Helping visitors to find their way around the MERL

First year students at the MERL

This year, first and final year students of German have worked together with the Museum of English Rural Life to enhance the museum experience for German speaking visitors.

The Museum of English Rural Life, based at the University of Reading’s London Road campus, has recently become part of the Great West Way. The Great West Way is a new tourist initiative targeting tourists from the US, Germany and the Netherlands who visit places of interest along the Thames between London and Bristol. The German section started a new collaboration with the MERL which enhances the museum experience for German speaking tourists in the Berkshire area. This collaboration provides students with an opportunity to develop transferable skills and use their language skills in a non-academic, tourism-focused setting.

Final Year students created a series of translations for the museum galleries and visitor pages as part of their translation course. The experience helped students to translate for a specific target audience and expand their knowledge of both the German language and the factors involved in a successful translation process. The students’ work will become part of the MERL website and the project will continue in the following academic year.

As part of their language course, First Year students learn to write blog entries. Students took part in a blogging workshop in the studio at the MERL. Alison Hilton, Marketing Officer at the MERL, gave students an introduction to the museum, its collection, the Great West Way and its target audience, before our First Years set out to explore the museum and find aspects that they would like to present to a German speaking target audience. By writing blog posts for MERL, they could put their skills into practice. Their texts cover a vast range of topics, from the Museum’s special exhibitions to special activities for families and young adults. Some of the texts that were created can be found here:

https://merl.reading.ac.uk/news-and-views/2019/06/aus-deutschland-zu-besuch-im-merl/

Both groups had the opportunity to use their language skills in a real life setting that helped them to understand that writing blogs and translation can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.

See also:

Discover The Great West Way: https://www.greatwestway.co.uk/

 

The Museum of English Rural Life: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/

 

Sara Sullam: uncovering valuable documents in the University’s special collections.

Sara Sullam is Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Milan.

Sara Sullam is Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Milan. She spent her six-month Visiting Fellowship funded by the British Academy at our Department. In this blog post she tells us what she discovered in the University’s Special Collections.

In her 1925 essay on “How Should One Read a Book” Virginia Woolf reflected on the fact that the very act of reading was always, in a way, taken for granted, while it in fact deserves further scrutiny and attention: “For though reading seems so simple – a matter of knowing the alphabet – it is indeed so difficult that it is doubtful anyone knows anything about it”. Research on reading has undoubtedly progressed since then: however, much remains to be discovered on how reading habits are formed and on how our experience of reading across languages and cultures is shaped.

Funded by a Visiting Fellowship of the British Academy hosted by the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies under the supervision of Dr Daniela La Penna, my project British Novels for European Readers, European novels for British Readers: A Working Hypothesis for the Anglo-Italian Case (1945-1965) has investigated the crucial function of publishing for the development of reading culture in a key moment in the history of European integration. In particular, it has focused on the strategies devised by Italian and British publishers to select, evaluate, translate, promote and market fiction from 1945 to the mid-Sixties. Who were the people involved in these processes? What was their way of reading? And how did it impact on the way the common reader in both countries made sense of fiction coming from abroad?

To address these research questions, I literally plunged in the incredible wealth of materials of the Archives of British Publishing and Printing housed at the University of Reading’s Special Collections. I read the correspondence between English and Italian publishers – Chatto & Windus, The Hogarth Press, Jonathan Cape, The Bodley Head on this side of the Channel, Mondadori, Feltrinelli, Einaudi in Italy. I studied the reports written by professional readers, key actors in the process of literary transfer, whose work has very often remained buried in the archives. I was able to see how much is gained, and not lost, in translation. Working on these papers has made literature come alive.

Illuminating the transnational networks of people who shaped the availability of post-war European novels in the British and American markets has also inspired the research practice underpinning the project, aimed at building research networks across disciplines and languages. Besides funding a number of presentations of the project at other UK universities (Manchester, Nottingham), the BA grant allowed me to co-organize with my host Daniela La Penna an international conference (https://readingconference.home.blog/) that brought together publishing historians, scholars of Italian and English literature, from Italy, Germany, the US and the United Kingdom. The conference gave us all the opportunity to reflect on the networks of the past to build the research networks of the future.

 

Sara Sullam

A Working Life Built on German

On 4 February, students and staff of German had the enormous privilege to meet Andrew Sims, a German alumnus, who has pursued a successful career as an interpreter and translator with the German Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Andrew studied German and Russian at Reading in the 1980s. Since his MA in translation and interpreting, he has worked first for the West German government in Bonn and, after 1990, for the government of unified Germany in Berlin. His talk introduced students to the different types of interpreting, from simultaneous and consecutive to whisper interpreting, and gave an insight into how the types of interpreting determine the role of the interpreter within this quite daunting process. To reassure students who are thinking of choosing this career path, Andrew showed us the interpreter’s survival kit. It included strong nerves, good knowledge of shorthand, the ability to be invisible in the middle of a room, an insatiable appetite for new words and phrases (to be learnt for each new policy, political development, and project), the art of inserting place-holder words as long as the message of the sentence remains unclear, absolute confidentiality, and a good grasp of the audience you are interpreting for.

Andrew also talked about his work as a translator, a rapidly changing profession. The future of translation will depend on ever-improving translation software while a highly qualified translator is needed for the post-translation editing. While the rough work will be managed by machines, human linguistic and cultural know-how – including superb knowledge of the target as well as the source language – will remain central for producing a text fit for sensitive political communication.

Students were inspired by the talk and encouraged by Andrew’s assessment that English natives who master both their own language and German are desperately needed, and will always be welcome in Germany.

The Mauritian Novel – Liverpool University Press in Conversation with Julia Waters

As Mauritian ecologist Vincent Florens asserts, Mauritius truly is a ‘laboratoire du monde’. With no original, in-dwelling inhabitants, Mauritius’s present-day population is made up entirely of the descendants of French colonial settlers, enslaved Africans and Malagasy, Indian indentured labourers, Chinese traders and other economic migrants from across the globe, with each successive human wave leaving its mark on the languages, cultures, customs and natural environment of this small, postcolonial ‘rainbow nation.’ On 12 March this year, Mauritius marked fifty years of independence from Great Britain, in a ceremony attended by heads of state, crowds of ordinary Mauritians – and me. Despite Mauritius’s inauspicious beginnings as an independent nation, post-colonial Mauritius has been widely praised for its ‘economic miracle’ and for the peaceful accommodation of its multi-ethnic population. Nonetheless, Mauritian literature – especially that written in the wake of the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya riots’ of 1999 – paints a rather different picture of the island-nation, marked by inequality, injustice, difference, division and violence. Given the diverse composition of Mauritius’ population (made up of Franco-Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, Sino-Mauritians, Muslims and Creoles), Mauritian fiction is also centrally preoccupied with the question of what it means to be ‘Mauritian’ today: in other words, with the issue – or problem – of ‘belonging’.

What drew you to focus your research on Mauritian Literature and the notion of ‘belonging’?

My fascination with Mauritian literature was originally sparked, back in 2001, by a lively, wine-fuelled conversation with Mauritian academic, Kumari Issur, at an ASCALF conference in London. I had just presented a paper on Gallimard’s contentious ‘Continents Noirs’ series and Kumari recommended that I read Amal Sewtohul’s first novel, Histoire d’Ashok et d’autres personnages de moindre importance, which was about to appear in the same series, along with his compatriot, Ananda Devi’s Pagli. Numerous subsequent visits to Mauritius, meetings with Mauritian authors, impassioned debates with Indian Ocean academics, and continued voracious reading, often ‘hot off the press’, of the impressive stream of novels that have continued to flow from the tiny island-nation since, have merely confirmed my initial fascination with Mauritius’ culture, history, society and literature.

My interest in the notion of ‘belonging’ – a sense of attachment to, and identification with, a place or people – was prompted both by the thematic and stylistic recurrence of the notion in contemporary Mauritian literature and, more broadly, by the term’s paradoxical ubiquity and obscurity. Everyone thinks they know what they mean when they talk about belonging, but, as geographer Marco Antonsich points out, they ‘actually know very little about what belonging stands for and how it is claimed.’[1] I was keen to find out more. Whereas existing postcolonial paradigms, such as hybridity or créolisation, had already been fruitfully applied to the Mauritian situation, no one had yet taken belonging, or the ‘universal human desire to belong’, as the primary thematic and conceptual focus of study. As John Crowley points out, ‘while the term [belonging] itself is not new, it is little used as an analytical or theoretical tool.’[2] I was keen to rise to this challenge.

What makes your book stand out from others in its field?

My monograph is the first book-length study in English on twenty-first-century Mauritian fiction in French and as such, I hope, makes a significant contribution to the recent expansion of research on Indian Ocean cultures. The book is original in its focus on the under-researched, affective dimension of belonging (place-belongingness) and its intersections with the often brutal and exclusionary ‘politics of belonging.’ My chapter on Shenaz Patel’s Le Silence des Chagos, in which I explore the uses and abuses of competing notions of belonging in the UK’s forced expulsion of the Chagos islanders in the 1960s and 70s, should also be of interest to anyone following the latest developments in their long struggle for the right to return at the International Court of Justice this year.

My book develops a new, multidimensional approach to understanding issues of belonging and exclusion in diverse, multi-ethnic societies that will, I hope, be of interest to a broad academic audience than those already interested in Mauritian literature or Indian Ocean cultures. Through a series of close textual analyses of individual novels or pairs of novels by leading contemporary Mauritian writers, my book examines Mauritian literary responses to the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya’ riots of 1999 and to the problems of belonging and exclusion that they so dramatically exposed. And it does so by applying an eclectic range of theoretical approaches, not usually associated with ‘postcolonial’ texts, to the particular concerns of individual novels and chapters: violence, place, gender, displacement, the everyday, migration.

Your book is available Open Access, can you tell us why you chose to pursue this option?

In this, the 50th anniversary year of Mauritian independence (1968), there is intense international interest in post-independence Mauritian culture. There is also renewed interest this year in the plight of exiled Chagos islanders, as the Mauritian government challenges the U.K. for its illegal separation of the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius, prior to independence. My book is therefore timely and should, I hope, garner considerable international attention, including amongst readers in Mauritius, India, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. Open Access publication is thus ideal for making my book both logistically and financially accessible to these and other key readerships, both overseas and in the UK. I am therefore grateful to the University of Reading for their institutional support of the OA publication of my monograph – and to Liverpool University Press, Modern Languages Open and Oapen Library for making it happen.

[1] Marco Antonsich, ‘Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework’, Geography Compass, vol. 4, no. 6 (2010), pp. 644 ̶ 59; p. 644.

[2] John Crowley, ‘The Politics of Belonging: Some Theoretical Considerations’, in Andrew Geddes and Adrian Favell (eds.), The Politics of Belonging: Migrants and Minorities in Contemporary Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 15 ̶ 39; p. 18.

Reviews

‘In this insightful book, Julia Waters provides new perspectives to chart the Mauritian 21st century novel – these stimulating and provocative essays illustrate the challenge provided by both the varied subject matter and the critical lenses adopted.’
Kumari R Issur, University of Mauritius

About The Author

Julia Waters is Professor of Contemporary Literature in French at the University of Reading.

When research and life come together in the most unexpected ways

As an academic working on Cuban culture since 1959 https://www.reading.ac.uk/modern-languages-and-european-studies/stories/mles-story-kumaraswami.aspx , and as a lifelong supporter of Manchester City, imagine my delight at being invited to speak at an event which featured Manchester City’s manager, Pep Guardiola? Huge thanks to Dr Diana Cullell, Professor Claire Taylor and Professor Chris Harris for the invitation!

And so, on 21 November 2018, I travelled to the University of Liverpool and listened to Pep talk about the importance of travel, learning languages, engaging with other cultures, recent political events in Catalunya and, of course, about his work as one of the world’s most successful football managers. The video of his talk is available here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/modern-languages-and-cultures/events/pep-live/

Following his talk, I gave my own paper, a mixture of personal experience and research reflexions. This was possibly the easiest academic paper I have prepared in my life (based on so many conversations with family and friends), and certainly the most fun to deliver (sound recording to be added soon). Here’s a summary of the main argument:

The twelfth man? Some unlikely connections between Manchester City and Revolutionary Cuba

I frequently experience reactions of curiosity and surprise. These reactions are rarely articulated but they seem to be born of certain assumptions, to follow a certain orthodoxy. Why continue to work with such dedication on a context where writers and artists are denied freedom of expression and have to distort their ideas and work to fit political and ideological prescriptions? Why continue to support a football team and club which have lost touch with the grassroots, and which are fuelled and sponsored by unlimited reserves of Middle Eastern oil money?

This paper aims to question those reactions, to interrogate assumptions about Cuba and about football, and to propose a more nuanced understanding of both. It is based on much reading and writing https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1vwmdc2 ; https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137569639  and on abundant participant observation on the terraces and in Cuba https://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/research-project-grants-2014.

So, the essential question is how to understand two cultural contexts which, in my view, have been over-determined politically and economically https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/19/cuba-president-miguel-diaz-canel-modernise-economy ; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/24/who-pays-for-manchester-city-beautiful-game . What these two approaches fail to notice, and what my work on cultural participation in post-1959 Cuba emphasises, is the importance of culture – as both everyday practice and artistic representation – in providing the glue that binds societies and social groups.

Let’s start with Cuba: whilst many scholars and commentators focus on periods of crisis for writers and artists, often related to the ‘Sovietisation’ of culture in the 1970s, they fail to notice the other discourses and policies that have provided a direction for Cuban cultural policy since the revolutionary government came to power, and, crucially, the continuity that has characterised those policies over 60 years: that is, a commitment to investing in culture, a sustained attempt to ‘change the rules of the game’ in order that elite forms such as literature become massified practices, and, of course, the creation of an infrastructure for publishing and he socialisation of literary culture. These ideas were crystallised in a series of speeches by Fidel Castro, the ‘Palabras a los intelectuales’/Words to the intellectuals’ of 1961 http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/castro/db/1961/19610630.html;https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1470-9856.2009.00315.x . One of the key examples here is the Feria Internacional del Libro de la Habana (FILH)/Havana International Book Festival, and its massification and diversification in the 2000s. At its height in 2006, and bearing in mind that Cuba has a population of around 11.5 million, the FILH attracted 5 million people and sold 5 million books across the island’s territory https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292324130_The_feria_del_libro_and_the_ritualization_of_cultural_belonging_in_Havana . Yet some Cuban writers complained at the time that the massification of the FILH diluted or trivialised the serious work of producing and consuming literature.

Poetry reading in Bayamo, April 2018

A more recent example is from the provincial iteration of the FILH in 2014. At a poetry reading organised in the central square of Bayamo, the capital of Cuba’s eastern Granma province, the organiser of the reading complained that it was being interrupted by the public shouting to friends, generally enjoying the fair-like atmosphere rather than paying attention to the poetry being recited. The organiser felt that this demonstrated ‘una falta de respeto’/’a lack of respect’, whilst I argued back vigorously that in fact it showed the opposite: the sense of entitlement to occupy public spaces for culture produced in Cubans of all walks of life by decades of government and public investment in cultural access and participation. What emerges from initiatives such as the FILH is the notion that elite and mass/popular cultures are compatible, mutually constitutive and reciprocally beneficial, that they create a particularly effective model for cultural prestige; furthermore, that collective participation also creates a sense of well-being in providing spaces, opportunities and practices that bind individuals loosely, in ways which allow them to feel a sense of both identification and self-differentiation. The local and physical aspects of that participation are key.

What does all this mean for Cuba and for football? The fact that two levels of activity, each with functions that are infused with cognitive, moral, affective and corporeal components, can come together in a public and collective space, means that the public – whether at a book reading in Cuba or a football match at the Etihad stadium – enjoy the opportunity to feel, believe, represent and perform identities which are vital to our sense of belonging and well-being. As long as they are harmonised with top-down policies, these interactions nourish social integration: in my experience, the football terraces are the only place in contemporary English society where people of all ages, genders, classes and cultural heritages come together to inhabit the same space as a collective.

Quite simply, cultural participation, whether at a book festival or a football match – especially at times of rapid socio-cultural and political change – can be the twelfth man.

Dr Par Kumaraswami, Spanish Section, Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, University of Reading

Second issue of Gendered Voices magazine: “Beyond the Binary”.

I am delighted to announce the recent publication of the second issue of Gendered Voices magazine: “Beyond the Binary”. The magazine is published by the Gender and Sexuality Research Cluster of the AHRC SWWDTP and features work by postgraduate students, academics, and a guest article from the charity sector. This interdisciplinary magazine celebrates diversity and intersectionality. It includes topics such as drag culture, non-binary identity, transgender experience, lgbtq issues, gender fluidity in 19th century France, The Inca Empire, pirates, and much more!

Thank you to all the Reading PhD students who contributed articles and photos to the magazine. The issue certainly demonstrates the richness of postgraduate research in the UK. As we received such a high level of interest from our fellow postgraduate students, we will certainly be publishing a third issue in the future. Watch this space!

The magazine is intended for an audience both within and outside academia, so do please share this magazine with your peers and friends. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.

If you’d like to get in touch please contact me by email: genderandsexualitycluster@gmail.com
or via the cluster’s twitter account @swwgender

 

Best wishes

Maria Tomlinson (General Editor)

 

Ashleigh Embling, Runner-up of the Year Abroad Photo Competition 2017

Hello, my name is Ashleigh Embling and I’m a final year French and International Relations Student. I spent my year abroad studying at Sciences Po Lyon, in Lyon. Studying at a Grande Ecole was a challenging experience, but incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.

I chose to study because although the aim of the year abroad is to focus on our language development, I really wanted to keep up the International Relations side of my degree and Sciences Po provided the perfect place to do this, whilst also massively improving my language skills because of the lectures being in French. Studying also provided an environment where it was easy to meet other people doing Erasmus placements, so I had a group of Erasmus friends and our common language was French which really helped improve my level of fluency.

Lyon was unlike anywhere I’ve lived before, it’s the third largest city in France and shows this in its vibrant culture and welcoming atmosphere. Lyon has 9 arrondissements, each with its own personality. My preferred areas are Vieux Lyon which is the historic quarter; home to old churches, a basilica and traditional French streets housing many small ateliers, and Croix-Rousse which is quite a young area with stunning views of the city.

During my year abroad, I travelled to many places including Marseille, Siena, Paris and Madrid. The photo that won second place was taken on one of my trips to Lake Annecy, in a town called Annecy on the Swiss-French border about an hour’s bus trip from Lyon. Being able to travel to so many places was definitely a highlight of my year abroad, and I’m glad I took so many photos like this one to be able to remember each trip!

Venetian Dreams: Merging Languages and Art by Venetia Baker (French and Italian alumna).

When I graduated from the University of Reading in 2012, I wasn’t sure where I wanted my degree in French and Italian to take me. I was passionate about languages, and my confidence in both languages was at its highest. I knew I wanted to use them in whatever career I would enter into. It was the desire to use my languages that spurred me on to accept a place on a Master’s degree in Technical and Specialised Translation at the University of Westminster.

After graduating from my MA, I gained my first full-time job in a large translation company, TransPerfect, based in London. From here, I built on my knowledge of the translation industry and after one year I gained the confidence to go freelance, setting up my own translation business. I loved being in charge of my workload and building up a steady network of clients, both privately and through agencies. After two years of working from home as a translator, however, one of my other passions was niggling at me, and I realised that there was perhaps another career route for me where I could combine my love of languages with my passion for the arts.

I had studied a few history of art modules during my time at Reading and during my year abroad in Padua, and in particular I had enjoyed learning about the art of the Italian Renaissance. I wanted to build on this knowledge and learn more about the field of art curation in a contemporary setting. What better way to do this than by enrolling on a course in Curatorial Practice and Contemporary Art in the Italian heart of contemporary art: Venice.

I hadn’t realised what I had let myself in for when I landed in Venice last October and made my way to my rented apartment, just outside of Venice in a town called Malcontenta. I was hopeful that the name of the town wasn’t an omen of how the year to come would pan out! Taught completely in Italian, in a class of 20 Italian students, I was truly immersed from the word go, and was suddenly grateful for all the intensive language skills classes Enza had put us through in fourth year! I particularly loved the location of my school in Campo Santo Stefano, near to the Accademia bridge. I would take my morning “caffè ginseng” in the campo before attending lectures on curatorial practice, art project management, fundraising, graphic design, press relations and conservation in the crumbling Conservatorio di musica Benedetto Marcello. The course worked towards the creation and realisation of an art exhibition, which we designed and managed as a group. The best part of this process for me was working with internationally renowned contemporary artists, getting to discuss with them their artworks, and helping them throughout the exhibition process, from choosing the artworks to their arrival in Venice and installation. It was an exhausting but incredible experience, and to top it off we got to attend the openings of several exhibitions as part of the Venice International Art Biennale, meeting artists and networking.

During my time in Venice, I also managed to fit in a one-month internship at the amazing Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I loved being surrounded by the incredible artworks in the collection, from Picasso’s, Dali’s, Matisse’s, Miro’s, Giacometti’s and Brancusi’s, to Pollock’s, Still’s, Bacon’s, Warhol’s and Fontana’s. The art collection of the PGC is out of this world, and I absolutely loved guarding the galleries, selling tickets and preparing talks for the public on the life of Peggy Guggenheim. My favourite part however was putting the artworks to bed every evening, by placing their “pyjamas” over them and being the last ones left in the museum after the crowds had left. What a dream! This experience also enabled me to learn more about the running of a small art museum, and a particular highlight for me was having a private guided tour of the collection by the Director, Dr Philip Rylands.

Having returned to the UK in May, I am now working at Royal Museums Greenwich as a Bookings and Customer Service Coordinator, having started in the museum as a Visitor Assistant. I love my job and couldn’t ask for a better place to have my office – a Unesco World Heritage site surrounded by wonderful artworks and historical artefacts. My team are from all over the world, and I use my languages on a daily basis both with my colleagues and our visitors, and I’m hoping to develop within the museum, and perhaps one day move into the curatorial department, if the opportunity arises. Amongst all the craziness of my time in Venice, I also got engaged there at the start of my course. A perfect place to be proposed to, being the lady of Venice! My fiance, a fellow Reading Modern Languages graduate, and I are now busy planning our wedding and looking forward to building our future together.

Venetia Baker

Michael O’Hagan, Winner of the Year Abroad Photo Competition 2017

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Hello, my name is Michael O’Hagan and I spent my year abroad in Paris for a 10-month internship, working as a purchaser/product manager. Obviously completing an internship abroad is a bit more fast-paced than studying abroad, but it was just so worth it.

Well, what can I say about Paris? It’s an incredible city. I didn’t actually live in the centre of Paris (to save money), but in a very small town about an hour’s commute south of the ‘périphérique’ (ringroad) which encircles central Paris. Although the commute was long, it was really nice to be out in the quieter countryside with fields and a forest, but still close enough to the centre of the capital.

To give you a bit more of an insight into my internship, I worked for a company which buys and sells new and used cars in France. I was a purchaser of new cars, so I was contacting suppliers all over Europe to buy cars from them and import them to France. The first few weeks completely flew by as I tried to take in all the French I could, and learn the principle tasks of my internship. Once I settled in, I was quickly given a lot of responsibilities, which was awesome, seeing as some French internships offer interns seriously limited responsibility. As I speak Czech too, I was able to travel to the Czech Republic in December for 4 days with my manager, to meet new suppliers who I had made first contact with over the phone. This was the toughest but also the most rewarding experience of my whole life.

I could go on forever about my internship, but I should instead say to all future languages students looking to potentially do an internship instead of studying abroad, to not hesitate even for a second to search and apply for internships. It will change your life, and give you some serious experience to help you stand out from other candidates in applications for jobs after university.

The photo I took is of the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, in summer time after my placement had finished. It was easily 30-35 degrees at the time! Not bad for Paris, I know. The photo shows that although Paris can be a really loud, bustling, and busy city, there are so many chilled and relaxing parks you can go to and take some time out.