Thanks to the English department webmasters, there’s a write up for the symposium I co-directed with Dr. Kanika Batra this year: Human Rights Now: Texts, Contexts, Comparisons.
50th Annual Comparative Literature Symposium
Distinguished guests from Jamaica and India debate perspectives.
On April 6-7, Texas Tech University’s 50th Annual Comparative Literature Symposium attracted scholars from near and far—India, Jamaica, Florida, Michigan, New York, Missouri, New Mexico, and right here in Texas—to present their work on the moral, political, social, and literary ramifications of the debates that revolve around human rights. This year’s symposium, titled “Human Rights Now: Texts, Contexts, Comparisons,” was also livestreamed so that students and scholars at a distance could participate as well.
Dr. Kanika Batra, director of the symposium, stressed the importance of this year’s topic for raising awareness about the unjust distribution of rights across the world.
“There are millions dispossessed of their homes and families because of sectarian conflict, there is the rise of economic capitalism which blatantly disregards the rights of workers and indigenous populations around the world, there are the still unfulfilled promises of equal citizenship to migrants, refugees, exiles, and sexual minorities,” said Dr. Batra. “Literary and cultural representations engage with these realities in trenchant ways. The symposium speakers addressed the importance of discussing these crucial issues now and connecting them to long historical processes.”
Audience members listen to one of the symposium’s many keynote addresses.
In addition to contributing to the important discussions about human rights that must continue to take place, the symposium also presented the opportunity for burgeoning scholars to engage with their work in new and unexpected ways.
Wesley Jones, a first-year English literature M.A. student at Texas Tech, shared how his experiences preparing for and presenting at the symposium influenced the way he views the potential for academic scholarship.
“I think that a lot of people both in and out of academia (myself included until recently) don’t necessarily see scholarship as activism or as inciting social change, despite many examples to the contrary,” said Jones. “It’s important to not only display this side of academia, but also to introduce the notion to a wider academic community who can continue to work on their interests with a new awareness that scholarship can make a difference when applied to real-world problems.”
Jones, who presented a paper on the theme of homosexual rights to the city and the way that urban spaces can facilitate sexual and identity formation, added that the 50th Annual Comparative Literature Symposium was also a great opportunity to meet scholars from around the world. “Everyone was very friendly and encouraging, and I found the entire experience enriching and uplifting. I would definitely participate again and will encourage anyone to do so as well.”
Guests from India and Midland converse in the department lounge.
This symposium began in 1968 as a collaborative venture between various departments at Texas Tech. In his opening remarks at the symposium, Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec noted, “Its 50-year history is quite impressive, considering this university is less than 100 years old.” Symposium attendees took an extra moment to celebrate this achievement with a special cake during lunch on April 6.
Echoing President Schovanec’s remarks, Dr. Batra added, “It showcases the university’s commitment to interdisciplinary humanities and puts Texas Tech on the map of cutting edge theoretical work. There is also the tradition of publications arising out of the symposium proceedings. I hope to continue this by bringing out a special issue of the Journal of the TTU Ethics Center on Human Rights.”
Texas Tech’s commitment to hosting this symposium every year also offers graduate students the chance to take part in organizing it. This year, the symposium’s co-director was Kenna Neitch, a second-year English literature PhD student at Texas Tech.
“Dr. Batra has allowed me to co-direct the symposium the last two years. I had the opportunity to communicate with dozens of other universities about our call for papers, as well as the accepted presenters, before the symposium began,” said Neitch, whose research focuses on transnational and women of color feminisms, Central American literature, and the praxis of resistance. She added, “I was especially excited for the focus of this year. It’s incredibly urgent that we create spaces to analyze and discuss the conditions of human rights discourse and social justice, and it was wonderful to help co-ordinate an event that joins pro-social theory and practice.”
Symposium attendees examined rare books from The Remnant Trust.
This year, The Remnant Trust also stopped by the symposium to share some of the rare books available for perusal at Texas Tech’s Special Collections Library. Among the books featured were a third American edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from 1869, an edition of the Fables of Aesop from 1692, an illuminated Arabic manuscript of Ibn al-Hajib’s A Grammatical Miscellany that dates back to 1672 or 1673, and an edition of The Works of Shakespeare from 1757.
The symposium was supported by the Ethics Center, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Departments of English and Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures. Dr. James Whitlark, Dr. Wendell Aycock, Dr. Ann Daghistany, Dr. Bruce Clarke, Dr. Yuan Shu, Dr. Roger McNamara, Dr. Curtis Bauer, and Dr. Kanika Batra are some of the faculty members from the Department of English who have been involved in its long history.
This year marks the last year that Dr. Batra will direct the symposium. “In the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration, the Directorship of the Comparative Literature program and the responsibility for organizing the symposium shifts between the Departments of English and Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures,” Dr. Batra said. “Faculty from both departments decide on the theme for next year’s symposium. To encourage participation, my goal has been to think of broad ranging themes such as ‘Performing the Social’ (2015), ‘Translation/Transnation’ (2016), ‘The Word in the World’ (2017), and ‘Human Rights Now’ (2018). I expect that the committee will come up with another timely theme for the 2019 symposium.