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Transatlantic Studies Association conference comes to UNG

Dr. Donna Gessell, UNG professor of English, speaks at the Transatlantic Studies Association conference.

Dr. Christopher Jespersen simply wanted to bring the Transatlantic Studies Association (TSA) conference to the United States for a year. It ended up being held July 9-11 on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus, where Jespersen is dean of the College of Arts & Letters.

Jespersen has been attending the conference since 2008. It’s usually in Ireland, Scotland or England. The event also has stopped in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Jespersen suggested bringing the conference to the other side of the Atlantic for a year. He assumed another school would bid. Instead, UNG made the lone bid and served as the first-ever North American host of the conference.

“It’s been an ambition to do it for quite some time,” Dr. Thomas Mills, Lancaster University lecturer and vice chairman of the group, said of having the first TSA event on this side of the Atlantic.

Topics discussed at the 17th annual conference included transatlantic relations, history, security issues, NATO, politics, diplomacy, literature, and films.

Jespersen, chairman for TSA’s management committee, spoke about Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize and the Beatles' 1965 concert at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta as examples of transatlantic cultural exchange.

Dr. Joyce Stavick, department head of English at UNG, participated in the conference for a third consecutive year. She was one of 17 UNG professors who presented at the TSA event that drew about 80 participants from across the globe.

“It was wonderful for the university to be able to host such a conference and show off north Georgia,” Stavick said. “To be able to visit sites on either side of the world, it broadens one’s perspective.”

Professors presenting at the three-day conference were from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States, and Wales.

Stavick was a panelist for a discussion of author Graham Greene and his 1966 novel "The Comedians,” which shined a light on the totalitarian practices of Haitian President “Papa Doc” François Duvalier. The UNG professor discussed Duvalier’s published denunciation of Greene, while a fellow UNG professor of English, Dr. Donna Gessell, reviewed the film version of “The Comedians” in light of current events of the time and in comparison with the novel itself.

Stavick was first drawn to Greene’s work when assigned to read “The Power and The Glory” while working on her master’s degree, calling it “one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.”

“He is at least as complicated as any of his characters,” Stavick said.

Dr. Kristin Cook, who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London and is TSA secretary, said the group is growing its literature and cultural wings, as it added films to the list of topics this year.

Stavick and Jespersen noted the wide range of topics at the conference.

“I would encourage more faculty to turn their attention to the TSA conference,” Stavick said. “So many of our faculty would find Transatlantic Studies to be a venue for their own work.”

Cook said every student she saw was gracious and helpful.

“It’s great to be in a place that’s so beautiful and hospitable,” Cook said.

Mills was “surprised at how green it was” in north Georgia, reminding him of where he lives, just much warmer. He stayed on the square in downtown Dahlonega during the conference and was struck by the beauty while walking one morning.

“It’s like being on a film set,” Mills said.

Mills said he is “very keen to get more people from the U.S. involved” with the group.

The 2019 TSA conference will be on Mills' campus in northwest England, and he hopes some of those attending the conference for the first time this year will make the trip to Europe next year.UNG hosted the Transatlantic Studies Association conference from July 9-11.

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