Catching Up With Dean Edwards

Brian Edwards, Dean School of Liberal Arts, Tulane University with Ian Bremmer (A&S '89)

I have been thinking a lot about what a global education means for the liberal arts in general and at Tulane in particular. Over the past month, I attended a conference on water and cities in Marrakech, participated in a dissertation defense in Rabat, engaged in a public conversation on global thinking in New York with author Ian Bremmer (A&S ‘89), hosted the inaugural event of our new Tulane Global Humanities Research Center, participated in French professor Edwige Tamalet Talbayev’s international conference on “water logics,” and spoke with Tulane’s Altman Scholars about language immersion and interdisciplinary education in business and the liberal arts.

For many, global education means study abroad—and to be sure, having the opportunity to immerse oneself in a different linguistic and cultural context is one of the most immediate ways to gain international experiences and competencies. But there are challenges posed by the digital age that can get in the way too. Translation machines, FaceTime, and the increasing prevalence of English globally all pose temptations that can lead students away from the productively disruptive aspects of leaving what is familiar in order to learn another system.

In an essay I’ve written for new School of Liberal Arts Magazine, the first issue of which will be published in May, I lay out a vision for what I call “Global Education for Generation Z.” There I argue for more immersive study abroad experiences, finding ways not to allow technology to interrupt education, and the value of coursework right here on campus that provides a comparative approach to a liberal arts curriculum.

That last gesture—a renewed approach to our work here on campus—is key. There’s no doubt we Tulanians live in a global city. Despite the ways some parts of our tourism sector celebrate a version of New Orleans that is uniquely domestic, as if cut off from the world—what scholar Justin Nystrom calls “New Orleans exceptionalism” in his new book Creole Italian—we live in a major global port. We are connected via trade routes to Latin America and the Caribbean, to Africa and Europe, with deep historical resonances and vestiges.

But our city’s cosmopolitanism is not only to be found in the palimpsest of languages and histories in the Vieux Carré. The populations of New Orleans are truly global, from the major Vietnamese population that has long resided in New Orleans East to the newer Arab and Philippine communities. We live in a diverse multilingual city with multiple overlapping diaspora populations. (The Jefferson Parish school system produces documents in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Arabic to address its diverse population, and has dozens of speakers of Urdu, Portuguese, and Tagalog in its student body.) Some in our Latin American studies intellectual community comment that New Orleans is the northernmost city in Latin America. (I tell my kids that we now live closer to Chichen Itza than to Chicagoland, where they were born.)

Port cities have always been complex and frequently creative sites, and as we launch the new Tulane Center for Global Humanities Research, we will be focusing on two major research initiatives. One was launched last week, when Kate Baldwin and I convened the relaunch of Globalizing American Studies, version 2.0, a multiyear research project which I have moved from Northwestern where it was founded in 2004. The second will kick off next year and will focus on port cities as creative sites, places where cultural complexity, global trade, and migration put pressure on nationally delimited forms of experience.

Complexity is, after all, what a liberal arts education seeks to achieve, whatever its particular focus—denaturalizing common sense, and putting what may seem obvious into relief. You’ll read much more about people and programs pursuing projects such as these in our inaugural School of Liberal Arts Magazine, which we have dedicated to global education, hitting shelves and mailboxes next month!

Read more from the SLA April 24, 2019 Newsletter.