Dr. Stepanov joined the faculty of Georgia Tech’s School of Modern Languages in August 2021.  We are thrilled that she is working with Serve-Learn-Sustain, and excited to share more about her teaching and research. This semester, Dr. Stepanov is teaching two SLS-affiliated courses: ARBC/FREN/ SWAH/WOLO 3420A, “Introduction to Africa,” (taught in English) and a new course, FREN 4813A/8803B, “In-Humanity: Cruelty/Literature/Media,” (taught in French).

If you’re interested in analyzing how literature, media, and policy each operate in their own, distinct ways to portray and define violence against people and place, then “In-Humanity: Cruelty/Literature/Media” is the course for you! This class is broken up into various categories of violence (war, massacre, genocide, ecological collapse) via literature, diverse media, and policy. We’ll be reading a novel, a graphic novel, short stories, and excerpts from theoretical texts, as well as looking at photographs and videos, to investigate both historical and contemporary conflicts and upheavals. Case studies include WWII, the Algerian War, the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and instances of contemporary cruelty to better understand the cultural, political, and social ramifications of global conflict – and what ethical solutions we might find moving forward.

Introduction to Africa is a course dedicated to studying representations (e.g., those found in scholarly journals, in the news, in literature and artistic production more generally) of societies, communities, cultures, and languages in various African nations. As its name suggests, “Introduction to Africa” is broad in its goal. It is also interdisciplinary in its methodologies and lenses and welcomes a plurality of knowledge systems. Topics discussed in this class include justice, equity, identity, the environment, gender, and human rights. Using an array of materials and approaches, this course is driven by cultural and linguistic diversity, and honors multiple ways of knowing in numerous social, cultural, and environmental contexts. Students in the course engage with works written by a number of African scholars, including Wole Soyinka, Felwine Sarr, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Achille Mbembe.

If you’re not able to take these classes this term, make sure to check out Dr. Stepanov’s courses in the future if you’re invested in finding out more about war and both its local and global impacts, geopolitics, social justice, and cultural responses to violence. To learn more about Dr. Stepanov’s research, teaching, and her Spring 2022 iteration of “Introduction to Africa,” immerse yourself in her wonderful reflection below.

“I am a scholar of war. War is a complex topic – so complex that it can only be understood by considering the wider cultural sphere that is infused by its stories, its upheavals, and its traumas. War affects people, animals, plants, land, resources, infrastructure (various built and unbuilt environments), social and political structures, and systems of governance. War also bridges different temporalities and spans vast geopolitical regions, rendering the wounds and politics of the past salient in the present. The study of war is thus extremely interdisciplinary, something that I am drawn to for many reasons. Most fundamentally, my interest in using diverse methodologies to analyze complex systems comes from the fact that I have a dual STEM-Humanities background; I was trained as a scholar of French and Francophone Studies and as a mathematician, and I have always approached my research and teaching through diverse lenses.

Drawing on my multifaceted background and dedication to interdisciplinary research, my current work focuses on 20th- and 21st-century French, North African, and Sub-Saharan African literature and visual culture. My current manuscript, Cruelty, War, Fiction: Redefining the Human as In-Human, explores excessive forms of violence in warfare and their representation in fiction and visual media from Algeria, Rwanda, and France. I argue that the concept of cruelty is fundamental to any discussion of political instability, war, and crimes against humanity. More broadly, this project examines the relationship between the evolution of warfare over the last eighty years and shifting conceptions of the human in the face of “universal” manifestations of violence. This book is closely tied to my second research project, which examines literary, artistic, and cultural responses to radioactive fallout and its ensuing ecological crisis following France’s nuclear arsenal testing in Algeria and the South Pacific.

At GT, I teach courses that explore cultural production such as visual art, literature, and environmental photography that responds to – and archives – the political and social ramifications of war. In my classes, we read and analyze policy alongside these cultural artefacts to inject humanity and empathy into the discussions – and decisions – pertaining to human, animal, and plant life lost to extreme (lawful and unlawful) violence. I also play a key role in the African Studies Program, teaching “Introduction to Africa” and shaping the African Studies Minor. My multilingual scholarship and teaching philosophy are guided by principles of diversity, inclusion, and a continuous commitment to building equitable spaces. I am inspired by questions such as those asked by Inara Scott in her reflection titled “On Becoming a More Inclusive Educator:” “How does my background and history inform the person I bring into the classroom?” and “How might my background differ from or overlap with my students and how does this impact student learning?” My courses strive to reflect my deep engagement with these inquiries.

2021 Liam’s Legacy Inclusive Teaching Grant-Supported Course, “Introduction to Africa”  

I am grateful to the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain for awarding me a Liam’s Legacy Inclusive Teaching Symposium Course Development Grant in support of my “Introduction to Africa” course.

Last semester, I found that my students were really interested in our discussions concerning the environment and Afrofuturism. As a result, I used the Liam Legacy’s Grant to conduct curriculum development in San Francisco, where I discovered a number of events and exhibits that aligned with my course’s themes and principles. This trip had many highlights, but the very top ones that I’d like to mention here are two exhibits: Terra Incognita at MoAD (the Museum of the African Diaspora), which highlighted the work of David Huffman, and Nature x Humanity at SFMOMA (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which underscored the work of the Oxman Architects group led by Neri Oxman. Both exhibits embodied in gripping visual forms the various discussions that we had in class. For instance, Nature x Humanity echoed our examinations of sustainable building materials from when we read Sada Mire’s article, “Beautiful Somali buildings are rising up in a former war zone. It gives me hope,” as well as our discussions concerning environmental resilience when learning about the Green Belt Movement, founded by Wangari Maathi. Huffman’s work, moreover, resonated with our analyses of several Afrofuturistic case studies – including Fabrice Monteiro’s collection of photographs titled The Prophecy, artist Ekow Nimako’s LEGO creations, and the mission and products of Portrait Coffee in Atlanta.

With the Liam’s Legacy Award and support to travel to San Francisco, I was also able to visit George Segal’s Holocaust Memorial at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. This monument has now become a part of my Holocaust research archive, which is comprised of photos that I have taken while examining Holocaust remembrance in the US, Israel, Germany, France, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Canada. As a researcher of violence and its lasting effects on history, identity, and the environment, visual testimony makes up a large part of my scholarship. But it is also an important pedagogical tool for me. I show images in class to contextualize readings and discussions, underscoring how place relates to remembrance and interrogating what constitutes a commemorative site or structure.

I will be including the findings of this trip in my subsequent classes, as I am always excited to show my students engaging and relevant materials and resources. In the future, I hope to incorporate more public-humanities-inspired activities into my courses, asking students to curate visual, sonic, and textual representations of our courses’ themes so that they are able to put into practice the ideas encountered in class (the word “praxis” floats around a lot in my day-to-day!). Moreover, I look forward to inviting more guest lecturers to Georgia Tech and into my classes, fostering relationships between Georgia Tech and community partners – and beyond.

Expanding the Audience and Bringing New Voices to GT

In January 2021, I co-organized and moderated a roundtable, “Black is the Journey, Africana the Name: A Conversation with Maboula Soumahoro on African Diasporas and Identities,” which focused on Dr. Soumahoro’s Le Triangle et l’Hexagone: Réflexions sur une identité noire, translated into English by Kaiama L. Glover as Black Is the Journey, Africana the Name (Polity 2021). A student shared at the end of the term that her “most memorable moment [was] attending the event about the book Black Is the Journey, Africana the Name. I connected with the author Maboula Soumahoro about multicultural identity. I was inspired by her message and found many similarities in my life as a Hispanic American.”

In March, I attended the 20th- & 21st-Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. One of the plenary speakers at this conference was graphic novelist Jessica Oublié. Born in Paris to a Guadeloupean mother and a Martiniquais father, Oublié’s most recent work, Tropiques toxiques (2020), lays bare the destructive horrors of the insecticide chlordecone, also known as Kepone. In my “Comics & Graphic Arts” class last semester, during a “comics lightning round” activity in which students were asked to conduct research on a Francophone BD (bandes dessinées = comics) and share their findings with the class, a student presented on Oublié’s work. Thank you, Aidan, for sharing this BD with the class! (And thanks, Aidan, for signing off on this shout-out!)

I also organized an event in April titled “The ‘Conflict Minerals’ Paradigm: Ecology, Technology, and Power,” which asked: what sits at the nexus of power and technology? I tackled this question with Josaphat Musamba, a Congolese researcher of conflict, DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) processes, security dynamics, and mining governance. We discussed the intersection of resource extraction, systems of governance, armed conflict, and security – and the urgent ecological crisis that is inextricable from the technologies that define our modern world.

This event is tightly bound to my research as I think through how the construct of power relates to technology, energy, and armed conflict, as well as what ecological concerns – or, more notably, crises – arise in the face of these complicated junctions. The raw resources that power our modern world are part of a very complex web: technology, power, ecology – intertwined concepts with real implications – and I hope to be able to bring more attention to these issues. These ideas have concretized and blossomed thanks to my affiliation with SLS, its dedication to the SDGs, and GT’s investment in these questions. Thank you for your support!

All in all, I am grateful to my students for their diligent work and wonderful insights. I am grateful to my colleagues for the ingenuity and warmth that they bring to campus every day. I can’t wait for what the coming years have in store as I continue to collaborate with SLS, INTA, the IAC, and our greater Atlanta community.”