ICLS opens up a world of literature

24 April 2012

Hannah Stenstrom
"International and Comparative Literary Studies has truly been the highlight of my degree," says Hannah Stenstrom.

Since its inception ten years ago, a major in International and Comparative Literary Studies (ICLS) has been offering students an avenue for cross-cultural study in literature and humanities.

Dr Andrea Bandhauer, director of the ICLS program, says that many students who undertake this course acquire an interest in languages other than English, and that language studies compliment an understanding of world literature.

"World literature helps us to understand and experience not only the society we live in," Dr Bandhauer says. "It enables us to gain fascinating insights into the cultural and intellectual life of the global community as a whole."

This year is also the first year in which ICLS offers honours to its high-achieving undergraduate students. Four students are currently enrolled in the program this year.

Hannah Stenstrom is undertaking the honours program as part of her Bachelor of Arts (Languages).

"International and Comparative Literary Studies has truly been the highlight of my degree," she says. "Being interdisciplinary gives my learning extra value. ICLS is about crossing boundaries and challenging ways of thinking - it makes for a really stimulating area of study."

With 137 undergraduates currently enrolled in 12 units of study across four areas of interest, the program offers a study experience that is unlike any other in the Faculty. Students can develop an understanding for the different ways in which literature is created and appreciated in cultures that can be entirely different to their own.

PHD candidate Shirlita Espinosa, who aims to complete her PHD this year, has a strong passion for migrant literature.

"My identification as 'Filipino' in Australia has been a strong motivation to contribute to the growing scholarship of minority writing in the country," Shirlita says.

Her studies in the ICLS program helped her to realise this passion and prompted her to further academic work.

"ICLS has an impressive list of academics who nurture and interdisciplinary, cultural studies approach to the important phenomenon of migration today," she explains.

That list of academics includes 20 staff from eleven departments whose specialities include literature, film studies, theatre studies, cultural studies and the social sciences. This environment of co-operative teaching and learning is encouraging students to see connections beyond the boundaries of individual units of study.

Shirlita's PHD is a perfect example of the myriad directions a major in ICLS can be taken. Her work, "an ethnography of Philippine-born migrants in Australia with a focus on migrant writing" examines migrant literature's place within its dominant cultural context.

"Don't let the imagined 'limits' of disciplines stop you from fusing what seem to be unconventional areas of study," Shirlita advises.

Students themselves say that the ICLS program helps their studies across a wide range of subjects, so the effects are felt beyond the major.

"For those who wish to become active and informed participants in the life of our community, cross-cultural education and knowledge are essential," Dr Bandhauer explains.

The ICLS program offers reward for students who can see across departmental lines. Shirlita Espinosa has some final advice for students wanting to pursue a major in ICLS.

"Only by being conceptually engaged and intellectually curious can you break new ground," she says.

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Contact: Kate Mayor

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