April 20, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2007

Hartfield-Mendez, Vialla
Spanish and Portuguese Department


Project Summary

Attached is the syllabus that I have constructed for this senior seminar. Originally I had proposed integrating elements about the environment in an existing course (SPAN 317: Writing, Context and Community). I will still do this, but I came to realize that these issues were just as pertinent or more so in the senior seminar. SPAN 317 will not be taught until spring 2008, and the senior seminar will be taught this fall, so I have concentrated on it first.

Conceptualization of the syllabus vis-à-vis the Piedmont Project:

Perhaps the most helpful component of the Piedmont Project in approaching this course was the discussion of sense of place.

In planning the course, I identified five themes, all of which are related to the sense of place, and in fact the first, introductory theme, is “The border zone: a physical space in human hands; a sense of place.” The course proceeds chronologically from pre-Columbian experience to the present day, and thematically. The students will read primary and secondary sources in each thematic section, and I will use excerpts from Charles Mann’s very readable 1491 to introduce them to the idea the geographic region we now call the “border” as a place under human construction and influence since long before the arrival of Europeans. This will lead into a reading of parts of Cabeza de Vaca’s account of his travels, as the first European to see some of this land and the people who inhabited it.

The other themes are: 2) The creation and conceptualization of the border, 3) The border and Revolution, 4) “Borderlands” – the emblematic border, and 5) Multiple border spaces: the border as a space of negotiation and globalization. As noted, the students will be moving in a chronological fashion through texts that follow the history of this region, and toward the end of the course we will discuss more and more the idea of border spaces that are not necessarily located at the physical, geographic border. As is evident in the syllabus, we will be reading many kinds of texts: historical documents, fiction, poetry, biography, etc., but will also view films.

In this context, I will use the concept proposed by David Spener and Kathleen Staudt of “debordering and re-bordering.” In The U.S.-Mexico Border: Transcending Divisions, Contesting Identities, Spener and Staudt write, “By rebordering, we mean processes that involve the reassertion or rearticulation of socially constructed boundaries, both territorial and nonterritorial. The dialectical cycle the debordering-rebordering antimony implies is one in which an existing boundary is challenged and penetrated (debordered), only to be reestablished, repositioned, or reconfigured in a new guise in response to a competing set of interests (rebordered)” (236). We will examine how this process happens on the actual border, but also in border spaces such as the ones that have developed in Atlanta and in surrounding areas in Georgia.

This naturally leads to the question of how this course relates directly, and perhaps unexpectedly, to Atlanta’s and Emory’s sense of place. One of the requirements of the course is that the students will write four reflection papers, but they have the option of writing only 2 of these papers and participating in Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders), that is, working in ESL classes for adults in Dekalb Technical College on Buford Highway. This is a program I have worked with from its inception at Emory, with great success, and it will give those students who choose to participate in it an up-close look at debordered and rebordered spaces 5 miles from Emory’s campus. For those who choose to write all four reflection papers, at least one of them will require them to travel to Buford Highway, make specific observations (about the constructed environment, for example) and engage in conversation with at least two Spanish speakers during their time there. Class discussions and student presentations (of which there are many scheduled throughout the semester) will frequently be structured around their personal observations, as they relate to the texts we are reading.

Another important requirement of the course is a final research project. These will arise from the students’ personal interests, but I can envision several projects related to the physical environment, international discourse about the environment, and border-inflected sense of place as revealed in various kinds of texts. These may also relate to the numerous films I expect the students to see, or to border-inflected visual art, all of which lend themselves to discussion about the environment. Each student will develop his or her own project, but as is always the case, I will guide them closely, and my experience in the Piedmont Project gave me new perspectives that will be useful as I advise these students about possible topics.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Hartfield-Mendez_2007.pdf (138.8 KB)

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