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.

Another year, another cohort, another graduation ceremony: A parent’s view

Another year, another cohort, another graduation ceremony. What is unchanged is our happiness to be celebrating our students’ present achievements and our excitement at the thought of their future achievements, all accompanied by that touch of sadness at seeing them go. Graduation is also the opportunity for us to meet our students’ families, and rejoice with them on such a special occasion. This year we had the extreme pleasure of meeting the family of one very special student, James Dowds, who graduated in French and Italian, winner of the 2017 Welson Prize for Italian, as well as of the Student of the Year award for being one of the most engaged students of his year, a true example of active participation, citizenship, and resilience. This is what his mother, Dympna Mc Donnell, had to say about James’s – and her own – experience (including the ‘bumps’) during the years here at Reading:

Photograph courtesy of Cre8ive studios http://www.cre8ive-studios.com 

As a parent it is difficult to support a child through university as there is little contact with the university and the student is away from home.  I was also very aware that in supporting James from afar, it was important that he learned the skills and techniques he needed to get him through difficult times.  Whilst this was a challenge in years 1 and 2 it became more difficult in his year away.  All students find coping away from home challenging and James was not unusual in feeling lonely and homesick.  In his first week away in France I know he contacted you (as indeed I did as I was concerned about how low he was feeling).  The university was quick to respond in making contact with James and giving him the advice he needed.  I know that in both France and Italy James was helped by lecturers and staff in Reading.  Without this support I think he may have questioned if the trip abroad was a worthwhile and manageable event for him.  In fact, the support James received was key in making the year abroad the success it turned out to be.  In France, he made many friends and had a thriving social life.  I went out to see him with his brother and sister in October 2015 and was so impressed with the quantity of local knowledge he had accumulated.  He guided us around Poitiers, showing us many lovely churches and courtyards and was clearly happy and relaxed.

On graduation day, the department’s lecturers remarked that James returned back to Reading for his fourth year with a very different attitude and approach towards his studies.  He had matured in his time away and dealt with many issues that were making him unhappy.  He felt more confident in his ability to deal with the challenges life presents us with.  He worked hard at his studies and secured the 2.1 degree he wanted to get.  He got involved with extra curricular events such as the radio show and the video promoting foreign languages.  He was much more positive and wanted to do well.

To the department I would like to say: never forget or underestimate the profound positive impact you and your colleagues have on the young people who are so lucky to have you. Imparting knowledge, preparing and delivering lectures is such a big part of what you all do but it is very clear to me that you provide so much more to your students. You reassure, listen and support. Alongside that pastoral care, you set high academic standards, which ensure students, reach their potential. I have no doubt whatsoever that your care and your professional skills were key to James’s success.

Dympna McDonnell

The Christopher G. Wagstaff Film Collection

Thursday April 6, 2017 marked the official launch of the Christopher G. Wagstaff Italian Film Collection at the University of Notre Dame. Wagstaff, who retired from the University of Reading in 2015 after four decades as a teacher and scholar of Italian, delivered a short talk at the event, which recognised his distinguished career as well as the generous donation of his personal film archive to Notre Dame.

Chris Wagstaff, who taught Italian at the University of Reading for four decades

As Wagstaff’s former colleague Professor Zygmunt G. Baranski has said, in his long career at the University of Reading Chris “worked tirelessly and, at times, eccentrically, to develop new undergraduate and graduate courses, to build a major film library, to establish national and international contacts and networks, to enlighten and encourage students, and, most importantly, to demand the highest standards of scholarly seriousness from himself and his students.” With that in mind, we want to take this opportunity to recognise Chris’s contribution to the University of Reading and to the wider Italian and Film-Studies communities.

We asked Tracy Bergstrom, Curator of Italian Imprints and Co-Director of Digital Library Initiatives and Scholarship at the University of Notre Dame, to tell us about the archive. She explained that the Christopher G. Wagstaff Film Collection is built around roughly 2,000 Italian films and television programs donated from Wagstaff’s personal collection. These films are currently being catalogued and made available through the Hesburgh Libraries, as well as digitised for preservation purposes. Both digital and commercial copies are supplemented by the University of Notre Dame’s large print collection, housed in the Hesburgh Library, which explores the history, culture, and aesthetics of Italian media.

The Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame, new home of the Christopher Wagstaff Film Collection

Brendan Hennessey, Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Binghamton and the archive’s first curator, further expanded on the significance of the archive. “The Christopher G. Wagstaff Film Collection aims to become a centre for the study of Italian film and television that will be open to scholars and students, a North American cineteca at Notre Dame, the first of its kind, capable of supporting extant research while promoting future projects in Italian screen studies.

The mission of the Wagstaff Collection is not to preserve individual films, but to permit the study of a corpus of cinematic works facilitated by their digitisation. It will nurture research, screenings, curated film series, and scholarly events. In so doing it perpetuates Christopher Wagstaff’s original vision to expand our understanding of Italian cinema through the study of all types of Italian media production. Over the course of his prolific career as both teacher and scholar in Italian studies at the University of Reading, Christopher Wagstaff’s role as amateur archivist reinforced his position as one of Italian cinema’s most respected interpreters.

During his career at the University of Reading Wagstaff published several path-breaking studies, including this magisterial examination of Italian neorealism

As an archivist-scholar, Wagstaff brought precision to the study of both “classics” and non-canonical films, with a particular interest in exploring how production contexts (and their illuminating empirical data) could be gateways for sharpening Italian film hermeneutics. Evidenced by the titles in the archive, his tastes are indeed eclectic: art-house staples, rare versions of neorealist classics and auteur films from the 1960s neighbour popular genre films (science fiction, action-adventure, peplums) and an extensive assortment of spaghetti westerns. Recent scholarship attests how such an expansive horizon of types was prescient for Italian screen studies in the twenty-first century. Today, as the reverence for traditional canons and their inevitable hierarchies are on the wane, collections that stretch beyond the precincts of the post-war Italian art film are increasingly vital.”

We at Reading are proud of the work that Chris has done and want to congratulate him on the launch of the Christopher G. Wagstaff Italian Film Collection at the University of Notre Dame. Well done Chris!

Incredible Thank-you from Alicja Kobylecka, a BA German and Italian graduate

The winking robot Maria by Alicja Kobylecka

Staff in Italian and German studies were overwhelmed when Alicja Kobylecka, a BA German and Italian graduate, brought in a gift: three of her paintings based on films she studied with us. Two of the paintings depict films from the German final year module Cinema of the Weimar Republic. A third depicts a film from the second year module on Italian cinema.

The winking robot Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is dedicated to the German staff; a second painting showing “German Expressionism entering HumSS Building” is based on F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and is a thank you to the Senior Tutor of DMLES, Dr Wölfel. The third painting depicts Gelsomina from Federico Fellini’s La strada (1954) and is dedicated to all of the Italian staff.

With the paintings a thank-you note to the Italian section from Alicja came:

German Expressionism entering HumSS Building by Alicja Kobylecka

Understanding the enigmatic world of a new culture through learning language in a social context is a fascinating but also quite challenging process. It definitely changed my perception of the world forever. Additionally, after being introduced by my lecturers to Italian Neorealism and German Expressionism, I was lucky enough to find an inspiration for my artworks. What a bonus! Therefore, to all the lovely people from the German and Italian sections I would like to say a big thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and for the amazing support all the way!

The paintings will remain displayed in the Edith Morley building. There is nothing more rewarding for us then getting something so exceptionally creative back. We know that we are only as inspiring and productive as our students are. Thank you, Alicja!

A languages degree gives you a huge variety of transferrable skills

What can you do with a degree in languages? We asked Emily Skew, who graduated from the University of Reading in 2015 with a BA in French and Italian, and who now works in marketing. She has excellent advice for anyone wondering where a languages degree might take you:

Emily Skew, a 2015 graduate of the University of Reading, now works in marketing for FEED

French was always my favourite lesson at school. Once I started looking into university courses, I knew a languages course would be for me. I looked at many universities, considering their various combined degrees knowing that I wanted to study French as well as another subject. It wasn’t until I went to an open day at the University of Reading that I made up my mind to study Italian as my second subject, thanks to the friendliness and enthusiasm of the Italian staff. From then, Reading was my only choice.

The Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading was amazing. As students we had so much support and help all the way through the course – something which I didn’t sense I would have had in the other universities I visited – and that didn’t stop when it came to looking at our future after graduation. The University and the department put on many careers events and workshops, which helped enormously to tackle the daunting prospect of leaving university.

A University of Reading Careers Fair

During my last term at Reading I wasn’t sure that a typical languages job, such as translation or teaching, would be for me, so a careers advisor suggested I start looking at industries where I could use skills gained from learning languages. I landed myself an internship in a marketing agency after my exams and I loved it.

Having had so many hands-on hours during my course and a year abroad, I was used to conversing and communicating with lots of different people, meaning a role in communications was probably a good choice. So, while I wasn’t using my languages as such, I was using the many skills my degree had given me. This applied for my next role in PR where my languages helped me get the job even though I wouldn’t necessarily be using them.

I have since moved back to the Marketing sector with an agency called FEED and I am now working on eBay’s global email marketing where I project manage the campaigns by assigning work to copywriters and designers. We look after the French and Italian eBay emails so I finally have the chance to use my languages by checking and editing the emails before they are sent back to the client.

Where will your University of Reading degree take you?

My advice to anyone wondering what to do with a degree in languages? It doesn’t matter if you don’t immediately find a job working with languages. A languages degree gives you a huge variety of transferrable skills which will really impress employers and there is always a large chance you will end up working with languages again. There are so many international companies out there looking for people with invaluable language skills, so you don’t have to go into teaching or translation to make use of your languages.

To learn more about your employability with a degree in French, German, Italian, or Spanish from the University of Reading, check out our careers page. Be sure to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed, too, so that you can keep up on all the news and events of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading.

If you’re a Reading graduate, we’d love to hear from you about your career choices after university. Tell us your story. The University of Reading publishes alumni profiles online. If you’d like to share your experiences, all you have to do is fill out an online questionnaire.

When you do, please consider submitting your story for the “Meet a Reading Graduate” section of our departmental blog.

Are you a University of Reading graduate? Consider becoming a Thrive Mentor.

If you’d like to tell us where your Reading degree has taken you, and perhaps to share a few  memories of the department, please get in touch with our Alumni Officer, Dr Charles Leavitt. And please consider joining the University’s Thrive Mentoring Scheme to help our students make their transition into the world after graduation.

Whatever you do, remember to subscribe to our blog: