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New school at Illinois focuses on literatures, cultures and linguistics

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois has reshaped the study of language, literature and culture on campus by creating a new administrative unit, the School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics.

The 11 academic units in the new school are within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and physically located in the Foreign Languages Building on the U. of I. Quad.

“Together they teach more than 30 languages and promote understanding of the literatures and cultures that use them,” said Douglas Kibbee, a professor of French and of linguistics at Illinois and the director of the new school.

The units are cinema studies; classics; comparative and world literature; East Asian languages and cultures; English as an international language; French; Germanic languages and literatures; linguistics; religious studies; Slavic languages and literatures; and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education approved the formation of the school last summer but the change did not go into effect until this semester. It is the culmination of a process that began in the late 1990s, Kibbee said.

Because of the administrative consolidations, he said, “we have been able to put more money toward academic endeavors – creating new courses and hosting scholarly conferences.”

Kibbee said that the new organization of the school encourages collaborations across departmental boundaries, and that within the past two years, even before the reorganization, “we have been able to fund dozens of projects and conferences that have enriched the intellectual life of the building and the campus.”

One such project involves creating new courses in Scandinavian studies.

Anna Stenport, a professor and the director of the Scandinavian program, said that funding from the new school supported a “substantial curricular revision,” which has made it possible for students to pursue a major in Scandinavian studies.

“We’ve been able to make the program accessible to students, and we’ve already seen a large increase in interest,” she said, including the possibility of developing a minor in Scandinavian studies.

Robert McKim is grateful for the school’s support because it has allowed him to bring many speakers to campus during a significant moment – “our effort to pursue the challenging project of attempting to understand religion objectively and in all of its dimensions.” McKim is the director of the Program for the Study of Religion at Illinois and a professor of religious studies and of philosophy.

In addition to the speakers program, some of the faculty members in religious studies are developing general education courses with support from the school.

McKim described the school as an “excellent initiative that has provided many small units with great and more cohesive representation in our very large College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and that has been beneficial in a number of other ways.”

“Within the new school there is a more efficient approach to providing services to our units,” he said. “The units in the school are also in the process of developing new shared activities in the classroom, and some new joint research initiatives. The school is well positioned to help to define activities in the humanities across the campus and we are already well launched on that project.”

Elabbas Benmamoun, a professor of linguistics, said pooling resources in a school makes sense.

“Given the overlapping interests in the Foreign Languages Building, particularly in the areas of second language teaching and learning and linguistic research in general, it makes sense to have an administrative structure that would allow us to pool the resources and expertise of the different units and develop programs, activities and initiatives that have the potential for greater impact and reach.

“We can already see that with the new investments that have been made in developing state of the art phonetics and second language acquisition laboratories,” Benmamoun said. “These are school-wide efforts that will benefit students and faculty from different units and programs in the school. I expect to see more initiatives of this kind.”

In addition to serving as the director of the new school, Kibbee has been instrumental in the creation of a Center for Translation Studies at Illinois. Part of that project has been to welcome the Dalkey Archive Press to campus. The press is a leading publisher of contemporary fiction and poetry from around the world.

Kibbee said that the press already has been instrumental in creating internships for U. of I. undergraduates and graduate students that “introduce them to the world of publishing. With these efforts, we hope to train the next generation of translators and pursue our mission of understanding the world and helping to bring about world understanding.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the Foreign Languages Building,” Kibbee said, “as we work more closely together and learn from each other. I am honored to be the first director of this new school and look forward to working with many people to realize the promise of this adventure.”