Francoise Massardier-Kenney: “You Want to Keep America Great, Grow the NEH”
In response to the current budget proposal to completely defund the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, PEN America asked Members to share their experiences with the NEA or NEH. From editors to historians to teachers to novelists, our Members have benefited from the NEA and NEH in a variety of meaningful ways. We present here a handful of their stories.
Francoise Massardier-Kenney, Professor of French and Translation Studies at Kent State University
The NEH funds institutes and seminars to provide intensive training to college and university professors. In 2015, I co-directed (and will again in 2017) an institute titled “What Is Gained in Translation: Learning How to Read Translated Texts.” The three-week summer institute was dedicated to the study of literature in translation as a way to develop cross-cultural literacy. It focused on features of translated literary texts that distinguish themselves from texts that are written and read in the same language in order to explore the complexities involved in cross-cultural communication. Specifically, the institute investigated the deep cultural beliefs and assumptions—related to time, space, and agency—that shape the production and reception of the original text, and, through a series of case studies, explored the role translators play in presenting that culture to a new audience.
Under the guidance of experienced translators and scholars, the 30 participants became familiar with writings on translation and cross-cultural communication and incorporated new approaches to reading in translation into their research and teaching. According to the participants, the experience was “transformative” and “the best intellectual experience of their life.” “The three weeks I spent in Kent were really extraordinary. I came back with a new understanding of the field, a lot of bibliographic references, new colleagues in the field, and above all many new ideas both for my teaching and my scholarship.”
It gave participants an opportunity to develop new ideas, work with colleagues in different disciplines with whom they would never have had the chance to collaborate, and engage in the kind of intercultural dialogues which have made America such an innovative place. The NEA and NEH programs have been the envy of Western countries and many others. They are crucial for the development of many teachers and professors working in a variety of schools. It would be unpatriotic to weaken American programs like the NEH. The NEH programs are why we continue to be a thriving democracy where the exchange of ideas and tolerance of differences are valued, and they help this country foster a culture of innovation. You want to keep America great, grow the NEH.