Evan Hierholzer, Managing Editor
On Monday, Oct. 28, the department of modern languages and Jose Espericueta, assistant professor of Spanish, hosted a symposium, entitled “Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries: Modern Languages and the Liberal Arts Experience,” in which students presented their interdisciplinary work and engaged in discussion about interdisciplinary dialogue and its future within the liberal arts tradition at the University of Dallas.
The event primarily featured presentations from five students engaged in academic work that crossed disciplinary divides.
“We had five presentations of students all throughout Modern Languages: Comparative Literature, German, Spanish and Italian, and they all presented on the work that they do,” said Espericueta. “The idea behind the event was to look at how some of the work that students in the modern languages department dialogs with either works from the Core or other disciplines, and work that they have done in other departments.”
Following the presentations was a discussion that provided attendees with a glimpse into the value of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary dialogue.
“The biggest value of the discussion and the event was the way that we were able to establish similarities, and I think that there was a lot of enthusiasm for this event in particular because others were able to see people here at the university who were familiar with, say, Thomas Hardy or William Faulkner, who, being very acquainted with the Core, were able to see the similarities to texts outside of the Core, and I think that piqued a lot of people’s interests,” said Espericueta.
One such person is William Remmes, a junior economics and finance major who presented a paper on the stylistic and thematic similarities between the respective works of Jorge Borges and William Faulkner. “I noticed some very striking similarities between the themes and even the characters of that Latin American story [Borges’ “El Sur”] and William Faulkner’s “Go Down Moses” (which I had been studying, coincidentally, in Lit Trad IV with Dr. Roper), and these similarities were so striking that I just started to do more research and see exactly if there was any relationship between Borges and Faulkner at the time, and it turns out there was,” said Remmes.
For Remmes, the symposium offered a chance for students and faculty to see the very real relationships between disciplinary studies and the texts comprising the Core.
“What the Core curriculum fosters is a willingness to reach outside of your own specific discipline, so you’re not afraid to approach your own major from different perspectives,” said Remmes. “Being able to incorporate those other disciplines within my own subject is something that I think this symposium celebrated.”
Another, and very different presentation, was that of Vance Nygard, a senior chemistry major, who presented on his chemical research conducted in Germany.
“I think the shared experience between this and the other ones was the enthusiasm of doing something outside of one’s own context – outside one’s own cultural-linguistic context – and being able to connect that with their interests.”
Such connection, according to Espericueta, can be a very fulfilling experience.
“[The] negotiation of differences and similarity and coming to a harmonious result – it is very pleasurable, and it is pleasurable in the same way, I think, as it is to be sitting at a table with someone who speaks a different language, and you are negotiating meaning together, and you reach a point where you understand each other: That is a moment of connection that enriches us in a lot of ways and allows us opportunities for self-reflection,” he said.
In addition to noting the pleasure to be derived from comparative studies, Espericueta emphasized the importance, and even necessity, of interdisciplinary dialogue for fully understanding and appreciating one’s own disciplinary studies.
“It’s necessary to look at the dialogue between authors and between literatures and between traditions because writers are not necessarily bound by the same constraints as departments are … When we talk about 20th-century Latin American literature, we cannot talk about it without talking about what’s going on in North America and in Europe,” he said.
Espericueta hopes that the event, and others like it, will spark further dialogue between departments.
“This started out simply as a comparative approach to literatures and it turned into something bigger … It is a really valuable thing that all of the students have done here, and so by giving them an opportunity not just to talk about [their interdisciplinary work] but to reflect on it and its value and put it in the larger context of the liberal arts, I think that plants the seeds for thinking about this kind of thing more and more,” he said.