Kate Willman is a Visiting Fellow at the IMLR during the academic year 2016/17. Here, she gives a personal insight into being awarded a Visiting Fellowship and the benefits gained, both to her research and to the IMLR.
After being awarded my PhD in Italian Studies at the University of Warwick about a year ago, I was looking for an academic home while I prepared my doctoral thesis for publication and embarked on a new research project, so the fellowship at the Institute of Modern Languages Research was the perfect fit. My forthcoming book based on my doctoral research addresses the recent literary phenomenon known as the New Italian Epic, a label used to describe a corpus of hybrid texts mainly published after the year 2000 in Italy, which merge genres, styles and media, and whose writers aim to effect change in society by depicting and re-assessing the past and present. My new comparative project draws on the New Italian Epic texts that employ what has been called autofiction, blurring the boundaries between the author’s real-life experiences and fictional elements, but I am now interested in looking beyond Italy to examine the explosion in popularity of this mode of life-writing in the 21st century, with a focus on work in Italian, French and English. My fellowship at the Institute is attached to the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing, as I’m particularly interested in how women have employed autofiction in recent years. Like many research projects, this interest sprang from a sense of annoyance, in this case after reading a blogpost on The Guardian website that asked ‘Is auto-fiction strictly a boy’s game?’, in which the author observed that, despite ‘a surge in popularity of late’, those authors who insert a character bearing their name into a work tend to be men. On the contrary, a huge number of women writers have employed autofiction in innovative and experimental ways to explore subjectivity and selfhood.
I don’t think I realised just how useful the fellowship at the Institute would be, not only from the point of view of the shared office space and access to Senate House Library, but also in terms of having a range of experts on hand for friendly and practical advice and discussions about research. Being a fellow at the Institute means coming into contact with researchers from across the different institutes housed at the School of Advanced Study and from beyond, as well as having access to a wide variety of academic and public engagement events. The Institute is truly interdisciplinary, so it’s a great place to look beyond the confines of a national culture or to find out about a new discipline to incorporate into your research. Since starting here in September, I’ve not only attended a number of diverse events, but I’ve also made friends and contacts with whom I am already planning future collaborations.
Part of the fellowship is the opportunity to organise an event, but I’m actually organising two, as fellows can book a room and invite speakers on a subject that interests them. My event as part of my fellowship is a half-day workshop on Friday 10 March 2017 entitled ‘Women’s Self-Representation in the Digital Age’, when the other speakers and I will be looking at autofiction not only in terms of books, but also across platforms, from online videos to social media to images, exploring how the advent of the internet and the growth of celebrity culture has influenced representations of the self in the 21st century. On Tuesday 14 February 2017, I’m organising an event entitled ‘What Is A Modern Author? Evolutions in Authorship from the 19th Century to the Present’, when there will be five speakers offering snapshots from different points in the modern period that examine the impact of developments in the book market on how writers have portrayed themselves in their texts, negotiated their role as public figures and been perceived by the reading public. Preparing these workshops has given me more experience of organising events and brought me into contact with researchers working on comparable topics, as well as helping me to take a significant step forward with my new postdoctoral research project.
Kate Willman, IMLR Visiting Fellow, 2016/17
The next call for applications for Visiting Fellowships is now open! Full details of application procedures are available online. The deadline for applications is 31 March 2017, for the fellowship to be taken up between September 2017 and June 2018.
The seminar took its cue from the fact that in England, Modern Languages, along with area studies and related languages, were considered “Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects” in the 2005 report of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The aim of the day’s discussions was to investigate the notion of ‘strategically important’ languages, in a comparative perspective focusing on the UK and France, and the impact of that notion on higher education and research, as well as school education.
The introduction by Christine Lorre-Johnston recalled the existence of the parallel institutions that frame research and teaching in the UK and in France. The first panel, on European languages, was chaired by Janice Carruthers (Queen’s University Belfast) and Ricarda Schneider (Sorbonne Nouvelle). Andrew Hussey (University of London Institute in Paris) started with Juan Goytisolo’s novel Landscapes after the Battle (1982) to destabilise the notion of linguistic identity in France in the 21st century, with the omnipresence of Arabic. Catherine Davies discussed “The Growth of Spanish and Portuguese in the UK,” pointing out that because British universities are autonomous, government “encouragement” is not enough to sustain language degree programmes: dialogue with university management is important. Tatiana Matzenbacher (Sorbonne Nouvelle) stressed the diplomatic and political importance of learning Portuguese. Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR) described various initiatives that have been taken to emphasize German culture in an effort to counter the decline in the number of students of German.
The next two panels, chaired by Charles Forsdick and Stefan Sperl (School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS]), dealt with non-European languages. Stefan Sperl explained how the SOAS Arabic Programme aims at transcending stereotypes for indigenous (English-speaking) students, and at gaining comparative perspective for heritage students (with an Arabic background). Luc Deheuvels (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales [INALCO]) retraced the long history of the teaching of Arabic in France, and pointed out that even though Arabic is taught in some 20 universities in France, there are still few Arabic teachers in secondary schools. Stephen Hutchings (Manchester), discussing Russian in the UK, evoked two current concerns: the notion of ‘securitisation’ of public discourse, and the need to explore the possibilities of research and teaching across language areas, because transnational and transcultural exchanges have spawned new geopolitical configurations. Nalini Balbir (Sorbonne Nouvelle) analysed the status of Hindi as a ‘rare’ or ‘small’ language in France, except in overseas departments with a population of Indian origin: in Guadeloupe, Hindi is taught at secondary level, and at the University of Réunion, a diploma in Hindi is available.
A whole panel, chaired by Charles Forsdick, was devoted to Chinese. For Derek Hird (Westminster), one challenge is to integrate Chinese language and another area of study, to offer a larger range of combined programmes. Li Wei (University College London) focused on the English Baccalaureate that was created in 2011, enabling high school students to join the “Mandarin Excellence Programme,” in the context of the ‘Golden Era’ between the UK and China. Joël Bellassen (INALCO) described the surprisingly long history of teaching Chinese in France, a language that ranked 5th in secondary schools in 2007, and has kept gaining ground since then. Because Chinese is so different from European languages, a better reference framework is still needed for it in the European Common Framework for languages.
The third panel, on “National Strategies,” was chaired by Janice Carruthers. Clíona Ní Ríordáin (Sorbonne Nouvelle) insisted on the need, in the case of the Irish language, to disentangle language from religion and politics and to acknowledge the presence of various traditions. Bernadette Holmes (Speak to the Future, UK) brought out the importance of a second language from employers’ viewpoint, and the value for young people of having cultural insight into another culture. Jocelyn Wyburd (Cambridge) explored the utilitarian aspect of the term strategic, including the importance of languages in the Army and the British Listening Services.
Catherine Davies chaired the fourth and last panel on “Strategic Usage of Languages.” Hilary Footitt (Reading) discussed the importance of languages in NGOs and the sense of temporality attached to it, of the need to learn a language now. Christopher Stone (Wolverhampton) noticed the same sense of immediate necessity with sign languages, often for economic reasons, notwithstanding the fact that sign language is a language of its own. Anna-Louise Milne (ULIP) evoked the variety of linguistic experiences that English students have when they spend three years in Paris, and how it changes their relation to the language. Charles Forsdick closed the seminar by stressing the need for a shift from ‘strategically important’ languages to the strategic importance of languages. He emphasised the intrinsic value of studying languages, as opposed to its utilitarian value, and the need to challenge the ‘linguistic muteness’ in research, policy and practice.