Students examine ‘converging cultures’

Emily Williams

A group of University of Alabama graduate students is currently preparing to submit abstracts for the fourth annual Alabama Modern Language Conference. If accepted, the students will publicly present their 10-page papers, all written in a foreign language.

The conference is sponsored by the department of modern languages and is hosted and run by graduate students. Participants must put together a 20-minute presentation in French, German, Spanish or English regarding the theme “Converging Cultures: Languages, Literatures and Identity.”

The conference challenges participants to present examples of how the domains of language, literature and identity interact and create new common ground. This can be done by examining literature, linguistics, cultural or gender studies, or in a multidisciplinary approach.

This year, the conference is expected to have around 60 participants from the Modern Language Graduate Program. The conference will take place the weekend of Feb. 7. Presentations will be in Bidgood Hall and are open to the public. This year’s keynote speaker will be Claire Kramsch, professor of German at the University of California, Berkeley. She will be speaking about the importance of multilingual and multicultural studies.

“I personally am very excited to have her coming because of her work in discourse analysis, in language socialization and in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary perspectives on language teaching, all of which are relevant to the theme of the conference,” said Chelsea Tanous, spokesperson for the conference who is in her second year of the French and applied linguistics MA program.

Melissa Henderson, a second-year French master’s student and chair of the organizing committee, said the conference is a great opportunity to learn in-depth about other cultures.

“It’s a chance to experience a new culture and see how cultures converge, recognize your own American culture and your own stereotypes,” Henderson said. “It makes you aware of French stereotypes, how they intertwine and makes you find that third space.”

Henderson helped organize last year’s conference, with the theme Redefining Borders: Bridging the Gap between Languages, Literatures and Cultures.” She said the most valuable thing she gained from observing the various panels was the exposure to the arts of different cultures, like film, theater and music.

“I got to see how the borders between cinema, literature and music within the context of French culture were able to be redefined,” she said.

This year, Henderson and a group from her French crime fiction class will be submitting a paper on Émile Zola’s novel “Thérèse Raquin.”

Tanous said one of the most beneficial aspects of participating is that the conference gives graduate students a trial run for presenting their ideas.

“I think the experience of presenting in this context is an amazing opportunity, especially for students who may not have had any conference experience before,” Tanous said. “Assuming my paper is accepted, I am really looking forward to being able to present at this one before going on to other major conferences.”

Sandrine Hope, a graduate student studying 20th and 21st century French literature, said anyone thinking about entering graduate school is encouraged to attend the conference.

“I think that by presenting at a conference, students are able to feel more confident about their work, gain other perspectives on their subject and have the ability to network,” Hope said.

While the conference is primarily for graduate students, submissions from a few exceptional undergraduates may be considered. Last year, a panel of undergraduate students from New College was selected to present their work.

Abstract submissions are due Friday and should be emailed to [email protected].