Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Researching and Teaching in European Tongues: Reflections on the European Union Center's Working Conference for Regional College Faculty

By Adalric Tuten, EUC Staff

How does one study or teach about something as complex as the European Union (EU), a political entity made of 28 different countries (soon to be 27, once the UK leaves), each with its own particular social, economic, cultural, and political complexities? This was the question guiding discussions during the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s European Union Center’s (EUC) conference, “Researching and Teaching the EU: Best Practices and Current Trends in EU Scholarship.” The answers varied, highlighting the rich, innovative, and interdisciplinary direction that study of the EU currently takes, not only in the US, but also around the world. That is, while the majority of faculty and students participating in the conference came from the local region, including from the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago, several came from as far away as Virginia, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Taiwan.

The conference held on October 21, came one day after the EUC’s celebration of EU Day and provided scholars and students the opportunity to present their research on the EU. The discussions were diverse and animated as when, for example, Dr. Judith Pintar of the University of Illinois described how she teaches the subject of conflict resolution by using the historical context of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In her talk, “Restaging the Classroom for War: Teaching nationalism through immersive play,” Dr. Pintar captivated audience members with an account of how she utilizes immersive role play by students to teach them about the emotional, psychological, and political complexities associated with war and postwar reconstruction. As Dr. Pintar noted, since the former Yugoslavian countries are already EU member states or slated to be so, her students learn about the challenges related to political, social, and economic integration by countries that formerly fought wars against one another, thus, providing students with a more tangible and visceral learning experience than traditional textbook learning alone offers.

Other presentations that pushed the boundaries of traditional scholarship or that highlighted the variety of approaches to studying and teaching the EU were many, including discussions on immigration and refugee resettlement, language politics in the Balkans, economic growth after the sovereign debt crisis, and the state of EU education in Asia. For example, Achim Hurrelmann, Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University, utilized statistical content analysis to reveal significant insights into the durability of the EU’s democratic institutions by showing how the Eurozone crisis failed to prompt a legitimacy crisis within Europe’s media outlets.

Finally, the conference ended with an exciting look into the future of EU scholarship and teaching by current graduate and undergraduate students from the European Union Center’s MA program and from the University of Chicago’s European Horizons Program. Topics covered a wide range of critical subjects, from projections about the economic aftermath of Brexit to EU-South America relations in the sphere of education and labor. In sum, the main takeaway from the entire conference is that current and future EU-related scholarship and teaching is dynamic, innovative, multidisciplinary and most promising.

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