Honors course explores South Africa through literature's lens


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Students will study more than English in the HON 321 course "South Africa: Literature, Culture, and History" this summer.

Created by professor of English Maureen Eke, the international course focuses on issues of social justice, South African history and the ways in which these two are addressed through South African literature and film.

Using selected books and movies as a starting point, students will visit the historical towns, cities and museums that inspired many of the country’s popular literature.

“I came to the conclusion of developing the study abroad for 2012, but didn’t have enough students to go last year,” Eke said. “It’s taken a couple of years.”

Eke, who first visited South Africa in 2008 to conduct research, has returned several times since. In 2009, she began organizing and speaking more seriously with those she performed research with to secure sites that would be beneficial to the trip.

The South African Museum of Natural History, the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s birthplace are a few of the institutions and landmarks that will be introduced via the course readings and visited during the three-week trip.

“You’ve got this culture where two oceans meet,” Eke said, “but it also has a tremendous and very long history of social justice and activism, and all of those together make South Africa, from my perspective, a very interesting place to be.”

Ossineke senior Amberly Dziesinski will be traveling abroad for the fourth time this summer when she embarks with the rest of the class to South Africa.

A sociology major and history minor, Dziesinski said the focus on social justice and culture caters to her academic interests while the trip itself develops her global perspective.

“Most of my coursework has focused on American and European history, and I don’t necessarily know all that much about African history and experience,” she said. “So, I thought that would be an interesting way to expand my knowledge of world history.”

Dziesinski said she is excited to attend lectures at universities during her stay, in the hopes that they will provide a different perspective from the one she is used to with an American education. As did several of the other students, Dziesinski first learned of the opportunity through an email sent out by the Honors Program at Central Michigan University.

Alayna Smith, a junior from Garden City, and Andrew Stow, a senior from Dewitt, also discovered HON 321 through an honors email and felt the course description fit their academic interests.

Smith has an interest in prominent social leaders like Nelson Mandela, and in bringing an end to acts of social injustice such as genocide or apartheid in South Africa.

“As a social justice advocate, it just sounded like a really interesting opportunity to learn more,” Smith said. “Something I’m really looking forward to is learning about the history of things that have happened in the past.”

Stow said he was most attracted to this particular study abroad course out of all the others offered by the Honors Program, and visiting Nelson Mandela’s birthplace would be one of the highlights of the trip for him personally.

“South Africa is a country that I’ve wanted to visit for a while,” Stow said. “Being an education, history and social studies major, I feel it’s important to give children that one is about to teach, especially in the area of history, different viewpoints about significant events in human history.”


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