Globalization no longer just for business courses: Intradisciplinary English team brings globalization to literature


Globalization is a buzzword in business courses, but at Fairfield University this fall, four English professors will be teaching students about globalization through literature. Using interactive maps with hyperlinks, poetry, film, lectures and theatre, they want students to understand how the economic, historical, political, artistic and cultural environment, present when a piece of literature was written, helped to shape it.

"Gateway to Literary and Cultural Studies" is the name of the intradisciplinary course which will have its own website. "Given the strengths of the present generation, for whom compiling layers of information is just a click away and quite a normal way of life, this is a course whose time has come," says Dr. Kim Bridgford, a well-known poet. "Our goal was to develop a pilot course for students that introduces them to themes and a range of literature from all over the world."

Each professor brings a different perspective to the course. For Dr. Gita Rajan, it's the literature of the South Asian diaspora as well as gender studies and globalization theory. Dr. Sally O'Driscoll focuses on eighteenth century European women writers and sexuality and gender studies, while Dr. Edrik Lopez, a poetry scholar, brings his expertise in Latina literature and 20th century American poetry to the mix.

About 60 students, large by Fairfield standards, filled the class roster soon after registration opened last spring, leaving a huge wait list. During the semester the students will meet as a group twice a week before breaking down into smaller discussion groups, led by each of the four professors. One of the first to register was Stefania Cambanis, a junior and a double major in accounting and literature who says she finds the two areas quite compatible, since they both involve analysis. "I like the idea of a large class where everyone is there because they love literature. We'll be comparing and analyzing texts from different nations, and I think it will be a very motivating experience."

An example of the "Gateway" approach can be seen in an examination of NourbeSe Philips' hypnotic poem "Zong," about the shocking 1781 incident in which slaves were thrown into the Atlantic in order to collect insurance money. While college students certainly know about the 18th century slave trade, Dr. O'Driscoll poses the question, "Have they ever made a connection between the burgeoning slave trade and the regular appearance of coffee and sugar as staples in a British household?"

Or have students, in reading "The Tempest," wondered how the tales of ships wrecked at sea influenced Shakespeare as he wrote about this mythical island of refuge? And the faculty think their students will have a deeper appreciation of the text by tracing Odysseus' journey through the ancient world or Chaucer's pilgrimage two thousand years later - on a historical map with hyperlinks that show the changing political boundaries and fluctuating demographics of the era.

"Gateway," Dr. Rajan explains, "is a metaphor that can signal meaning at so many different levels. It is a gateway to opening students' minds to literature, in all its cultural richness ... reading becomes a way of deciphering how history, politics, geography, and culture are encoded into literary texts to infuse a context-specific view of the globe."

The class also can look forward to on-campus lectures by Khaled Hosseini of The Kite Runner fame, and Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, who will each visit the class. Films, a gala multicultural dinner and lectures at New York's 92nd St. Y, are also on the schedule.

The Gateway faculty team learned over the summer it has been accepted this September at Soul Mountain, the Connecticut writers' retreat, where they will discuss their developing resources as they work toward their next step in the project: an educational workshop for high school teachers in neighboring Bridgeport. Joining them will be Peter Duval, visiting professor of English, who is creating the website. Their goal is to make the materials they develop, including the website, available to these schools and to community colleges.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 25, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 39