Areas of Excellence

Theatre, Performance Studies, and Visual Culture

In the past two decades the department has built, both through programmatic initiatives and faculty scholarship, important interdisciplinary strengths in visual culture, film, and theater and performance studies. The department has a core of faculty with specializations and teaching interests in a vast array of theatrical and performance traditions. These include the intersection of literature and theatre in Early Modern France (Larry Norman), the history of comedy and commedia dell’arte (Rocco Rubini), slave portraiture, performance, and race in 19th century Latin America and the Caribbean (Agnes Lugo-Ortiz), performance, race, and visual culture in 21st-century Latin America and the Caribbean (Danielle Roper), twentieth and twenty-first century Francophone North African theater (Khalid Lyamlahy), and the films of Pier Paulo Pasolini (Armando Maggi). The department also includes co-appointed faculty from Art History and Music. The diversity of approaches of the individual members of faculty is an asset to the program and has strengthened theatre and performance as a key area of specialization in the department.

In terms of curricular programs, RLL was one of the pioneering departments at the University to launch, in 2017, a new joint degree PhD program with Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS); graduate students are admitted jointly to both programs. The department regularly works with a wide range of interdisciplinary centers (Center for Latin American Studies, France-Chicago Center, the Neubauer Collegium) and arts organizations (Smart Museum of Art, Logan Center for the Arts) to invite and collaborate with leading international artists, filmmakers, and performers whose work engages Romance languages and cultures.  

Literature and Philosophy

A fruitful cross-pollination between literature and philosophy is particularly germane to our department. As is well known, notions of “literature” and “philosophy” have been intensely debated in the past few decades. Is all philosophy ultimately literature, as postmodern theory has at times advanced? Conversely, how much cognitive or epistemic value should be attached to the literary phenomenon? In other words, may literature be grasped as an independent and valuable mode in the exploration of ontological truths, or at least in the realm of ethics and morality? Our curriculum covers a host of thinkers who are poets and philosophers at once, and also plurilingual in their output (both vernacular and Latin). Due to what the contemporary mind sees as their ambiguity, such thinkers are often marginalized or left out of the philosophical canon. Our faculty work on Italian Renaissance humanists (the Latin Petrarch, the so-called “civic humanists” of the Quattrocento, etc.) and their legacy from Giambattista Vico to modern Italian intellectuals such as Benedetto Croce and Antonio Gramsci; Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella and the rich Early Modern legacy of religious and confessional literature; Montaigne; the Enlightenment philosophes; the potential of “imaginary worlds”; and so-called “Continental” thought such as that of Michel Foucault and Pierre Hadot, two among the greatest genealogical theorizers of the literature/philosophy overlap of the past generation.      

Antillean Archipelago: Caribbean and Latin American Studies

Faculty regularly offer a comprehensive series of courses covering the fundamental areas of Caribbean studies at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. The department covers the languages, literature, culture, history, politics, arts, economics, and geography of the Caribbean archipelago (which encompasses 28 island nations and at least 10 South and Central American countries). At the graduate level, the faculty has trained a good number of doctoral students whose individual research spans many facets of the Caribbean field from slavery to contemporary society, from literature to history. We have a number of faculty whose range of interests facilitate a strong and stable research program for students who plan to pursue advanced research in Caribbean and Latin American Studies. Areas of specialization include the cultural productions of the Caribbean and Andes and the African diaspora in the Iberian empire, the relationships between cultural production and the formation of modern socio-political identities, the interconnections between queer sexualities, gender and anti-colonial politics in twentieth-century Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the long-term relationship binding rural villagers with various configurations of state power, from the Atlantic era to present times, contemporary performance from the Andes to Jamaica.

Iberian Studies

The University of Chicago, unique among our peers, offers both Basque and Catalan at the undergraduate and at the graduate level. This is made possible thanks to our language lectureships, to the Mitxelena and Coromines visiting professorships, and to the work of faculty in Castilian, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, and Latin. In this regard, our department is unique in the North American university system. At the University of Chicago the study of Iberian languages and cultures is both more developed (in the range of course offerings) and more closely integrated within the curriculum.

Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Our approach to Medieval and Early Modern Studies is wide-ranging, transnational, unrestricted by narrow temporal boundaries, and theoretically diverse. RLL includes faculty specialists of medieval literature and culture who work in Latin, Old French, Catalan, Castilian, and Italian. Areas of specialization include the heterogeneity of allegorical writings; the performance of gender, poetic, and political identities in late medieval France; Montaigne and early-modern historical thought; the longue durée of eminent figures such as Charlemagne; the history of the novel; the intersection of law and literature, especially in the works of Dante and Boccaccio; early-modern love treatises, epic, and religion; Renaissance historiography, early-modern theater, and the reception of classical antiquity; Cervantes; Spanish and Portuguese epic poetry and questions of empire; colonial Latin America and the Atlantic world; medieval manuscript culture; Renaissance Italian space and architecture; and Italian and Spanish early-modern music. 

Theories of Fiction and Narrative Studies

Many faculty members in the Department have expertise in theories of fiction and narrative studies, and relatedly in the study of factual or hybrid genres such as literary testimony, autobiography, memoir, and autofiction. Faculty scholarship in this domain includes Alison James’s work on documentary literature, which encompasses reflections on the archival impulse in autobiography; her broader interest in questions of factuality and fictionality has led her to collaborate with scholars in France and Japan to co-found, in 2018, the International Society for Fiction and Fictionality Studies, a multidisciplinary network of researchers. Khalid Lyamlahy’s teaching and research interests include North African Francophone autobiography in general, and more specifically forms of nostalgia and notions of selfhood in Moroccan self-writing. Maria Anna Mariani’s work explores the ways in which memory shapes and is shaped by narrative forms: her study of contemporary autobiography (Sull’autobiografia contemporanea, 2011) is a comparative approach to the relation of memory and mimesis, while her book on Primo Levi and Anne Frank (2018) investigates the fraught relationship between testimony and fiction. Mario Santana brings a strong interest in narrative theory to his research on twentieth-century Iberian and Latin American fiction, which crosses genres and media to consider a wide range of cultural objects (including literature, film, and television). Placing fiction theory in dialogue with ecocriticism, Victoria Saramago’s scholarship on Latin American fiction seeks to understand the role of literary mimesis in shaping environmental imaginaries in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her book Fictional Environments (2020) develops an analysis of “two-way mimesis,” whereby the natural environment shapes representations that in turn influence perceptions of and even actions upon the environment. This work also shows, however, that the rights of fiction and the rights of nature do not always converge.

Considered as a whole, the Department’s research in narrative and fiction studies balances expertise in specific narrative genres and local contexts with broader comparative approaches and transhistorical studies, as well as innovative theoretical perspectives on the nature, limits, and possibilities of fiction. On the creative side, many of our faculty members and instructors are also practitioners of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction narrative, including Frederick de Armas, Khalid Lyamlahy, Maria Anna Mariani, Bel Olid, and Victoria Saramago.