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Mapping the Borderlands

An examination of life near international borders yields the expected divisions between countries and languages, but also evidence of the subtle differences, as well as similarities, that exist in these areas of cultural overlap.

A new research and teaching collaboration, supported by a grant from the University of Arizona Center for Digital Humanities, brings together UA students in French and Russian classes with their peers in two other borderland regions.

The UA faculty members leading the project, Liudmila Klimanova, assistant professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, and Emily Hellmich, assistant professor of French, are guiding students through an interdisciplinary study of three borderlands regions, Québec-New England, Mexico-Southern Arizona, and Russia-Northern Kazakhstan.

“They’re very particular places, borderlands, characterized by a lot of paradoxes,” Hellmich says. “We talk a lot about borders today: at the same time globalization is making us more connected, there’s more building of borders, both real and ideological. We wanted to think about what our students are living and how these conversations could enhance the learning of language and culture.”

Using an array of digital tools, from Internet video conferencing focused on second-language skills, to 360-degree interactive videos and images, the students collaborate on building an interactive digital portal that showcases particular elements of cultural exchange in the border regions. The students partnered with Cégep de Sept-Îles in Québec and Kostanay State University in Kazakhstan.

“Borderlands are unusual. When we have cultures rubbing up against each other, that process creates new forms of thinking and being. It’s mixed and creates new types of cultures,” Klimanova says. “We talk about languages and we see interesting forms of bilingualism. There’s no right or wrong language. They coexist because of the proximity to one another at the border. That exists at the cultural level too.”

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