Vanwesenbeeck presents talk in the Netherlands

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Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck, English major

Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck

Department of English Professor Birger Vanwesenbeeck gave a public lecture at Utrecht University in the Netherlands at the invitation of the research groups for Modern and Contemporary Literature and Terra Critica.

The lecture, “Linguistic Witnessing: Beyond the English-as-Great-Emancipator Paradigm in Afro-American Studies,” focused on the attempt by Afro-American writers to bear witness to the loss of ancestral languages felt to be one’s own even though no longer spoken in the present.

Scholars of Afro-American literature have long been slow to acknowledge the extent and durability of this trope of “linguistic witnessing” due to what Dr. Vanwesenbeeck identified as a misguided emphasis on English literacy as the sole guarantor of freedom on the one hand and an unwillingness to read the Black vernacular as a repository of linguistic loss on the other.

Vanwesenbeeck will be delivering a version of the same talk at the annual convention of the Northeast Modern Language in Niagara Falls on March 24.

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