Spotlight: PhD in Literature prepares professors for a global world

by Gail Hinchion Mancini

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| The inaugural class of the PhD in Literature ||
Notre Dame doctoral candidate Thomas Davis has taken his research to the bombed out streets of Kosovo, where the sidewalks are marked with signs that warn of buried landmarks.p. ?Just when you think things can’t get any worse, you see them: the gypsies, living in these bombed-out buildings in utter poverty,? said Davis, one of 10 members in the inaugural class of the new Ph.D. in Literature Program.p. Davis? interests represent a new force in literature studies: scholars determined to uncover the cultural stories that lay buried beneath familiar geopolitical boundaries.p. In particular, Davis is exploring the influence of the gypsies on European literary traditions in the early part of the last century. ?It’s an area that has not been explored by anyone in literature or English departments,? he said.p. To become this particular kind of expert, Davis will need to absorb traditional history and literatures, as well as the knowledge that has been ignored, such as the gypsies? cultural debt to India. Besides exploring history, anthropology and political science, mastering French and studying other traditional languages, he expects to study the native gypsy language Romany.p. Davis? colleagues are good company for him. Fellow student Maria Valenzuela knows Spanish but will need to learn Tagalog to explore the literature and cultures of Southern Asia around the Philippine Islands. Understanding of Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese will be necessary for Catalina Perez-Abreu as she explores Muslim influences in Medieval Spain.p. Their aspirations seem light years away from a time when literature studies deemed neatly tucked within national borders.p. ?At the end of the 19th century, it seemed natural and normal that literature studies coincided with nations,? said Margaret Doody, Glynn Family Professor of Literature and director of the Ph.D. in Literature Program. ?People imagined that both God and Nature had designed this.?p. But if university structures reflect political realities, how do forward-thinking University literature programs respond to the breakdown of the Soviet Union, a new, unified Europe or the emergence of the Muslim voice across all continents? In the face of emerging ?global? realities, shouldn’t someone invent ?world literature? studies?p. The Ph.D. in Literature Program was formed to answer those questions.p. The innovative interdisciplinary program focuses on the study of literature from a transnational and intercultural perspective. The program is a joint effort of the language and literature departments of East Asian, Romance, German and Russian, the Classics and the Keough Institute for Irish Studies.p. Like all literature programs, the Ph.D. in Literature is philosophically rooted in the belief that story is the mirror of humanity through which mankind is comprehended, and it staunchly supports the exploration of those cultures through the languages. Unlike many traditional literature studies, the Ph.D. in Literature acknowledges the spread of one language across many cultures, the many languages of a single culture and the language expressionand what is not expresseditself tell a tale.p. Commitment to language runs so deep in this program that every graduate will have learned two language. They will have mastered at least one of those languages to a level equal to the demands of language-specific doctoral program. ?A student of French will have the same proficiency as a student in the doctoral French programs of Harvard or Yale,? said Collin Meissner, associate director of the program.p. Beyond the core requirements of the program, the 10 members have the opportunity to write their own course of study. The bet is that these highly motivated students will use the freedomas Davis, Valenzuela and Perez-Abuea are doing – to create new spheres of knowledge.p. Creating and participating in a new program is a risk. Down the road, tradition-seeped academia will need to decide where this new breed of scholars belongs. Before this program was approved, Meissner studied the job market for languages and literature programs, and found a decisive trend which the Ph.D. in Literature program firmly embraces: ?More and more language and literature departments demand faculty that participate in a national literature, but also do other cultures and languages, who can describe the impact of globalism.?p. ?Training new Ph.D. students with a perspective that looks at literature globally rather than nationally is the already arrived future,? he said.p. From Thomas Davis to Margaret Doody, the program’s participants are aware of another pressure for change: incoming college undergraduates, whose cultural and social worlds have become diverse and international; who have read both Shakespeare and Salmon Rushdie. Today’s doctoral candidates- -tomorrow’s college professorsmust respond to this new perspective.p. ?Our graduate students will be movers and shakers in the next generation of writers and interpreters,? said Doody. ?They ask new questions about how traditions, values and imaginings move from one culture to another. They will open new ground and ask the new good questions. ?In them we can see the future.?

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