Honors College professor promotes cross-cultural understanding in India

As part of a UMBC Dean’s Travel Grant, Honors College Professor Ellen Handler Spitz recently traveled to India where she presented a plenary address at an international conference and taught two lengthy seminars to 25 masters-level English literature students on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The experience promoted cross-cultural understanding and the significance of language and history in understanding many contemporary issues.

During the trip, Spitz presented a plenary address at a conference focused on the implications of studying English literature in non-English speaking environments in an era of globalization. The event was covered by The New Indian Express.

Professor Spitz also traveled to Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India, where she was invited to teach English language graduate students about Mark Twain’s 1885 book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and to grapple with how she feels the work continues to reflect much of the division that is seen in contemporary society.

Ellen Handler Spitz is introduced to the class at Utkal University by the department chair, Professor Himansu Mohapatra.
Ellen Handler Spitz is introduced to the class at Utkal University by the department chair, Professor Himansu Mohapatra.

“The struggle in Huck’s heart and mind reflects the deep, tragically ongoing American rift between our country’s dedication to ‘liberty and justice for all’ on the one hand and a recidivist, seemingly ineradicable racial prejudice on the other,” Spitz said.

The seminars centered around discussions of language, history, and the symbolism of the Mississippi River in Twain’s book. The Utkal graduate students engaged with Spitz in a discussion about the themes in the novel and through converting the classroom into an imaginary raft to help the students experience the power of the novel, Spitz explained that it “proved truly effective, and we managed to erase all boundaries between us of color, age, gender, and nationality.”

Spitz is the author of six books on the arts and psychology. She teaches interdisciplinary seminars in aesthetics, literature, psychology, and the visual arts. Read more on the Honors College website.

Header image: Ellen Handler Spitz presents a paper at an international conference on the implications of studying English literature in an era of globalization. Photos courtesy of Pulastya Jani, Lecturer in English, Department of English, Utkal University.