Last week, NYU Sydney instructor Dr. Andy West was invited to be a judge of the National Finals 2017 Australian Leadership and Excellence Awards (ALEAs), Australia’s peak awards ceremony recognizing and celebrating Australia’s most outstanding leaders. This is organized by the Institute of Managers and Leaders, which was previously the Australian Institute of Management. In addition to teaching at NYU Sydney, Andy is the Executive Dean at UBSS, an MBA Business School. He also lectures in the Department of Marketing at the University of Technology Sydney. He provides consulting services to the finance, professional services, ICT, higher education, and health industries. His research has focused on e-business adaption, marketing high technology, and marketing strategy. His recent research is into the early career success of marketing graduates, with a focus on the success factors of workplace integrated learning from simulation to industry collaboration projects with internships.
NYU Shanghai Professor Barbara Edelstein has been proudly dubbed a “daughter-in-law” of Shanghai for her contributions to the city’s flourishing art scene. Now, the NYU Shanghai art professor’s story has been featured in a new volume of Americans in Shanghai, a series celebrating the stories of US citizens who have made their lives in the city.
The book explores Edelstein’s life and work, starting with her upbringing in Los Angeles, where Asian culture strongly influenced her development as a young artist in love with water and the medium of ink.
After graduating with a Master of Fine Arts from Claremont Graduate University, Edelstein moved to New York, where she met her future husband—Zhang Jian-Jun, then a visiting artist from China.
Now both professors at NYU Shanghai, Edelstein and Zhang continue to connect China and the world through the language of art. Combining East and West influences, their works encompass various forms, including sculpture, photography, video, installation, and ink painting.
“It was during the World Expo time, in 2010. A special curatorial committee, partly government and partly art critics and curators, selected the works. I designed a five-meter high sculpture in bronze and copper that rains water into a round pool. It’s again based on what I saw there. The bronze part is an abstracted willow leaf that I found when I visited the site. The copper is like a vine ball of the wisteria that was there. It’s a beautiful park.”
Some of the works were temporary, but Barbara’s was permanent. It’s still there. Whenever Barbara is in the park, the guard there will point out to visitors that she is the artist who made the sculpture.
When the work was installed and the fence and the frame around the sculpture were removed, neighbors of the park gathered round. “This is China: there are always people out and about,” Barbara said. “They use the park for dancing and walking their dogs. When we were there to get the water working, there was a crowd of people. They were really excited and cheered. They came up to me and told me they liked my work. They were very pleased it got established in ‘their’ park. As an artist, you want to make the world more beautiful. That was so nice for me to hear that they appreciated and enjoyed it.”
Barbara is concerned with how city dwellers lose track of nature, in large metropolises especially: “By using natural imagery, such as vines, trees, leaves, water—whatever is there—and abstracting it into a sculptural form; and by using man-made materials such as copper tubing, and adding the element of water, I try to bridge the industrial world we live in with the essence of nature.”
This post comes to us from NYU Shanghai. You can read the original here.
Today we are in conversation with Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor in Media, Culture and Communication at NYU Steinhardt, where he is also Senior Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge. He is currently in Berlin for a year and in this interview discusses how being there has informed his scholarship and vice versa.
How did you first come to NYU? What drew you to the institution?
I came to NYU in 2009 from the New School. So I was not physically very far away, but institutionally NYU is quite different. I had previously been provost at the New School for couple of years so was engaged with the large issues related to educational institutions. For various reasons I stepped down from that role to focus on my professorial work, but the transition was hard. I was not unhappy but it was a challenge, so when I received an offer from the Media, Culture, and Communication department at NYU Steinhardt, that seemed compelling. It offered a good opportunity to fully reenter the academic world in a very appealing department. NYU was just entering to its global phase so that was an added appeal for someone with my interests. The department seemed interesting, NYU’s global moves also seemed interesting. So NYU was a good place to shift to in 2009. I have not been disappointed.
How did you come to NYU Berlin? I understand that you received support from the Provost’s Global Research Initiatives program. I also understand that you are now a visiting professor at Humboldt University in Berlin. What work have you been focusing on while in Berlin?
I am on sabbatical for this year and was additionally supported with a GRI stipend for the autumn. I am here for the whole academic year – at Humboldt for the full year as a sabbatical and I remained linked to NYU through the GRI last term. My affiliation with NYU Berlin technically ended in December so I am now a just visiting professor at Humboldt. Throughout the year and with the various affiliations, I have been working on the same things: two very short book projects and one other project that has grown out of my time here. Starting with the latter, in response to news and recent current events in Europe, I was asked to a contribute to an edited book with eleven other authors about “the great regression’ – the global swing to right wing leaders. The book will be published in German and simultaneously translated into twelve other languages. This affiliation has lead to other contributions to the European media. I was recently interviewed by the French paper Journal du Dimanche. I also appeared on a German television program, Kulturzeit, which airs on an educational channel comparable to PBS in the United States. Because of the engagement with this book project, I have been able to participatee in a most interesting, unplanned public engagement while in Europe. My essay for that book is entitled “Democracy Fatigue.” I wrote it during the fall and finished it about three weeks after Trump’s victory in the US election. It has considerably broadcast my interests and arguments in the German and European press. In general over the eight months that I have been here, including during my time at NYU Berlin, I have had a considerable engagement not just in the academic world in Berlin but also outside Berlin, with quasi-public institutions, cultural institutions, and academic institutions concerned about my interests. Some of my long-term areas of interest – migration, refugees, globalization, the future of Europe, the future of nation states – are of great interest in Europe at the moment. So I find myself discovering and becoming part of the very wide flow of ideas and events that straddle academia and public institutions.
In terms of the two books I have been working on, one is related to this set of topics, the other less so. The one less related is a short book on failure – in design, technology, states, markets but also in life – careers, marriages, and such. What do we learn from failure that we do not learn from success? I raise that question and also consider how failure is historically and culturally defined. I ask what is failure and what is not; what parts of thinking about failure are interconnected and what are more idiosyncratic and particular to a particular place or moment in time.
The other book seeks to explore the prima facie contradiction between the ideals of enlightenment entitlement – freedom, equality, humanity – that took hold precisely as Europe went about mass colonialist projects that were racist, exploitative, and seemingly trampled the universalist values of the Enlightenment. Entitled Enlightenment and Empire, this work is a deeper historical look at how Europe has for a very long time had internal debates about itself and a certain measure of volatility about its identity or essence. I consider whether current concerns might be just a recent chapter in this history as opposed to a crisis in an otherwise settled European project.
How have you found the experience at NYU Berlin and at Humboldt University? How has researching Germany influenced your scholarship? What has been most challenging and what has been most rewarding?
I find that my stay in Berlin is particularly timely in relation to how my interests have evolved over a long time. I have come to be very interested in the European story itself – in terms of ideas, politics, the nation state, the economy. Earlier I saw this from an Indian or South Asian or “Third World” perspective which pre-disposed me not to look very carefully inside Europe. I saw Europe broadly and without nuance. Then I began to question how Europe made itself and to wonder what were and are the stresses or uncertainties of that enterprise. I had been doing this for a few years so when I had the opportunity to come here I had some hopes that the interest would find fertile ground. It has been much more fruitful than I had anticipated. In Berlin perhaps especially there is an active search for the hidden histories of Europe and a focus on Europe’s entanglements with the rest of the world. There is lots of active research at universities, think tanks, and other places exploring the histories that have been marginalized and seeking to bring them back to light in part to offer different alternatives for the present. So my timing in being here and my experience has been better than I had hoped.
Your last book, The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (2013), was the product of many years’ worth of research and writing and an important contribution to globalization studies. It has been described as laying the foundation for “a revitalized, and urgent, anthropology of the future.” Can you tell us more about this book? How do you see the future of higher education, and NYU’s global presence, in the context of globalization?
The book is indeed a collection of essays with some highly connected themes and it is in part a manifesto to say that anthropology has not paid sufficient attention to what is coming next. We usually look to custom, tradition, habit – the past – but all societies also have views about what is coming next – how to ensure it, realize it, achieve it. But the book also asks what are the lightest and darkest sides of current global horizons. It takes a generally hopeful view of the future, and for the anthropology of the future, focusing on ideas like design and research that need to be pursued in a global, cosmopolitan way that involves egalitarian transactions and interactions between institutions in other countries and the West. It is within our powers to put ourselves on the same plane. Although I am not an expert, having only been to Abu Dhabi and Berlin, my view is that NYU global has the potential for helping to create an egalitarian, mutually recognizing and affirmative climate for research, teaching, and learning. This requires a great deal of of commitment and value-driven institution building. This is happening at a time when the countries or regions that drove us in the past will not necessarily drive us tomorrow. China and India are powerful, as are Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. All are now facing some form of political dampening, but they will are major powers. But the idea of a university in which in undergrads, graduates students, and faculty are in different orbits but are circling the same globe while remaining connected vertically through interactions between research and teaching, is exciting. This is a most hopeful idea. NYU’s global locations can play an important role in trying to forge connections perhaps not so easily made at the home campus because it is so large and established. For example, getting US scholars to meet local scholars, having students meet local students. Having the single global umbrella is a terrific opportunity with a powerful potential. What makes NYU special is experimenting with how the university could or should work.
You are an acclaimed author and scholar who has not only lived a globalized life but thought critically about globalization and the serious issues of our time – design, planning, finance, and poverty. You have been described as embracing the “politics of hope.” Can you tell us what that means about what you are currently working on?
The idea of the politics of hope is tied up with another phrase I have coined – the capacity to aspire. That concept was my effort to intervene or contribute to a debate among scholars about inequality and how to rectify it. Some thinkers, for example Charles Taylor, focus on recognition, while others focus on redistribution.
To me, if you look at the capacity to think optimistically, to look ahead, to aspire, no one lacks that, but poorer populations lack the experiences upon which to build robust ideas about where they would like to go or what they would like to do or be. This is not an inequality of the mind, but of experience. They simply have a smaller stock of experiences to draw on in thinking about their own future. They lack, but need, the capacity to aspire and that is where we should focus our attention.
The capacity to aspire sets the foundation for the politics of hope, which endeavors to find methods to look for better solutions to our biggest problems. Problems like inequality, racism, exclusionary politics, and climate. And solutions that that include poorer populations and so are not merely solving them for the few. Such an approach emphasizes the capacity to look ahead, design, and plan in the long run. The politics of hope is made up of whatever methods can strengthen the capacity to aspire – the capacity to research, to design, to make your world more as you would like it to be – for all people.
Do you think that time abroad is valuable for students’ academic and personal development? If so, how do you think that value manifests?
I think it is not only valuable, but vital. However, the structure is very important which is why the nature of NYU Berlin and the other NYU programs is consequential. How you help students see their new situation and do your teaching and relating is vital. Having the best of human talent engaged in that really helps, and this is true at the NYU global sites. In our world this kind of education is urgent and indispensable because today time studying abroad has the capacity to do something that the cosmopolitan urge in earlier times did not. Earlier this was only a self- broadening endeavor – you become a fuller person. But today you develop the capacity to live with, recognize and address harsh realities for other people. Now the global study experience is about collective horizon expansion, not only about US students becoming more mature or wise. It builds their capacity to be global thinkers and doers. That is the gold standard and NYU is a part of it.
This spring, a graduate class from NYU Steinhardt traveled to Hong Kong to collaborate in visionary plans to protect Hong Kong’s ecological heritage. The class is taught by Prof. Raul Lejano, who integrates the international field studies workshop with his ongoing research on urban resilience in Asia.
Over two weeks in January, the students collaborated with nonprofits and others in Hong Kong to craft strategies for integrating the urban and the ecological. They were even joined by Dom Brewer, Dean of the Steinhardt School, for a day or trekking in the field.
The rest of the semester was then spent analyzing data and preparing deliverables which are then presented to stakeholders in Hong Kong for actual implementation. This year, students sorted themselves into four projects.
- Hoi Ha Nature Trail and Masterplan
Maegan Ciolino, Yunshun Yang, Rachel Baruch
The group sought to create ways for local residents to cherish (and protect) the coastal wetlands and mangrove in Hoi Ha, an area in Sai Kung District, Hong Kong. To do this, they worked with Friends of Hoi Ha to design, stake out, and geo-reference a nature trail, complete with interpretive signs (map shown below). The project took a surprising turn when the group retraced an old, abandoned boulder trackway built by Hakka settlers almost two hundred years ago. They integrated the historical pathway into the new nature trail to provide the visitor an experience of history and ecology. Friends of Hoi Ha is working with the Environmental Minister to formally incorporate the nature trail into the nature master plan for Hoi Ha.
- Mangroves and Me: A Nature Lesson for Young Ecologists
RaeJean Boyd, Anna Hoch, Barbara Leary, Kym Mendez
Another group of graduate students worked with a local elementary school, Hong Kong Academy, to design and conduct a half-day nature lesson revolving around the ecology of Hoi Ha. Their vision for the learning experience was to integrate play and experiential, place-based learning to engage fifth graders in environmental action. Learning about mangrove and wetlands was integrated with hands-on activities, including kayaking, planting mangrove propagules, and identifying freshwater insects. Assessment revolved around interpretive drawings that the kids created to capture the day’s activities. The lesson is being formally integrated into the Academy’s curriculum.
- Sustainable Housing for Pak Sha O
Fatima Ahmed, Zhe Huang, Danni Lu, Pamela Razo, Yiyi Shi
Pak Sha O is a traditional Hakka village in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, where the old village houses have been preserved by its current residents. The government has made plans to put in new housing in Pak Sha O. NYU students have written up a set of design recommendations for new housing in this ecologically and culturally important area. The specs include: adaptation of Hakka housing elements for the exterior, application of Feng Shui design concepts for the interior, wind turbines, and advanced septage treatment. An interesting facet of the design concerns the intersection of cultural and environmental elements –e.g., agreement between traditional Feng Shui concepts and newer sustainable design principles.
- Seafood Tourism and Coastal Heritage in Sai Kung
Xiao Huang, Alex McIe, Tommy V. Le
The area of Sai Kung is popular with tourists for its renowned seafood restaurant row. However, seafood tourism goes on seemingly disconnected with the rich heritage of Sai Kung as a fishing village. NYU students trace the cultural and cuisinary pathways that make up seafood tourism in the town. Their ethnographic study has led to recommendations for making the fishing culture and coastal ecology alive for visitors to the area. The guide includes a walking tour of Sai Kung and an ethnography of the local seafood industry.
On 2 May, Eugene Ostashevsky, poet, translator, and NYU professor, will discuss The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi, his poetry novel about communication challenges in a relationship between a pirate and a parrot who are shipwrecked on a deserted island.
The Pirate, just published in the U.S. by the New York Review of Books, has also appeared in French and German translation, the former as Le Pirate qui ne connaît pas la valeur de pi – Chapitre 1.
Ostashevsky, himself an award-winning translator from Russian and Italian, will talk about the challenges and opportunities of writing and publishing a creative book, and especially a multilingual one. He will also talk about pirate language, animal intelligence, and other minds. Of course, he will also read passages from The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi.
Learning science is about to get a whole lot cooler for hundreds of high school students in Kenya. An international project co-led by an NYU Abu Dhabi chemist will deliver digital education materials such as interactive modules, online simulations, and even virtual chemistry experiments to many classrooms.
The idea for the project — Chemistry on Computers in Kenya — was born at the second Joint Undertaking for an Africa Materials Institute (JUAMI) conference held in Arusha, Tanzania.
“Computer learning in core scientific subjects like chemistry is uncommon in Kenya because internet service is unreliable and many teachers may have limited computer skills,” said Philip Rodenbough, NYUAD postdoctoral chemist who was also a member of the US Peace Corps in West Africa. “Chemistry on Computers in Kenya (CCK) will digitize science education and help improve digital literacy for both young people and teachers.”
Kenya’s government is already providing scores of tablets to elementary school students and funding more computer labs in secondary schools, Rodenbough said, but they need help establishing a digital curriculum. They have computers but nothing to put on them for students to learn.
CCK aims to develop at least three computer-based chemistry lesson plans this year and then encourage science educators to distribute them across their own personal networks. The project has the potential for a very large impact because “it’s easy for teachers to share digital materials” even beyond Kenya, Rodenbough added.
Along with Rodenbough, the project is co-led by PhD student and Kenyan chemistry teacher Agatha Wagutu at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania. The JUAMI conference was funded by the US National Science Foundation and the CCK project received funding and support from the Materials Research Society Foundation.
Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs; this post originally appeared here.
NYU Tel Aviv Director Benjamin Hary recently spoke to NPR. He contributed to the “The World in Words,” (NPR World Program) about Judeo-Arabic, which Professor Hary calls a “religiolect” because it is more than a dialect. Here is a link to the podcast. The program focuses on the unlikely story of the near-death and cultural revival of Judeo-Arabic. Professor Hary speaks about languages around minute three and comments on the politics of Arabic around minute ten.
NYU Sydney Professor Petronella Vaarzon-Morel, who teaches Anthropology of Indigenous Australia and Indigenous Australian Art, recently gave a presentation at the Federal Court of Australia as part of a tribute to the contribution of anthropologists to the development of Australian native title law over the last 25 years. Her presentation was on gendered relations to the land and native title business. She also gave a keynote at the annual ANU Centre for Native Title Anthropology Conference in Perth which this year focused on emerging strategic issues in native title anthropology. The Centre for Native Title Anthropology aims to enhance the practice of native title anthropology in Australia through a series of innovative programs and workshops. The annual conference is a significant event.
Today we hear directly from an NYU London Professor, Dr. Philip Woods. Professor Woods teaches two classes at NYU London: Britain and Slavery 1492-1865 and Cultures and Contexts: Multinational Britain. He has been teaching at NYU London for more than fifteen years and says “it has been a really good experience.” Professor Woods also enjoys teaching American study abroad students, saying “They tend to be very enthusiastic and keen to learn about the country they are studying in.” He also is a “firm believer” in the benefits of studying abroad. He has seen students “transformed in terms of their increased confidence and broadened in their understanding of the wider world.” Professor Woods especially “appreciates[s] the importance that US universities, especially NYU, give to study abroad and opening up opportunities regardless of income. The book he recently published and describes in the post below, which involved studying war correspondents, was a new venture for him. Professor Woods describes himself as “still learning,” and notes “I will continue my research looking at media management in the Second World War in the Burma campaign, the longest of the war. |it is interesting how many people have told me about relatives who were involved in the campaign since they heard about my book.”
The British-Indian army fighting in Burma during 1942 is sometimes misleadingly referred to as a ‘Forgotten Army’. In fact, the army’s long retreat was given good coverage in the western press which provided twenty-six correspondents to cover the campaign. Philip Woods’s new book is the first scholarly analysis of media coverage of this retreat, focusing on newsreel, magazine and newspaper correspondents. It argues for the historical value of the journalists’ contribution, most especially in their published memoirs. The book has implications for the study of journalism and the history of Burma and India.
The British defeat in Burma at the hands of the Japanese in 1942 marked the longest retreat in British army history and the beginning of the longest campaign in the war. It also, arguably, marked the beginning of the end of British rule, not only in Burma but also in south and south east Asia more broadly. There have been many studies of the military and civilian experiences during the retreat but my book, Reporting the Retreat: War Correspondents in Burma 1942 (published by Hurst on 3 November 2016) is the first to look at the way the campaign was represented through the western media: newspapers, pictorial magazines, and newsreels. There were some twenty-six accredited war correspondents covering the campaign, and almost half of them wrote books about their experiences, mostly within a year or two of the defeat. Their accounts were heavily criticised by government officials as being misinformed and sensationalist. Historians have tended to avoid using them, except to add colour to their accounts, perhaps because they are seen as being too patriotic and optimistic in their coverage and thus giving the public an unrealistic view of how the war was progressing.
My book draws on archival sources to assess the validity of these criticisms. How do the war correspondents see their role? It is clichéd to talk of war journalism in terms of ‘The First Draft of History’ but in view of wartime censorship restrictions it does seem that correspondents were keen to have their experiences recorded, especially when they could publish less censored versions usually within a year or two of the key campaigns they were covering. What were the constraints on war correspondents, other than censorship? Clearly, there were limits resulting from the nature of the media that they worked in, often exacerbated by wartime considerations, such as the reduction in newspaper space. This can be seen very clearly in the case of the newsreel cameramen, two of whom covered the Burma retreat. By examining their films and the supporting documentation, one can see how they needed to meet the requirements of the newsreel business, which acted as a largely patriotic, rather anodyne adjunct to the main films which audiences had come to see. Even so, the newsreels and the photographs which appeared in the popular pictorial magazines of the day, provide very good evidence of the way that the war was represented to the British, American and Australian publics in the days before television.
There is, of course, the issue of authenticity in the reporting: did the journalists make up stories or present them in a misleading way? Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel Scoop (1938) famously depicted the way in which journalists would sit in the bar far from the action and file reports which started ‘From the battle-front…’ Journalists in Burma were sometimes caught out, claiming to be witnessing events first-hand when they were reporting second-hand accounts. From the First World War there were clear examples of battle scenes being faked or re-enacted for the cameras. During the Burma retreat I did find a clear case where a battle was re-staged for newsreel and still cameramen, but this was exceptional and went against clear company guidelines. As in the First World War, it resulted from the difficulty of getting good action pictures, in this case because of jungle and night-time fighting.
Generally speaking, I believe the war correspondents did a good job within the constraints they faced. The job was both dangerous and very emotionally taxing. The Hemingway-style machoism expected of them served to cover up what today would be described as post-traumatic stress. It made a definite difference to the quality of the reporting when they were able to cover the fighting directly, as against newspapers relying on army communiques. However, it is in their memoirs rather than in their contemporary dispatches that the best quality is to be found. Using notes and photographs taken at the time, they reconstructed fuller and more analytical accounts of the campaign. Most correspondents had left-wing sympathies, which were usually strengthened by their wartime experiences. They pressed for political concessions to be made to India and Burma if the allies were to win the support in these countries that was necessary to win the war. They were saw the need to support Nationalist China under Chiang Kai-Shek, whose armies playing a major role in Burma, although they provided damning evidence of the Chinese corruption and politicking that was undermining the Lend-Lease supplies sent by the USA. The American and Australian reporters were the most critical of the hierarchical, racist and bureaucratic nature of British colonial regimes in India, Burma and Malaya.
Although my book may seem narrowly focused on a few months in 1942, it has much broader implications both for the study of journalism and for the history of Burma and India. A good deal of attention has been given to the loss of Singapore in February 1942 but the fall of Rangoon and the subsequent inevitable loss of Burma was actually much more serious, opening up major threats to India and China. The loss of Burma’s rice exports to India and the implementation of scorched earth tactics would soon have disastrous effects on Bengal, contributing to devastating famine in 1943. The mass migration of hundreds of thousands of Indian refugees from Burma and the tragic loss of life involved contributed to a devastating blow to Britain’s image as protector of its citizens in the region and proved impossible to repair. I examine the way that sheltering and evacuation from Rangoon was mishandled by the Government of Burma and its hapless Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith. I also look at the way that journalists had to contain their private views on these issues in their newspapers but made them very clear in their later memoirs. The Government of Burma continued to operate in Simla after the retreat and devised detailed plans for their post-war return. But as Chris Bayly and Tim Harper have so admirably shown in Forgotten Armies (Penguin: 2005), there was to be no lasting return for either the Governor nor British rule in Burma. The war had given rise to more radical nationalisms in the region that could not be assuaged.
Reporting the Retreat: War Correspondents in Burma 1942 is now available here.
About the Author
Dr. Philip Woods studied History at LSE and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He has published on British-Indian politics after World War I, and the British use of film as propaganda in India. He has taught at the University of West London, Kingston University, and now teaches at NYU London.
Today we are in conversation with NYU Alum and NYU Buenos Aires Professor Mariano Lopez Seoane, who has been teaching at Buenos Aires since the site was established in 2008 and who helped pioneer NYU’s first networked course, taught in both New York and Buenos Aires.
How did you come to teach at NYU Buenos Aires? I understand you pursued graduate studies and earned your PhD at NYU. Did your connection to the university influence your interest in teaching at NYU Buenos Aires?
Yes, totally. I got PhD at NYU in the Spanish and Portuguese Department. I had moved back to Buenos Aires for a while just to do research for my dissertation and while I was there doing research, a professor of mine from NYU contacted me and told me that NYU was opening a Study Abroad Center in Buenos Aires. He asked whether I had an interest in teaching. I had had such a wonderful experience at NYU that I was immediately intrigued. At that time, I was actually deciding between going back to the United States or staying in Argentina. Teaching at NYU Buenos Aires seemed to me the perfect opportunity: a combination of both things – staying in my home country but working in a foreign environment. So it was an excellent opportunity for me.
I had to go back to New York to defend my dissertation, but then I returned to Buenos Aires for good and immediately started working at NYU Buenos Aires. That first year, I was asked by a former professor to develop a course that would highlight some interesting aspects of the culture of Buenos Aires, which I did. It was a very successful course, popular among students. A year later, another NYU professor contacted me from the Spanish Department. She noted that the initial course was successful and asked me to develop another course. This course was to focus not only on Buenos Aires, but on Latin America in general. So I designed another course that was an introduction to Latin American culture. I have been teaching at NYU Buenos Aires continuously since 2008 when I developed the first course.
This spring will be your third time teaching the first NYU networked course, “Queer Cultures & Democracy” which started in the spring of 2015 and involves students in New York and Buenos Aires. Can you describe how this course came to be offered and how it is structured across the two locations?
Over the years, I developed connections with colleagues in New York. In particular, I was in contact with Gabriel Giorgi, a NYU professor and friend who is also interested in queer cultures. We started to do a series of small conferences, first in Buenos Aires, focusing on queer issues in Latin America, and then one in New York, focusing on what was going on there. Many students participated and so we thought, “Why not do a course?” We created this course together focusing on queer culture and queer theory, trying to compare and contrast what happens in New York and Buenos Aires. We have been teaching the course for the past two years.
The course, “Queer Cultures & Democracy”, highlights the important role of different queer cultures in strengthening our democracies. It provides a sense of the differences between North America and Latin America. However, we specifically focus on New York and Buenos Aires, not the US and Argentina. We really take advantage of our locations and ground the coursework in our cities. There is a strong research component to the course, so students need to go visit and look into archives, visit significant sites, conduct interviews. Students are required to draw from experiences in the field in each city.
We really try to make the most of being in two locations. We meet at the same time even with different time zones. The class is arranged so that the first part of the class is more like a lecture. We grapple with difficult concepts in gender theory and queer theory, and that portion of the class we do separately. Then there is a moment in which we want to discuss something with the entire class. This takes place during the second part of the class. For example, if some students are sharing the results of the research they have done – let’s say going and speaking to queer activists and connecting those conversations to theory – then we use technology to discuss that together. We have screens in both classrooms so we can participate in one conversation. So students in Buenos Aires can report on what they experienced and share their ideas with their classmates in both Buenos Aires and New York.
We also come together in other ways. For instance, if we watch a film and want to do a discussion, we connect and have a collective conversation. We also encourage students to write their final papers as a collaboration between sites. We try to facilitate this where possible. If we know of one student from New York interested in transgender rights, for instance, we try to find someone in Buenos Aires interested in the same topic and we encourage them to write together.
This kind of networked course is difficult to organize, but it is worth the effort. The students like it. It works in many ways. Sometimes students in New York have no interest in Latin America and then after the course, they want to come. Sometimes students in Buenos Aires discover things about the city in which they live, New York, that they didn’t know. We once swapped – Gabriel came to Buenos Aires for a month and I was in New York for a month – which was interesting and useful for the students and for the course. We both had a better understanding of the issues in the other city, and actually got to experience certain things – going to the archives, for example – firsthand.
What have been the greatest learning experiences of this course, both for you and for the students? How does the networked approach influence the course? How does teaching literally across cultures and countries in a course about cultures and democracy enrich the classroom conversations?
What has been most interesting for students, and what both we and the students have learned in the course is that we get a sense of how queer cultures and queer activism have been central in deepening and strengthening our democracies. We have more democratic societies because of the existence of these minorities and their struggles – for recognition, for rights – have made our societies and democracies more vibrant and strong. Not all students in the course define themselves as queer, so there are some students who have perhaps never had exposure to these issues. They leave the classroom with a sense of the centrality of queer issues to democracy. The networked nature of the course also encourages all of us – students and professors – to think with more intent on the comparison and contrast between the two sites. We know we are going to have group discussions and it is important that people have something to say. So the comparing and contrasting is developed in conversations. This becomes useful because students understand that it is something they need to think about all the time. This is an aspect of studying abroad in general – through coming to know another culture, you get a better understanding of your own culture – but in this course it is intensified.
From the perspective of someone who studies Latin America, I would add that there is an additional aspect of this course which is interesting. It is very typical that we see our own history or people from abroad see our own history in Latin America as a series of moments when we copied someone else, usually Europe or the United States. We see this in talking about independence, the constitution, and more. This idea of the US and Europe as models for Latin America, which they have been, is very common. But on the specific issue of queer cultures Latin America shows a unique vitality. There has been vibrancy among the activists and artists here such that sometimes things happen here before they do in the US. For example, Argentina had a same sex marriage law in 2010. The US didn’t have that possibility until 2015. This is very interesting because it is a topic in which traditional narratives about how Latin America works are challenged or subverted.
I understand you have also been involved in launching the first Master’s degree program in Gender and Queer Studies in Argentina. Can you tell us more about that?
Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires, has many institutions with researchers or professors that are interested in these issues or teach these issues, but there was no institutional space where you could study, for example, a masters program on this topic. So if you wanted to do a PhD with a focus on queer studies, you could do it but you had to find the courses and professors yourself. So I worked with some other professors and Daniel Link, a public intellectual, to develop a program. We created a core program in this topic, from an interdisciplinary perspective – topics range from public health and politics to courses that deal with the history of cinema from a queer perspective, the history of the arts from a queer perspective, the history of activism from a queer perspective. We basically gathered all of the people working on gender and sexuality in different institutions and put them in the same place. The Master’s Program is at a national university, UNTREF . The university said we could have thirty students, and we received applications from more than sixty students, indicating that there was clearly a need. Classes are starting in March. The Master’s Program is connected to thinking about new policies on these topics and also connected to activism. We consider it a successful initiative thus far.
In addition to your research and work on LGBTQ issues, I understand you also research literature and are an accomplished translator. Can you share a bit about your work as a translator and about the kinds of literature you are drawn to?
Most of my translations have been on theory. I have translated Fredric Jameson, a cultural critic, and the books of philosopher Susan Buck-Morss. I have also translated the work of Avital Ronell, philosopher and literary critic at NYU.
My Phd was on Latin American literature. I am mostly interested in contemporary Latin American literature dealing with the problems most associated with Latin America – political violence, narco-violence and how it affects our communities, gender and sexuality. I am drawn to works that deal with these topics in an interesting and imaginative way. I am not looking for reports on these topics, but literature that offers something more while dealing with these topics. Works I appreciate may have an interesting use of language or literary images. Literature and the arts have to offer something extra. It cannot only be about the topic, what matters is what they do with it – offering us a different perspective that we haven’t thought about, for example.
What has been most rewarding for you about teaching at NYU Buenos Aires?
It’s a very welcoming and supportive atmosphere for working. As a scholar and professor, you feel welcomed and appreciated. You feel as though you can come up with ideas and projects and that they are welcomed – for example, proposing a new course, or changing a course. NYU Buenos Aires is a space in which you can be creative in your own field. You don’t need to follow what was done in the past or what is being done now. You can think of new possibilities and they are considered and often accepted. This is something I love about NYU. For me it is good to have the connection to NYU, my alma matter, of course, but being part of an international network is amazing. I believe that scholarship and teaching should be international and need to have a cosmopolitan horizon. In order to teach effectively, you need to understand what is happening in other parts of the world and to connect with others in your field. Collaborating with other researchers is already a given at NYU. This greatly enriches you as a scholar and researcher. If you work at a national university, it can be hard to get in touch with and collaborate with people from other places. At NYU it is a given. I am in constant dialogue with people in other places – NY, of course, but also at times Berlin or Madrid.
Do you think that time abroad is valuable for students’ academic and personal development? If so, how do you think that value manifests?
I think it is central. The students tell me all the time that coming to Buenos Aires has changed their lives. They say that time here is key to understanding their own culture in different ways, seeing things about the US and how they can be a part of their community and society that they couldn’t see before. I know this because I have studied abroad myself for five years. It changed my life and perspective completely. This is true whether you are abroad for many years, or for only a semester or a year. You denaturalize your own culture and life, recognize that there are other ways to do things and maybe other cultures have something to teach you.
This is important in many disciplines. It is important for the humanities of course, the humanities being the dialogue between cultures, but it is not only important for the humanities. It is also important in law, economic science, public health, and other fields. Seeing how things work in different contexts is also enriching. I also believe in the idea of experiential learning – here while experiencing a different culture you have classes to reflect what is going on with you in this different culture, and the courses use what is happening to you as a student to assist in your growth.
I also think that for people in the US going to a country in the developing world, here in Latin America or in Africa at our site in Ghana, is especially interesting. While of course you learn a great deal from going to a place in Europe, the contrast when in the developing world is starker for all kinds of reasons. It is a very specific type of difference and students are exposed to situations where not everything is taken for granted, where things are not working as they should be, where the political system is vastly different. In these places, students get a sense of how the world works and understand that the world is not limited to the so-called “North”.