein, a professor of German studies at UConn, whose students attended the talk, said.

“I think Professor von Mering … did a very good job spotlighting certain areas of concern and mixing the very personal experience with the global picture,” von Hammerstein said of the speaker.

“The Good News About Climate Change” was hosted by the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages and the Languages Graduate Student Association (LANGSA), as part of UConn Metanoia on the Environment.

Taken from Stephanie Santillo, “There is Good News in the Fight about Climate Change” in The Daily Campus, 02/23/2018

UConn-Based Press Wins Acclaim; LCL’s Jeanne Bonner wins PEN

World Poetry Books, a new literary press established in December 2017 by LCL’s Program in Literary Translation, received international attention after the celebrated poet Anne Carson named its two first titles as her favorite books of 2017. Writing in the Paris Review, Carson noted: “This year, I read two unusually excellent new poetry books from Greece, in unusually excellent translation. Both were published by World Poetry Books. They were: Homerica by Phoebe Giannisi, translated by Brian Sneeden, and Rose Fear by Maria Laina, translated by Sarah McCann.” Both books are available online at Amazon.

World Poetry Books under the direction of acclaimed translator Peter Constantine is a nonprofit press and will publish a minimum of six books a year ranging from new and cutting edge European poetry, to works from overlooked, underrepresented, and indigenous languages. Upcoming titles include translations from Chinese, French, German, and Swedish, as well as the works translated from indigenous languages such as Deori, Gamilaraay, Māori, Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi.

LCL has received yet another piece of wonderful news relating to the translations programs directed by Peter Constantine at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, who joined the faculty of LCL only two years ago, in 2016. Jeanne Bonner, one of our graduate students in the Italian Studies program has been named the 2018 recipient of the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature, for her translation of A Walk in the Shadows, by Mariateresa Di Lascia.

PEN’s description of Bonner’s work in its prize announcement read as follows:

Through Bonner’s scrupulous and effective translation, Di Lascia’s rich descriptive prose guides the reader on a passionate “walk in the shadows” of women’s lives in a village of the Italian deep South, where the protagonist is retracing significant moments of her life and seeking “the genesis of all of the deceptions.” With her own peculiarities, Di Lascia has been compared to Elsa Morante, and her work is also said to recall that of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the Italian classic The Leopard.

In the house where I have stayed after everyone left and silence finally descended, I drag myself around lazily, covered in dust and wearing my old clothes. Piled high against the wall are boxes bursting with cloth that I bought at sweaty Friday flea markets. I’m now free not to miss any of those markets, and when I go, I have the whole morning to roam among the stands and ransack with both hands the colorful, dirty fabrics that someone, who will remain forever unknown to me, wore many years ago…

Now that old age is approaching and I’ve stopped bleeding early without explanation, my humble appearance and the wrinkles that are late in coming protect me even more than the slovenly clothing that covers my body. Dressed up like this, ageless and sexless, I can finally laugh off the world.

It wasn’t always this way.

Another UConn graduate student received a PEN grant. Brian Sneeden of the English department received the prestigious award for his translation of Pheobe Giannisi’s upcoming book Rhapsodia.

For more information on World Poetry Books or translation at UConn, please contact program director Peter Constantine at: peter.constantine@uconn.edu

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.


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