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Exhibit at Wilson Library Features Student Work from Prof. Maggie Fritz-Morkin’s “Contagion and Culture: Lessons from Italy” Class

March 11, 2022

An exhibit co-curated by Assistant Professor Maggie Fritz-Morkin and librarian Rachel Reynolds recently went up at Wilson Library. With poet RK Fauth (creator of the UNPRECEDENTED Project), Dr. Fritz-Morkin designed the display around the themes of the interplay of text and image, creative censorship, and viral art in response to pandemic. The exhibit mixes old and new objects: 30 Covid-era erasure poems created on pages of the Decameron, plus facsimiles of Boccaccio’s own drawings in the Decameron, and the visually striking censored editions of the Decameron in Counterreformation Italy. Students in Dr. Fritz-Morkin’s first-year seminar, “Contagion and Culture: Lessons from Italy,” contributed poems to the exhibit.

The exhibit is currently on view on the first floor of Wilson Special Collections Library.

Congratulations to Sarah Booker on her translation of Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda

February 9, 2022

PhD Candidate Sarah Booker has just published her translation of Jawbone, a novel by Mónica Ojeda, with Coffee House Press. An accomplished translator, Sarah has also produced the English-language versions of Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest (Feminist Press, 2017; And Other Stories, 2018) and Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country (Feminist Press, 2020). She is one of the founding members (along with Sarah Blanton) of the Carolina Translation Collective.

Congratulations, Sarah!

Dorothea Heitsch among 2022 Schwab Award Recipients

February 1, 2022

Dorothea Heitsch among 2022 Schwab Award Recipients

Dorothea Heitsch is one of the recipients of the 2022 Schwab Academic Excellence Award from the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

Assistant Prof. Lamar Graham Featured in Endeavors Magazine

December 1, 2021

Lamar Graham

Lamar Graham is an assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Studies within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. He studies historical grammar and sound changes within the Spanish language and compares them to those found in other Romance languages.

Lamar Grahamphoto by Alyssa LaFaro
November 17th, 2021

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: Honestly, it depends on when you asked me. I went through periods of wanting to be a mechanic, a microbiologist, a cartographer, an architect, and a software engineer.

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A: I could point to several, but one stands out the most to me and sets the stage for the others. Before I started taking Spanish in the eighth grade, my father advised me to learn as much of the language as I could and to become as proficient as I could, because it just might serve me well. I don’t think either of us knew how right he would be.

Lamar Graham, his wife, and three children

Graham enjoys some afternoon sunshine with his wife and children.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A: I had a project in one of my graduate school courses in which I was analyzing a particular language function and its associations with social factors such as age, sex, and education. In the sociolinguistic corpus I was searching for the project, I found a surprisingly high number of one particular structure. As I read the context in which this structure was found, though, I realized that it was an entirely unrelated structure with a particular pragmatic function — a discourse marker, as we commonly call them — that was unfamiliar to me. This discovery led me into one of my primary lines of research, one that is still productive today.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: How have Romance languages evolved?

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A: I have been involved with music all my life and like to sing or play — or both — as time allows. I have played piano for 32 years and bass guitar for about eight. I am also a fan of the automotive industry and like to keep up with the market, and every now and then you can find me doing maintenance on my family’s cars. Finally, but most importantly, I spend as much time as possible with my wife and children.

Original Source:

Rosa Perelmuter’s Essay in Latinx Voices at Carolina

October 5, 2021

Read all the essays here.

Latinx Voices at Carolina

Rosa Perelmuter
Professor, Romance Studies

My identity — or the person I thought I was — has been challenged through most of my life. I remember walking to grade school in my native Cuba, dressed in the pale blue uniform with the Jewish star that identified me as a student of the Colegio Hebreo Autónomo, and having to cross the street or quicken my pace because some children from the neighboring non-denominational school were shouting “Polaca” (‘you polack’) as I approached. I was well aware that they didn’t mean it as a compliment, just as I was aware that they hailed this insult because to them I was an “other”; to them — though I thought I was as Cuban as they were — I did not belong.

A couple of years later, in 1961, I moved to Miami, where no one seemed to challenge my being Cuban, but where that label was now reason for rejection. I was even rejected by fellow American Jews who at first found it hard to believe that someone who spoke Spanish could also be Jewish. In a crowded bus in Miami Beach, one afternoon shortly after my arrival, my older sister and I overheard with surprise a group of elderly people sitting right behind us complaining in Yiddish (a language we had both studied daily in our Jewish school in Cuba) that Cubans were taking over Miami and should be sent back home. I still remember the shock in their faces when I turned around and told them (in Yiddish) what I thought of their remark. But, how ironic: now I was being insulted in Yiddish for being Cuban!

A similar incident happened in Boston, where my family and I had relocated upon their arrival to the United States. We had been in the Dorchester and Mattapan area for about seven years, I was a senior at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, we pretty much felt like we belonged (I certainly did). One morning, as I was rushing to my parked car to get to a 9 a.m. class (I was typically running late — proof positive that I am Cuban), I discovered that my rear tires were completely flat. I thought it was just a case of bad luck until I noticed a note on the windshield that read, “You people should go back home.” When I recovered from my initial shock (who would do such a thing? who were “you people?”), I ran home and called the police, who came up dry. I was certain that the note and the odious prank were the product of a zealous Jewish neighbor’s desire to cleanse his or her territory of invaders who spoke Spanish, people like my family and myself. But did this person know we were Jewish? Would that have made a difference? I’ve often wondered about that.

Many years later, as I was getting ready to move out of my apartment in Chapel Hill, I discovered that someone had written on the back of the name plate on our apartment door the words – -in pencil — “Go home, spik.” The message shocked me, both because I couldn’t imagine who could have done such a thing and because after 20 years in the U.S. I thought I was home. But, at least for the anonymous writer of this succinct message, my name (at that time my married name was Pérez) indicated unequivocally that I belonged somewhere else, that, as the Nuyorican writer Piri Thomas would put it, I was on “alien turf.” Again.

So where is home? Where do I belong? I was a Jew in Cuba, a Cuban in Miami, a spik in the United States. To put it another way, just as confounding, where am I from? Where do I belong? These are questions that haunt me, but the incidents that precipitated this self-questioning — you might call them my defining moments — have in a sense made me what and who I am; they, I believe, have guided me into the place and the space where I am today. Why am I in academia? Why did I choose Sor Juana, a feisty, brilliant Mexican nun from the 17th century as the subject of my dissertation? Why do I continue to read and teach Colonial Spanish American literature? Why did I introduce a first-year seminar on Latino literature at my university?

I think one possible answer is that the world of academia gives me the security and freedom to say and be all that I am: Cuban, Jewish, American, etc. I choose to believe that my diversity, my hyphenated identity, makes me more rather than less, and the same can be said about many of the authors that I study and teach. Take Sor Juana, a woman writer and cloistered nun in a world dominated by men, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who felt like a Spaniard in Peru and like an Indian in Spain, Sandra Cisneros, whose experiences as a Chicana have allowed her to write moving stories about prejudice and poverty in the slums of Chicago and elsewhere; Nicholasa Mohr, whose stories about Puerto Ricans in New York describe the difficult and emotional mediations between the island and the mainland. So, I found a haven of sorts in the world of academia, in the borough of the Department of Romance Studies, among my university colleagues and these friends, these multicultural, multi-racial authors and characters who, like me, had to face up to the challenge of living in or between two worlds.

But all this comes at a cost. As a woman in academia, a Hispanic or Hispano-Jewish woman who entered the field in the late ‘70s, I’ve had to work hard to distinguish myself in a world where women were a rarity and administrators found it hard to trust people of color. My training, which took place entirely in the United States, placed me farther away, physically and intellectually (and culturally as well) from my mother country and, perhaps more importantly, farther away from my mother tongue. My studies in Hispanic literature returned me to my roots, to the language that this Cuban in Boston feared she might have lost forever.

But, though strong, my Spanish has been marked by my training in the teaching of grammar and my exposure to more literary than living texts. I work hard at keeping my Cuban accent — in Spanish as well as English — and using as many Cubanisms and colloquial expressions as I possibly can. But when undergraduate students come to me looking for what they call in their linguistic projects a “native informant,” I secretly wonder whether I qualify, and wonder whether I should warn them that I am an impostor, that my answers may be too literary, too grammatically correct, too self-consciously contrived.

So here is yet another question to add to my pile: what is my native language? I am now, if anything, a native of the academic world, and as such I have a native language (make that two, and maybe three) that define and describe me. I sometimes connect with Spanish, with my being Hispanic or Latina, through English; sometimes I do it through my faltering Yiddish, which I speak with a detectable Spanish accent!; sometimes I do it through my academic discourse; and sometimes through Spanglish, by which I mean not the creation of mixed words but the liberal use of Spanish mixed with English (or vice versa), or what a friend of mine in Miami tells me is now called Engañol.

I am the sum of my languages. Every time I speak Spanish I return to my country of origin, but every time I speak English, I do the same. Somewhere along the line I stopped being Cuban and became Cuban-American. Too bad “Cuban-American” is not an appropriate response to the question of where I am from. That place — maybe, and only maybe — may be the world of academia, where being from somewhere else is often the norm (and in some departments it’s even considered an asset), and where people generally pay more attention to pedigree than pronunciation.

Definition, of course, is not borne out of adversity alone. I have had many positive experiences in my life (as a professor, a writer, a mother), and they have played an important part in making me who I am. But I thought it would somehow be more useful to you to hear of the not-so-wonderful-but-still-significant moments. Even though for many of you the answers to my questions of origin and belonging may not be as problematic, you might find it useful to consider them metaphorically. Where are you from? Where do you belong? Where are you going and who are you bound to become? I believe it’s up to us to carve out a space for ourselves, to search out our identity, to treasure our ethnicity, to turn adversity into definition and achievement into strength.

UNC and Université Paul Valéry Montpellier win Transatlantic Mobility Grant 2021-2022

September 16, 2021

ROMS Faculty Dorothea Heitsch, Montpellier Faculty Nicolas Gachon, and Resident Director of UNC in Montpellier Programs Carol Huber win Transatlantic Mobility Grant jointly funded by The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S., NAFSA, the FACE Foundation, the U.S. Embassy in France, and UNC to expand and diversify study-abroad programs on both sides of the Atlantic through a joint initiative titled “Southern Art de Vivre and Public Policy for a Sustainability Agenda.”

Summer Research Fellow Spotlight: Elena Peña-Argüeso (’19 MA)

September 7, 2021

Summer Research Fellow Spotlight: Elena Peña-Argüeso (’19 MA)


International Ph.D. student Elena Peña-Argüeso (’19 MA) completed her undergraduate studies in English literature at the University of Sevilla and found a pathway to pursue graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through an exchange program.

Elena Peña-Argüeso, posing in front of a blue theater curtain.
Elena Peña-Argüeso

“I thought—wow—this would be perfect for me,” Peña-Argüeso said. “I want to do a Ph.D., I love doing research, and I also love teaching.” The connection of teaching and research, key components of the University’s mission, attracted her to the Department of Romance Studies where she’s specializing in Spanish literature.

“I don’t see the results of the research that quickly,” Peña-Argüeso said. “But with teaching, I do. I really like that every class is different; every group of students is a different experience.”

As a graduate student, Peña-Argüeso is diving into 17th-century Spanish literature. At the time, the Netherlands were under Spanish rule. People in the Netherlands began to practice Protestantism as part of religious reformation, instead of Catholicism, which created tension between the two nations.

“It was very interesting to find that in Spain, there is a connection with the Anglo-Saxon world and with Protestantism,” she said.

The Netherland’s diversion from mainstream Catholicism set the stage for the future of nations across Europe, as religion played a key role in developing national identities. Literature from theatrical productions, Peña-Argüeso argues, were the most influential tools of the time to sway public opinion about nation building.

“Very few people could read or learn from politicians,” Peña-Argüeso said. “The theater is different: It went down to the streets. People knew what was going on in other parts of Europe because of the theater.”

Peña-Argüeso spent her summer studying value of theatrical works and pamphlets, which were often distributed at the theater. The effects of these pamphlets served as a foundation of national and cultural identities, with an influence that reaches to the 21st century.

For Peña-Argüeso, who calls Sevilla, Spain her home, The Fran and Paul Hoch Summer Research Fellowship allowed her to focus on her research so she could return to teaching with a renewed appreciation for her area of study: the theater and its messaging.

“This summer, I can focus on that,” she said. “I could access the documents I needed, and I went to the libraries.” Peña-Argüeso also finished an article that she hopes to publish soon, all in an effort to build her portfolio as she begins her search for a tenure-track teaching position. “I find the teaching really rewarding,” she said.

The Summer Research Fellowships provide summer support to doctoral students so they may focus exclusively on their dissertation research.

Serenella Iovino’s “Italo Calvino’s Animals” is out from Cambridge University Press

August 30, 2021

Serenella Iovino’s “Italo Calvino’s Animals” is out from Cambridge University Press

A new title enriches the fields of Italian Studies and Environmental Humanities: Serenella Iovino’s Italo Calvino’s Animals: Anthropocene Stories has been published on August 24th by Cambridge University Press. Serenella Iovino has been studying Italo Calvino for several years now, and this short volume, which appears in the Cambridge UP series Elements in Environmental Humanities, is the result of her explorations of nonhuman figures in Calvino’s works. It was completed this Spring with the support of a fellowship from the Institute of Arts and Humanities. Italo Calvino’s Animals is available online on the Cambridge UP website. Free download until September 10th!

Statement on BOT failure to action on Hannah-Jones Tenure Case

June 23, 2021

Statement on BOT failure to action on Hannah-Jones Tenure Case

The Department of Romance Studies urges the Board of Trustees to take immediate action toward the granting of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones. The BOT’s inaction and silence in recent weeks have already severely damaged our trust in the systems that ensure academic freedom and integrity at our university. It has also challenged our trust in the university’s stated commitment to diversity and the general public’s faith in the university’s claim to be committed to combating structural racism and discrimination in society.

The Department of Romance Studies has a diverse faculty who teach a diverse student body. Among us are scholars who study such areas as colonialism, the process and variability of national borders, and the negotiations of gender and racial identity, in ways that question commonly accepted ideas. We know from our day-to-day work that academic excellence depends on conditions in which all faculty members have the freedom to pursue their scholarship with rigor and probity in an inclusive, equitable environment. These conditions are also essential to our ability to recruit and retain excellent faculty.

If the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is to stand for academic excellence, it must reaffirm its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and to academic freedom without political interference. The BOT’s immediate review of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure case is an essential first step in this regard and we urge its members to proceed immediately to approve her appointment with tenure.