A day of debate and discussion on Saturday, 7 December 2013 will (re)launch the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies under its new name, the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR).  The (re)launch will emphasise the Institutes continuing mission to promote and facilitate research in modern languages in the UK. In this, the first of several interviews with the conference speakers, we talk to Paul Julian Smith, Professor at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. 


First of all, thank you Paul for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your area of study?

I am a distinguished professor in the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Program of the Graduate Center, the PhD granting institution of The City University of New York. I trained as a Golden Age (early modern Spain) specialist and now work mainly in media studies, with a specialism in the film and television of Spain and Mexico.


Why do you think that the study of modern languages is so important?

The study of modern languages is important because to become immersed in the language and culture of others, is not only to understand them but also to become aware for the first time, of one’s own language and culture in their specificity.


You will be speaking at the IMLR launch under the heading of ‘interdisciplinarity’.  Could you give us a preview of what to expect from you?

In my paper I address the multiple schisms within the discipline of Hispanism. Thus the term was initially invented by, and restricted to, non-native scholars of Spanish-language literature and was not applied to natives. Conversely ‘hispanismo’ is often limited in Latin America to the study of Spain. There is also a radical disconnection between the discipline as practised in Spain (‘filología hispánica’ treats the editing and linguistic analysis of texts) and Hispanism as carried out in the US or UK (where theoretical interests include gender and cultural studies and objects of study include visual culture).

to become immersed in the language and culture of others is not only to understand them but also to become aware for the first time of one’s own language and culture in their specificity

Hispanism in Latin America has been torn between hostility to Spain as former colonial hegemon and attraction to Spanish as potential integrator of diverse immigrant societies. It thus has leftist and rightist variants. In the US Spanish is not a foreign, but a second language, spoken before English in many states. The discipline is fragmented institutionally by large professional bodies with their respective annual congresses: Modern Language Association (literature and Peninsular), Latin American Studies Association (cultural studies but also political science), and Society of Cinema and Media Studies (film and TV in Latin America, with little reference to Spain). While US departments of Spanish remain relatively traditional and literature-based, they (like their counterparts in the UK) are concerned by the threat to medieval, Golden Age, and colonial fields.

The decline of comparative literature in the US and the eclipse of ‘French theory’ as a lingua franca for scholars in other subject areas may perhaps make US Hispanism less aware of developments in other, smaller language areas. After all Hispanists are working in and on a world language officially recognised by 20 countries and spoken by 400 million people. And the new demographics, in which Latin America is now a focus for immigration, rather than emigration, particularly from Spain, will clearly affect power dynamics within and between Spanish and English-speaking countries and scholars.


We will continue our discussion with Paul Julian Smith in another post coming soon, where we will learn a little more about his research and what he has planned for us in the December conference.

Paul Julian Smith can be found on Twitter @pauljuliansmith and via his institutional profile page.  For more information about the (re)launch of the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) check out the IMLR website or contact Dr Christopher Barenberg (e-mail:  christopher.barenberg@sas.ac.uk; tel: 020 7862 8738)