Breakthrough Star: Rebecca Janzen
Spanish professor explores aspects of Mexican culture in literature
By Page Ivey, email@example.com, 803-777-3085
Spanish and comparative literature professor Rebecca Janzen has checked all the North America boxes: She is from Canada, works in the U.S. and her field of study is Mexican literature and culture.
And, nine years removed from her Ph.D., she has published four books that all look at some aspect of Mexican culture or government and certain populations inside the country.
“I research literature and film and other kind of cultural documents, trying to figure out how different groups of people fit into the Mexican government's idea of what Mexico should be, or how they don't fit,” she says.
Janzen’s first book looks at how disability is represented in Mexican novels, short stories, and archival documents. Her second book looks at how Mennonites and Mormons were portrayed in photographs, film, television, books and archives. She was attracted to that topic, in part, because she has distant relatives from Canada living in Mexico. Her more recent books examine religion in Mexican film and human rights in Mexican law and literature, respectively.
“I use all these different kinds of sources to try to answer the question ‘Is this government actually doing what it claims it's doing? Is it doing it effectively? Why is it saying one thing and doing another?” Janzen says.
For people in literature or the humanities, often our research isn't seen as ‘applied.’ It's very ethereal. But I think it's important and worthwhile because it helps us think about how we as humans relate to one another.
Her interest in Mexico also was sparked by a love of its literary tradition.
“It was a country that had literature that was interesting in terms of political and social commentary, but also was written in a really beautiful way,” she says.
Janzen’s research informs her teaching, including classes on Mexican and Latin American culture, literature, and religion.
“I have been able to teach on what I'm researching in the moment,” she says. “It’s been really great to be able to talk about my research ideas with undergraduate and graduate students.”
She has also taken on a mentoring role for graduate students who are where she was a decade ago as she currently serves as graduate director for the languages, literature and cultures department.
“Dr. Janzen has had an extremely positive impact on our graduate students, providing a leading example of scholarly productivity combined with congenial collegiality,” says Jeanne Garane, professor of French and comparative literature. “She is actively mentoring graduate students as a member of several dissertation committees. She is also actively involved in professional service as a reviewer for several leading journals and presses in her field.”
Being named a Breakthrough Star was an honor, Janzen says, adding that she thinks it signals that the university recognizes the value in humanities research.
“For people in literature or the humanities, often our research isn't seen as ‘applied.’ It's very ethereal,” she says. “But I think it's important and worthwhile because it helps us think about how we as humans relate to one another and, in my field of literary and cultural studies, how we can use imaginative or fictional examples from the archives, legal texts, literature, film and other forms of artistic expression, to try and create a better future for all of us.”
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