The long process of de-Europeanization of the Romance studies paradigm came to light mainly, though not exclusively, with the advent of “theory” in the 1980s and with the extension of the postcolonial paradigm in the wake of the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978. By this time ‘literary theory’ was already on the way to becoming understood as ‘theory’. ‘Theory’ (including feminist and queer theory, cultural studies, and subaltern/postcolonial studies) was predicated on the possibility of epistemological, cultural, social, and geopolitical change that questioned the secular project initiated by the European Enlightenment, and thereby questioned the status of ‘literature’, at least in the traditional sense of “literary studies”. By the end of the 1990s, it was becoming increasingly clear that global processes of production and of market-driven social transformation were challenging the very notion and legitimacy of the ‘Area Studies’ paradigm that had thrived during the Cold War, having provided administrative and epistemological cohesion to the national underpinnings of the respective fields. These processes were beginning to demand the reorganization not only of the nation-state but of university discourse in its entirety across the humanities.
These unprecedented challenges to the historical place of the humanist intelligentsia in the university were the overall back drop for a series of conversations that took place in the Department of Romance Languages & Literatures from the mid 1990s onward. Our current department originates in this period, when tenure-track and tenured faculty at that time began to conceive of ways of moving from a model of literary coverage—that is, of discipline-focused programs of literary studies in the graduate programs and Upper-Level undergraduate programs in French, Spanish, and Italian—to fostering a new curricular flexibility and interdisciplinary character. This new model, which has been bolstered via curricular innovation and interdisciplinary faculty hires in the post-2010 period, continues to emphasize discovery over the acquisition of pre-determined field knowledge as the cornerstone of a students’ experience in our undergraduate and graduate curricula. The department has become known nationally and internationally in the last two decades for interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching. In this sense RLL’s overall mission enhances the interdisciplinary ethos of the College of LSA.
The national and international reputation of our program can be measured by the academic placement of our PhDs, which is testimony to our preparation of graduate students for innovative research, outstanding teaching, and the job market. One of the fundamental roles of the position of Graduate Chair in our department is to provide a series of workshops for graduate students going on the job market while completing their dissertation. Faculty advisors and the Graduate Chair work closely with students in the preparation of dossier materials. The Graduate Chair organizes mock job interviews prior to the MLA/interview stage, and mock job talks open to the public when the student is invited for a campus visit. All students are provided with constructive criticism to prepare them for the process of applying for academic jobs, preparing job talks, and thinking about the best way of responding in a Q&A, communicating with Chairs, Deans, hiring committees etc.
Despite the increasingly challenging academic job market, RLL students have had considerable success securing tenure track academic positions over the course of the last decade. For more information on graduate student placement since 2005, see Placement and Dissertations.