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By contributor Dr. Gordon Hak

ARTS6_Profs-to-talk-1colorIdentity, art, war, history, memorials, memory, and migration are at the heart of a forthcoming Arts and Humanities Colloquium presentation by English professor Terri Doughty and Dr. Justin McGrail.

The VIU professors began taking groups of students to Wrocław, Poland, in 2012. By teaching credit courses in Poland, their goal was to enrich the educational experience of  VIU students. “It is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn through hands-on study how literature, art, history, and politics shape identity,” says Doughty. “It’s also a chance for participants to experience European life and culture in one of central Europe’s most interesting border zones.” The instructors continued to learn about Poland, and they will share some of their thoughts in a talk entitled “Cultural Contact Zones: Wrocław, Poland” on November 28 at 10 am in the Malaspina Theatre.

Wrocław is an interesting place to locate a Faculty of Arts and Humanities field school. While the city was founded by the Polish Piast Dynasty, beginning in the 14th century, it was ruled successively by Bohemians, Austrians, and Prussians. At the outbreak of World War II, it was a city with a majority German population, the largest German city east of Berlin. After the war, this changed. The city, which was then known as Breslau by the Germans, became part of a reconstituted Poland and the city took back its Polish name.

“Wrocław also experienced a massive population shift,” says McGrail. “Most of the city’s German Jews had been killed during the war, and after 1945, most of its German inhabitants were forcibly expelled. Poles expelled from eastern territories awarded to the Soviet Union were encouraged to settle to the west, and they were joined by migrants from central Poland seeking a fresh start after the war.”

“The Polish Communist government,” adds Doughty, “embarked on an aggressive erasure of Wrocław’s  German past. Public discussion of Wrocław’s German did not emerge until after the fall of the Communist government in 1989. Since then, Polish writers and artists have been recuperating the region’s multi-ethnic history and exploring the questions of identity that are raised by migration and the erasure of memory.” 

ARTS6-profs-to-talk-colorThe presenters are an impressive team. Doughty has long worked in the fields of Victorian Literature, Children’s Literature, and Literature of the Fantastic. Actively connected to the Polish academic world, she has taught Polish Literature and will teach a new course on Central European Literature in January 2015. McGrail, from the Department of Art and Design, has written about and taught Architectural History and Art History. He is also a spoken word poet with over 20 years of performance experience in Canada and the US.

According to Doughty, “Globalization works to erase borders. However, for a country like Poland, borders and transgressions of borders have defined its identity.” On November 28 they will investigate this theme by looking at the architecture of Wrocław, as well as two prominent Polish artists, Magdalena Abakanowicz and Olga Tokarczuk. Abakanowicz is an 84-year-old sculptor and fibre artist whose work reflects the volatility of Poland’s past and present. Tokarczuk is a fiction writer who investigates cultural, political, and sexual border zones. Born in 1962, she is one of Poland’s most successful authors of her generation.

The talk is the third installment in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities’  very popular Colloquium series of the year. The theme this term is war and its consequences, a fitting subject for 2014, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The free, illustrated talk is open to faculty, employees, and the general public. Students are especially welcome and there will be refreshments.