DR. RACHAEL HUTCHINSON
To Dr. Rachael Hutchinson, Associate Professor of Japanese Studies, ‘interdisciplinary’ means crossing boundaries, drawing comparisons and contrasts between and across different areas of study. She analyzes Japanese literature, film, manga (comics) and video games, to discover how the Japanese people have historically represented themselves and others. The idea of a national ‘Japanese Self ’ has been explored by artists in all these different fields of creative endeavor. She enjoys drawing comparisons between specific films, games, novels and manga, to shed more light on Japanese perceptions of identity. Thematically, Japanese video games have much in common with other Japanese narrative media. Video games of all genres, from role-playing games like Final Fantasy to fighting games like Soul Calibur, explore serious issues like childhood abandonment, the fear of nuclear power, and ambivalence towards Japan’s colonial history. She recently published a book titled Japanese Culture in Videogames to explore these ideas in more depth.
Using different approaches from Film Studies or Game Studies, she analyzes the various texts to see how the audience experiences the narrative through different modes of sensory input. The idea of ‘interacting’ with a text can mean watching a film and actively empathizing with the hero, or playing a game and controlling the movements of the avatar in a 3D graphic environment. An author, illustrator, film director or game developer also has various methods by which they can convey their own opinions about political issues, creating an underlying ideology of the text. Where an author may use specific words, imagery or narrative development to suggest their ideology, a film director may use camera placement and editing, a manga artist may use different sized panels and free-floating text, or a game developer may use specific programming rules to enforce what is allowed and what is forbidden in the virtual environment. Comparing media in this way can illuminate various thematic readings of the text, as artists will get the same point across in very different ways depending on the art form.
Lately Dr. Hutchinson has been looking at the concept of bioethics in Japanese video games, and how it is connected to a deep-seated unease with nuclear power. The scientific manipulation of genes to make a human body stronger, for example, appears in many games from the mid-1990s onwards. Similarly, many games from this period deal with the issue of nuclear power, arguing that the use of atomic weaponry and atomic energy is irresponsible, even immoral. She thinks that the two ideas are related, because both stem from experimenting with the core of an atom – either cloning or splitting the nucleus. The mid-1990s in Japan saw many minor accidents at nuclear power plants, and public protest succeeded in blocking the construction of nuclear plants at two sites. The relationship between text and historical context is therefore very clear, but the relationship between bioethics and nuclear fears may not be so clear to readers. Drawing new connections between prevalent themes is an exciting challenge, and interdisciplinary work has broadened and enriched her research and teaching.
DR. PHILLIP PENIX-TADSEN
Phillip Penix-Tadsen, Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, specializes in contemporary Latin American cultural studies and regional game studies, focusing on the intersections between politics, economics, digital media and visual culture throughout Latin America today. Prof. Penix-Tadsen is the author of Cultural Code: Video Games and Latin America (MIT Press, 2016) and editor of the anthology Video Games and the Global South (ETC Press, 2019). Both books are examples of cultural ludology, an approach Penix-Tadsen has helped pioneer as a way of analyzing video games as a unique medium—attending to the myriad ways culture is incorporated into game design and mechanics— while at the same time considering the impact of the cultural environment in which games are created, designed, manufactured, purchased, played and otherwise put to use. He has organized panels for conferences including Digital Games Research Association, Society for Cinema and Media Studies and Latin American Studies Association, showing the breadth of his work.
DR. CRISTINA GUARDIOLA-GRIFFITHS
Associate Professor of Spanish Dr. Guardiola-Griffths’ research focuses on the literary and artistic portrayal of women in the cosmetics industry, as witnessed in several medieval works of fiction, and medieval and early modern medical treatises. Studies have examined the diminishing role of women from various fields of medicine. Most have dealt with the traditionally female roles of midwife and children’s physician. Given medieval moral-didactic treatises that condemned cosmetics as primarily feminine products of falsehood and evil, and the modern aspersions cast on what is today a 170-billion-dollar industry, it is not surprising that the study of medicine and cosmetics only now has seen some light. Through her work, she opens a field of inquiry into women’s material culture of the Castilian early modern period. The recipes and practices of this barely tangible feminine world – represented in literary and visual media – suggest a potentially wealthy source of information with which to look at women’s healthcare practices and aesthetic concerns. They are instances of female medicinal knowledge, and offer a means to understand how women self- fashioned their identity in a world that increasingly marginalized them.
Examples of Dr. Guardiola-Griffiths’ research interest can be seen in the articles she has written in recent years. One of the most important works of the late Middle Ages, and the focus of much of her academic interest is Fernando de Rojas’s Celestina. Scholars celebrate the eponymous character of this novel-in- dialogue, as a female quasi-picaresque “entrepreneur” who “capitalizes” on a seedy, black market economy. Her more nefarious side-gigs include perfumer, cosmetics maker, and restorer of women’s hymens. In “Medieval Mean Girls,” Dr. Guardiola-Griffiths showed that not only Celestina, but every female character in Rojas’s novel had a working knowledge of cosmetics, a knowledge that subverted the patriarchal order of late medieval society. In “Homegrown. From the Woman’s Workplace to the Medieval Garden,” she showed how the purview of women in the medical care of others may be seen in the cookbooks, house-books, and health manuals that Michael Solomon has identified as part of a corpus of medical vernacular writing (Fictions 4). These works detail empirical practice that, in turn, witnesses the abundant use of ingredients provided either from home gardens or from the trade routes of the Mediterranean and beyond. These homegrown practices, she argues, disclose a continued female tradition of medical practice, as many of these ingredients were used in medical treatments and ointments. Women were able to maintain ties to the scientific and medical communities increasingly dominated by a professional, masculine elite. Currently, Dr. Guardiola-Griffiths is writing on a misogynist tract published in 1498, Arcipreste de Talavera o Corbacho, famous for its “realistic” use of female voice, which curiously includes several cosmetic recipes. These articles inform the basis of a book project she hopes to finish by 2022, called Beauty Matters.
DR. RENEE DONG
Dr. Renee Dong, Assistant Professor of Chinese and Pedagogy, has recently collaborated with colleagues in the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Sciences, in particular with the Experimental Psycholinguistics Lab led by Dr. Arild Hestvik, Associate Professor of Linguistics and Psychology to conduct neurolinguistic research on how adult and classroom-trained second language speakers comprehend the target language in real time.
The question they seek to answer is: When someone studies a second language (L2) post childhood and becomes highly fluent, do their brains process the target language like native speakers? Some scholars of Second Language Acquisition believe that there exists a fundamental difference between the ways native and L2 comprehension work, and such differences persist for the L2 learners even when native-like proficiency level is attained. Specifically, it has been proposed that the L2 processing is less sensitive to purely grammatical requirements (e.g., number agreement), and tend to over- rely on semantics and pragmatics to reach comprehension. Using the method of Event Related Potentials (ERP), which measure the brain’s response to a stimulus, they tested this proposal by measuring native and L2 brain responses to grammatically problematic sentences like “The camel that the hippo kissed *the elephant ran far away”, in which the extra noun phrase the elephant disrupts comprehension.
The L2 speakers were intermediate to near-native Chinese learners of English, who started to learn the language after childhood and mostly in the classrooms. Study findings revealed drastically different brain responses to the extra noun (the elephant), although both groups performed highly accurately in rejecting such sentences. While the native speakers generated components indicative of grammatical processing, the L2 speakers obtained completely different neurophysiological signatures unrelated to handling grammatical rules. In other words, the L2 speakers did not reject the sentence based on its grammatical ill- formedness, but something else, possibly semantic incongruity. Further, the L2 proficiency levels and working memory capacity have no effects on the non-native brain processing pattern, suggesting that the L2 speakers in our study are unlikely to ever become native-like. While results lend support to accounts such as the Shallow Structure Hypothesis, Dr. Dong and her collaborators maintain that the persistent native-L2 processing difference is not global and only occurs for a limited number of linguistic constructions.
As the first student in UD’s Master’s in Italian Studies program, Miranda Armiger (MALLC Italian, 2019) had the unique opportunity to shape her research to fulfill her interdisciplinary studies. Having majored in Art History and minored in Italian, she was exposed to the University’s breadth and excellence in these areas, and found that this blend primed her for the next phase in her academic preparation. The MA in Italian Studies program enabled her to develop research that explored many facets of the language and culture, art and history of Italy.
In her research, she evaluated the influence of art, fashion, and other material culture objects on the creation of the socio-cultural identity of women across their life stages during the Italian Renaissance. While her background in Art History provided the necessary tools to analyze the artistic significance of the art, fashion, and material culture objects, the Italian studies expanded her ability to read and comprehend the original texts and theories, which supported her thesis.
Elements of the women’s identity in the various paintings analyzed were brought to life through the richly decorated material culture objects, which were more than props in a painting. An example of such material culture was the pearl and diamond studded belt that Eleonora di Toledo dei’ Medici wore in a state portrait with her young son, which spoke to her socio-economic position, and reflected her role as fertile mother and guarantor of the Medici line. By identifying the significance of the objects featured in the various paintings, it was possible to begin to understand the importance of the identity of women as daughters, wives, and most importantly mothers. Arguably, women’s greatest role was that of mother, as she ensured the continuation of the family and Italian society as a whole. The culmination of Ms. Armiger’s thesis in Italian allowed her the ability to forge a connection between past and present, intertwining the two worlds through art, fashion, language and culture.