Larger than Languages

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities is funding a yearlong MLC series

March 26, 2012

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures is hosting a yearlong series devoted to examining life through art.

Yvonne Howell, Russian professor and chair of the department, is leading the charge the series, called “Larger than Languages,” which features events with an international perspective. The grant money rotates among the humanities departments on an annual basis, and Howell said MLC is lucky to have the grant support this calendar year.

“We have developed a series that will highlight the ways in which Socrates’ ideal of ‘the life examined’ is achieved when we examine our lives in amazing mirrors of our own making — works of literature, film, art, music, etc.,” Howell says. “And sometimes we forget what a huge role scholarly and public discussion of the humanities plays in shaping our collective vision of who we are and how we want our world to look.”

Howell believes that modern language and cultures have a crucial role in the liberal arts education, especially because “every literary tradition has been shaped by a dialog with other literatures; just as cinematic and visual forms of expression are shared across borders to create something we increasingly refer to as ‘global culture.’”

One of the biggest events that the NEH grant will support is the 20th Annual French Film Festival March 29–April 1, cosponsored by UR and VCU. To complement the event, French professor and festival co-director Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick organized a three-day symposium March 26–28 on the art and science of filmmaking.

The symposium, “French Cinema: Art, Science and Technology at Work for Humanity,” featured film industry specialists discussing everything from the economic implications of contemporary film to the technology of makeup.

But the French Film Festival isn’t the only cinematic offering in the NEH series. “Larger than Languages” will also feature an African Film Festival Sept. 28–29. The theme is “Europe and Asia in Africa,” looking into the Chinese economic and social influence today on the African continent.

Already underway, the series kicked off Jan. 22 with the student-run Chinese New Year’s Festival, and a “Fifth Arabian Night” festival March 15. Howell says that “this series gives students the opportunity for hands-on involvement in staging a major international film festival, a major exhibit of Russian art, and a cutting-edge conference on ‘Virtue in 16th Century Literature.’

“Students are involved in almost every aspect of producing America’s largest French Film festival, which draws thousands of people to Cary Street over the weekend," she says. "One of our Russian studies/art history majors [Lourdes Figueroa] will travel to Boston to help catalog, pack up, and transport the valuable Lembersky collection."

Lourdes Figueroa, '13, found out about the opportunity to help the curators with the exhibition on artist Felix Lembersky through her Russian Studies professor, Joseph Troncale. The exhibition will run on campus Sept. 24–Dec. 17.

"He knows I am very interested in Russian art and offered me the opportunity to help with the exhibition,” Figueroa said. “I applied for a summer research grant and will now be able to go to Boston for a few weeks and then do research on campus on the featured artist."

Figueroa said that she is looking forward to working directly with Lembersky's paintings.

"It's a really rare opportunity to be able to do research on an artist while at the same time holding his work in your very own hands — and also being able to converse and spend time with the curators, one of whom is Lembersky's granddaughter," Figueroa said.


Yvonne Howell
Professor of Russian and International Studies
Chair, Department of Modern Litereatures and Cultures
International Studies Concentration Advisor: Modern Europe
Russian literature and culture
Czech literature and culture
Sociobiology in cross-cultural perspective
History of science (Soviet Union)
Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick
Professor of French and Film Studies, Co-Director, Annual UR/VCU French Film Festival
20th-century French literature
Semiotics
French cinema