our words make worlds

Some reflections on the Global Iberias Workshop

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Rachel Scott, reflects upon the 'Global Iberias' workshop, held at King's on 5 June 2017.

"How to teach a first year introductory curriculum that articulates a global approach to the study of Iberian literatures, cultures, and languages?"  This was the challenge question put to an invited group of international university researchers and teachers who met at Kings College London this week to discuss one of the pedagogical challenges facing the modern languages (ML) discipline.

Organised by the 'Travelling Concepts' strand, this workshop built on the practical experience of developing a new foundation course in Hispanic and Lusophone Studies at Kings as well as on the considerable research and teaching experience of participants: Catherine Boyle (KCL); David Brookshaw (University of Bristol); Felipe Botelho Correa (KCL); Catarina Fouto (KCL); Toby Green (KCL); Stephen Hart (UCL); Alicia Kent (KCL); Jo Labanyi (NYU); Ana de Medeiros (KCL); Clare Mar-Molinero (University of Southampton); Sérgio Campos Matos (Universidade de Lisboa); Nagore Calvo Mendizabal (KCL); Hilary Owen (University of Manchester/ University of Oxford); Chris Perriam (University of Manchester); Margarida Calafate Ribeiro (Universidade de Coimbra/University of Bologna); Rachel Scott (KCL); Daniel Munõz Sempere (KCL); João Silvestre (KCL); Isabel Torres (Queens University Belfast); David Treece (KCL); Elisa Sampson Vera Tudela (KCL); and the convenors AbdoolKarim Vakil (KCL) and Julian Weiss (KCL).

The workshop aimed to brainstorm the potential of a first year course that, among other things, bridges the traditional disciplinary divides in the academic study of Portuguese, Brazilian and Lusophone African Studies, and Spanish, Hispanic and Latin American Studies; and to identify core content and features that could be adapted and adopted by colleagues across institutions in differing geographical and social contexts with diverse student populations.

It was a dynamic and interesting afternoon of discussion and idea sharing that reflected the global approach of the intended course, with perspectives from the UK, EU, and US. The afternoon comprised four half-hour sessions, each which began with a short provocation or reflection, followed by a final group discussion. Each session addressed a specific thematic and methodological area, including: rethinking our use of the term Iberia (among others); unpacking the idea of transnationalism; designing evaluations and assessments that allow students to engage more creatively with materials studied; the challenges of teaching Spanish as a world language; the methodological framework underpinning such an approach to teaching and thinking about spatial territories as hypertexts; and the use of music, song, and film as gateways to social practices and specific topics such as race, racism, and sexuality.

Despite evident differences between institutional needs and challenges, not to mention differing approaches to teaching in the UK and US specifically, the workshop highlighted a real need and desire to rethink ML teaching at degree level, the transition from secondary to Higher Education, and to find an alternative to the empirical, survey and nation-based type of introductory courses currently offered by most modern language departments. 

Common ideas, concerns, and challenges that surfaced throughout the afternoons provocations and discussions included:

  • The critical need for students to engage with language from a theoretical or ideological point of view, to understand what it does, how it functions in the world to create/define identity, politics, society etc.
  • Dealing with the baggage associated with the term Iberia: eurocentric but allows for pluralingualism and not chronologically specific. The need to unpack clichés and challenge assumptions about the Spanish and Lusophone world (e.g. that Spain was not modern or was cut off from the world until 1975).
  • Defining the skills that we want students to learn in a limited amount of time and identifying ways of working with other humanities departments for support in doing so.
  • Addressing the challenges of assessment in modern language degree programmes and within current HE structures so as to provide students with the opportunity for more creative engagement with the languages and cultures being studied.
  • Including material written by/from the perspective of non-Iberian/Eurocentric specialists.
  • Creating flexible, adaptable course materials (printed, online or ebook) that respond to changing teaching contexts/demands; respond to the dynamism of the field and developments in research; are suitable for multiple audiences; allow for creative and interactive engagement from students.
  • Including UCML and other language bodies as consultants/partners; the need for institutional support, and for the input of colleagues from other departments.

The workshop this week was a strong first step to developing a first year introductory curriculum that articulates a global approach to the study of Iberian literatures, cultures, and languages, and that aligns with the Open World Research Initiatives commitment to revitalise the role and potential of modern language research, teaching and learning in the humanities and beyond.