Graduate Student Summer: Archival Research in Hawai’i

By: Virginia L. Conn

As a result of a generous grant from the Rutgers Center for Chinese Studies (RCCS), I was able to pursue research in the lian huan hua collections at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, this summer—work which will set the foundation for my future dissertation research. The grant was used to purchase a plane ticket to Honolulu and a hostel in the city for nine nights, during which time I was allowed daily access to the special collections’ lian huan hua archive housed at the Hamilton Library.

Lian huan hua literally means “linked serial pictures,” and can be very loosely translated as “comics.” They were widely published in mainland China beginning in the 1920s, but reached their peak in the 70s and 80s following the Cultural Revolution—largely promulgated as a way to bring information to the illiterate masses. Because they were printed on cheap materials and made for mass consumption, originals have largely been lost. UH Manoa, however, holds one of the largest extant collections in the US, and I had the privilege of being able to access them during the latter part of the summer.


While in the archives, I was primarily looking for depictions of mass mobilization among the people, as well as images of the impact of technology on labor. The lian huan hua were used as a tool of education and propaganda in the state’s move towards modernization, and as a result there were many examples of the impact of trains, mining, agricultural improvements, electricity, telephone lines, and shipping techniques on the development of the country, as well as their impact on individual lives. Of course, the lian huan hua were used as pedagogical tools, largely for children and the illiterate, and the narratives being presented are idealized in the extreme. This does not detract from their value as historical tools, however, and indicates the way that the publishers sought to establish and shape mass opinion of the nation-building process.

As my own research involves the impact of technology on laboring bodies and the way those bodies are subsequently mobilized, the lian huan hua collection was an invaluable resource. Its significance in presenting top-down propaganda about the state’s development following the Cultural Revolution indicated the way the national narrative would be shaped for many years and provided a valuable point of entry for further analysis. I am indebted to the RCCS and the UH Manoa special collections staff for allowing me the opportunity to access these materials. Many thanks!


Grad Student Summer: Institute for World Literature in Cambridge, MA

By: Ke (Coco) Xu

After Beijing (2011), Istanbul (2012), Cambridge/ Boston (2013), Hong Kong (2014), and Lisbon (2015), this summer the Institute for World Literature met again at Harvard. Since its inauguration in Beijing, this summer program has been a place where genuine thinking and heated debates about world literature are happening. Led by David Damrosch, 14 scholars and over 150 student participants from more than 30 countries gathered for intellectual exchanges over the course of four weeks.

This year, the program ran from June 20th to July 14th. Each participant had the chance to choose two from a total of 14 seminars, each of which met four times a week for two consecutive weeks. The seminars were led by prominent scholars in the field; some held broader thematic concerns, such as Eric Hayot’s “The Small and the Large” and David Damrosch’s “Grounds for Comparison.” Some represented more specific topics, such as Bruce Robbins’ “Cosmopolitanism, Atrocity, and Time” and Reine Meylaerts’ “Multilingualism, Translation and World Literature.” Participants were also expected to attend colloquia, panel discussions, and lectures, where they had more time to talk about interests and concerns of their individual research experiences.

As one of the founding members, Rutgers has always been part of this growing program. With Rebecca Walkowitz’s seminar “Close Reading and World Literature” and up to four graduate student participants, Rutgers contributed greatly to this year’s IWL event. Participating as a graduate student from comparative literature, I found the experience at IWL especially valuable for the scope of its theoretical concerns, as well as for the cultural diversity that it represents.


Each compressed in two weeks, the two seminars required intense work and preparation. However, IWL granted its participants with free and unlimited access to the Harvard libraries and museums, which proved to be very convenient for study and research. In class, I benefited a lot from professors’ theorization of world literature and the various perspectives that the diversity of my classmates’ cultural background made possible. Thanks to the event’s general atmosphere of friendliness, openness, and generosity, discussion and conversation went beyond the classroom. During office hours there were always lines in the waiting room, and before and after classes small gatherings of chatting students were everywhere to be seen.


Another indispensable part of the IWL experience are smaller meetings called colloquia, where participants with similar research interests get together to talk about their ongoing work each week. In my group “World Literature and Translation II,” there were 12 students and scholars. When it was my turn to present, I gave a presentation on the Chinese artist Xu Bing and received many interesting responses. In a more casual atmosphere, colloquia provided participants with an opportunity to think together and help each other, which eventually opens up new perspectives and brings back unexpected inspirations.

In addition to seminars and colloquia, twice a week the IWL hosted lectures and panel sessions given by participating and guest professors. These events  allowed all participants of the program to gather together and meet each other. Many graduate students found the two panels on publication and the job market helpful, and the warm responses during Q&A sessions confirmed the success of the lectures. (Here is a link to the video of some of the lectures of IWL Harvard 2016.)


The panel on the job market.

As a bonus for the hard-working participants, IWL also arranged optional museum visits and beach outings, an addition to the fun of staying in Boston. Given the intensity of the program, in recollection I consider the closing of IWL in the middle of this July a start, rather than an end, of a quest for the answers to the many questions the Institute has made me ponder about. I will definitely keep thinking about the themes we have discussed during a very productive month in my future studies, and I look forward to keeping in touch with the friends and colleagues that I have met during the program.


Grad Student Summer: Barcelona Summer School

Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona

by Rafael Vizcaino

From July 11 to July 21, 2016, I attended the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School, organized by the Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. This is an intensive school organized by international faculty that attracts around 60-100 students from around the world each year, primarily doctoral and master students, young faculty, advanced undergraduates, and other professionals in related fields (particularly education and the arts). While attendees come from many different areas within the university and outside, and hail from all continents of the world, what we all share is a deep interest in processes and projects of decolonization (plurally construed). Because we shared the project of decoloniality, our interactions were an incredibly rich resource that allowed us to learn from and challenge one another in the spirit of solidarity. It is safe to say that there is no equivalent space of such strength, at least in the United States.

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The audience (picture by Nelson Maldonado-Torres).

The School consists of two or three intensive lectures a day, each lasting at least two hours. And between lectures was the time for general collective discussion, be it of the reading materials, the content of the lecture, or other concerns one may have. During spare time, people also organized into groups based on discipline or area of work/interest, and discussed in more detail how one’s area specifically relates to the decolonial project, or what kind of work one is doing to enact such relation. Days were very intense, as discussion tended to continue over lunch and dinner, and then lecturers unofficially held “office hours” in the buzzing Plaza del Sol in the neighborhood of Gracia. This was a great opportunity to interact with such thinkers on a one-on-one basis in a relaxed setting, as well as an ideal time to get to know one’s colleagues.

This year, Ramon Grosfoguel (UC Berkeley) opened the School with an introductory lecture in which he situated the historical context of the rise of coloniality as a pattern of power, going back well beyond the commonly held standard for such rise (the so-called “discovery” of the Americas in 1492) to the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire during the 4th century of the Common Era.

barcelona-pablo-photo-1Ramon Grosfoguel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

During the first week, our very own Nelson Maldonado-Torres gave a series of lectures titled “10 Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality,” where he outlined the analytics of coloniality and illuminated on three interrelated spheres where decoloniality takes place: theory, arts, and activism.

barcelona-zingisa-photo-2Nelson Maldonado- Torres (picture by Zingisa Mqalo Nkosinkulu).

Linda Alcoff (CUNY) also gave a series of lectures, titled “Decolonizing Epistemology.” Alcoff highlighted the importance of epistemology and normativity for the project of decoloniality, as the modern/colonial horizon relies on these elements for its own justification. Moreover, Stephen Small (UC Berkeley) gave a lecture on “Black Europe,” focusing on the politics of race in Great Britain, and Dew Baboeram (IISR) held two sessions on “Decolonizing the Mind,” where he put forward a critique of critical sociological theories from the perspective of epistemic decolonization.

barcelona-pablo-photo-3Linda Alcoff (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

The second week saw new lecturers with Enrique Dussel (UNAM) who presented a series of talks on many of the themes of the Philosophy of Liberation: a new vision of world (political) history, an ethical critique of capitalism following a groundbreaking reading of Karl Marx, an alternative vision of politics and political philosophy, and an analysis of the notions of interculturality and transmodernity for the near future.

barcelona-pablo-photo-4Enrique Dussel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

Ruthie Gilmore (CUNY) too held a series of seminars, focusing on the recently deceased Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. Gilmore brought to the school a refreshed radical politics that is as relevant as ever, given the contemporary status of racial politics and their material ramifications in the United States, as well as the constant rise of neoliberalism in all corners of the world. Sabelo Ndlovu (UNISA) closed the School’s schedule with two lectures on “African Decolonial Thought,” in which he mainly looked at the pitfalls of postcolonialism as a lens through which to understand the reality of the continent of Africa.

barcelona-pablo-photo-5Ruth Gilmore (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

While all sessions were beneficial to my intellectual interests, I am very satisfied to have discussed the work of Enrique Dussel with other voracious readers (and critics) of him, as well as to have had the privilege to have many one-on-one conversations with Dussel himself. These discussions were a continuation of an exchange started here at Rutgers University when he visited the Latino Caribbean Studies Department in April of 2015, that then continued at a philosophy conference at Villanova University in April of 2016. These have re-energized me to continue doing the work that I am doing, as well as given me many lines of thought to explore this year and beyond as I prepare to put together my doctoral dissertation. Yet, besides holding these theoretical concerns, in Barcelona I also managed to connect with local activists who are in one way or another realizing, on the ground, some of the aspects of the discourse and practice of decoloniality at many levels: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, Europe. They are anti-gentrification activists, activists in defense of migrant rights or minorities within Europe (such as the Romani people), as well as those interested in the independence of Catalonia from Spain. Of particular importance to my own developing interests in discourses of citizenship, migration, racialization, and coloniality, was meeting some of the actors involved with the Espacio del Immigrante, a health/socio-cultural center in an occupied flat in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of El Raval. This is a center that for approximately two years has been providing free healthcare to undocumented migrants to counteract the actions of the Spanish government that has made it illegal for undocumented migrants to receive basic care at public hospitals (language classes and seminars on critical thought are also held among other events). While I was in Barcelona the local police force had orders to evict those inside the Espacio (an extension of 45 days was granted at the time of this writing). This event made me grasp the complicated socio-political atmosphere currently in Barcelona, beneath the city’s public appearance as the most progressive city in Europe open to refugees. Put simply, these interactions with local activists were as important and thought-provoking as were the series of lectures I attended at the School. They were another decolonial dialogue, not unrelated to those I had at the Summer School.

Overall, the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School is a crucial space in the development of the decolonial project. The project is a plural endeavor, not without its internal critiques, that seeks to challenge the abundant colonial legacies across all levels of experience in our shared world. I am grateful to both the Program in Comparative Literature and the Graduate School at Rutgers University that supported my trip. I definitely encourage anyone interested in processes and projects of decolonization to attend this School. The best time to apply is during the fall semester, as it increases one’s chances of receiving travel support from the university and/or external sources. The deadline for applications is usually early in the following year. For more information, this is the School’s website.

New Grad Student Profiles, Fall 2016

The multilingual community of Comp Lit has just welcomed three new graduate students. If you want to know about their backgrounds and current interests, these are their promising profiles. Welcome to Rudrani, FJS, and Penny!



Rudrani Gangopadhyay joined the Department of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India, after moving to the city from Toronto, Canada, and received her BA (Honours), MA, and MPhil from the program. She grew up hearing about the experiences of migration from both sides of her family, who had been displaced by the Partition of the South Asian subcontinent in 1947. This, combined with her own experience of passing through borders and cultures, greatly shaped her intellectual ventures as she went on to feel more and more drawn to the study of both how migration operates in literature, as well as how the events during the migration are later recollected and archived. In migration, she found a theme that connected world literature – through tales of transatlantic slave trade, that of indenture, accounts of diaspora, settler colony narratives, and of course, memories of the Partition – and took courses and seminars to study each of these. This, combined with an interest in Archives and in the Digital Humanities, led her to apply for and receive a fellowship from the 1947 Partition Archive in Berkeley, California. She served as an Oral History Apprentice for the Archive, recording the accounts of live witnesses of the Partition. She went on to use this work in her MPhil thesis, “Crowdsourcing the Partition: Memory as Archive and Archive as Memory.” While completing her MPhil, she also received a fellowship from the University Grants Council to work as a Centre for Advanced Studies Fellow on the ‘Shakespeare in Bengal’ project, which examined how the texts of Shakespeare survived through cultural migrations. As a Masters student, Rudrani worked as a student researcher for the UK-India Education and Research Initiative-funded project on ‘Envisioning the Indian Society,’ which studied cross-cultural exchanges in Indian cities and how they changed through colonial and post-colonial times. At Rutgers, Rudrani hopes to expand on her study of how the memory of the Partition is survived in the South Asian literary and cinematic imagination. She also hopes to expand her research to other geographical areas, and see how memory and migration interact in Caribbean literature.



F. Joseph Sepulveda attended the Honors College at Rutgers-Newark where he received a B.A. in English literature and took courses on US Latino/as, race, and gender and sexuality in W&G studies and English. Before returning to Rutgers he did his M.A. in English at the University at Buffalo where he was fortunate to work closely with Carrie Bramen on Latino/a literature. He credits the faculty at Rutgers and UB for shaping his current interests in diaspora/ migration studies, race, and comparative Ethnic American studies. At the moment, he is interested in following up on a published essay he wriote on Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by exploring the use of ethnic humor and satire in his work in relation to that of another NJ- raised author, Philip Roth, and the Haitian- Canadian writer Dany Laferrière.



Growing up in Hong Kong, Penny read from a hodgepodge of literature, primarily from the English and Chinese canons. Very early on, she developed a love for the rich, imaginative worlds one encounters in novels, which led her to pursue fiction writing at Northwestern University. Following graduation, Penny worked as an English teaching assistant in the Alsatian city of Colmar, France, indulging her travel bug along the way. She pursued translation and copyediting upon returning to Hong Kong. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Penny spent four months working for a non-profit, Very Hong Kong, an explorative community project that combines art and urban development by inviting local creatives to transform underused public spaces. She is now eager to continue her research interests in geocriticism and Romanticism, and hopes to further explore the relationship between literature and politics, as well as transnational dynamics of the novel in a Sino-French context. Penny also holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from King’s College London.


Many Things to Remember: Comp Lit Year-end Celebration

By: Coco Ke Xu

Pictures by: Carolyn Ureña

Around two o’clock in the afternoon, the Comp Lit House on 195 College Ave. was already filled with a happy crowd of people. Students, faculties, families and friends greeted and talked to each other in a relaxing atmosphere over delightful refreshments. Balloons and decorations were everywhere, making the house even more homelike and welcoming.

Towards half past three, the celebration of graduating comp lit students began. Graduate director Prof. Andrew Parker announced graduating comp lit majors and minors first. Among four majors and 11 minors for the year 2016, Nicoletta M. Romano received highest honors for her dissertation titled “Exploring the Contemporary Phenomenon of a Postcolonizing Italian Reality through la letteratura migrante,” while Naser Albreeky and Catherine He received Honors degree for their respective dissertations “Poetic Forms, Daring Allegorization, and Contrasting Histories: All-Andalus and the Sephardic in the Poetry of Darwish and Lorca” and “The Nature of Language and East-West Dialogue.” Afterwards, graduating MA candidate Melina Gills and PhD candidate Ben De Witte were also awarded and commended for their hard work at comp lit. Graduating students received their diploma and special comp lit graduation souvenir packages from prof. Parker, as well as rounds of warm applause, toasts and best wishes from all that were present to share this unforgettable moment.

The year 2016 is not only marked by the 250th anniversary of the university, but also by major changes in comp lit. For the department will have to say goodbye to both the pleasant old house at 195 College Ave. and our retiring beloved faculty and friend Marilyn Tankiewicz, who has been working at comp lit for more than 10 years and has won the heart of all who have studied and worked here. We will remember all the happy hours spent at comp lit this past year, and we look forward to much more to come in the future.


Graduate Students Discuss Academic Professionalization with Professor José David Saldívar

By: Enmanuel Martínez

One the morning of Friday, March 4, 2016, graduate students in Rutgers University’s Ph.D. Program in Comparative Literature gathered for an informal, albeit intimate, post-graduate-student-conference meeting with Stanford University Professors of Comparative Literature José David Saldívar. The previous evening Professor Saldívar delivered the keynote address “Negative Aesthetics and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” thus concluding the day of events of the 2016 Program in Comparative Literature graduate student conference Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature.

Reflecting on the prior day’s graduate student presentations, formal responses by Rutgers University faculty and graduate students, and questions posed by members of the general public, those present at Friday morning’s meeting turned to the question of professional development in the Humanities today.

The meeting with Professor Saldívar lasted a little over an hour. Overall, the gathering marked a unique opportunity for those in attendance in that students were then welcomed to pose candid questions to the accomplished professor of Comparative Literature on the topic of best professional practices for tenure-track positions in the fields of literary and cultural studies. Several topics that were broached included:

  • the general academic publication standards and expectations past, present and future of graduate students, as compared to those involving assistant and associate professors
  • the postdoctoral fellowships as a process of professionalization
  • general tips to keep in mind when going on the academic job market, including insights on the anticipated (yet highly dreaded) job talk and on-campus visit
  • the craft of effectively negotiating benefits (i.e. moving, research, and travel funds, technology, teaching load, release time, etc.) after formally receiving an academic job offer
  • as a professor, the importance of initially developing—and then actively maintaining—professional relationships with colleagues in your department or program, across various sectors of your home institution, as well as at other research centers, colleges, and universities both in the U.S. and abroad
  • the politics of the academic tenure process, including general measures allowing one to restart “the tenure track clock” if need be by accepting a new job at another institution before actually going up for academic tenure review at one’s previous institution

The morning meeting with Professor Saldívar was as sobering an experience as it was meaningful and galvanizing. In the contemporary moment where some have called for a crisis in the Humanities and where the academic job market for professors of literary and cultural studies remains exceptionally competitive, the more aware that graduate students are about the reality of the academic job market today, as well as the general “dos and don’ts” of academia, the better! Professor Saldívar’s astute comments, generous insight, and expert advice left me and other students in attendance “clued-up” and, thus, all the more empowered to make the best decisions possible when the time comes for us to transition from life and work as advanced graduate student to that as junior faculty.