Gender Studies Centre, University of Debrecen
By Nóra Séllei
Functioning as an interdepartmental research and teaching centre within the framework of the Institute of English and American Studies, the Gender Studies Centre (GSC) provides a case that demonstrates how the introduction of gender studies has transformed the face of English Studies at the University of Debrecen, while making an impact on Anglicist gender studies in Hungary, transforming the image of English studies in the country, leaving its mark on international academic relations and also appealing to the wider public in Hungary. The history of teaching gender studies at the Institute of English and American Studies goes back to the early 1990s in a context where no mention of gender as a critical and analytical tool had ever been made before, so the introduction of gender-related notions into a very strictly regulated and conservative higher educational curriculum was a ground-breaking move, coinciding with and contributing to the political-mental changes of the 1990s and the process of democratisation in the country.
The first course in gender studies was launched in 1993, when Nóra Séllei (currently head of GSC) returned from her TEMPUS exchange scholarship at the University of Hull, UK, where she had a formative experience: she encountered a team of scholars, Marion Shaw, Patsy Stoneman and Angela Leighton, who had the first MA programme in “Women and Literature” in the UK. Inspired by the success of the first courses with a gender component, further colleagues and newly emerging scholars entered the discipline at the Institute of English and American Studies and started to apply approaches informed by gender studies in their teaching and research. Although working for two departments – the Department of British Studies and the North American Department – and in divergent disciplines like film studies, literary theory and criticism, psychoanalysis, philosophy, visual culture, social history, nationalism or space studies, members of GSC have a convergent interest, sharing the conviction that all walks of life and culture are permeated by the inscription of gender, and that studying these gender inscriptions is a cutting-edge approach in current literary and cultural studies. While mostly staying within the boundaries of English studies (though making some forays into Hungarian and Central-Eastern-European culture as well) the eight colleagues participating in GSC create awareness of how the intersection of gender studies and English studies creates new meanings, and how it challenges and transforms the curriculum and the process of teaching too. By introducing a great number of courses, this team has put its mark on the face of how English studies is understood both in terms of teaching and research at the Institute of English and American Studies.
The members of GSC have also been active and professionally successful in their career and research: currently there are three senior scholars amongst them (two full professors and an associate professor), and the GSC team have an impressive publication output. In view of ten gender-focussed monographs and several hundreds of articles with about two thousand citations both by Hungarian and international scholars, it can be claimed that the team also transformed how Hungarian English studies is considered by both the national and the international academic community. In the national field, English studies emerged from a peripheral and minor field into a major and acknowledged area, whereas the researchers of GSC are actively present in the international field by participating in numerous international projects and conference organisations, by presentations and lectures (even as invited plenary speakers) at conferences, and by maintaining mutually beneficial professional links with individual scholars. In this way, GSC has substantially contributed to putting English studies from Hungary on the map of international scholarship.
Apart from their presence in academia in the narrow sense of the word and motivated by a sense of social responsibility to create a growing awareness of gender issues in a by now threatening political environment, members of GSC keep making efforts at reaching the public. Some of their monographs have an appeal to secondary school teachers who integrate their approach and ideas into their own teaching, influencing a new generation. When editing a gender-focussed book series, Artemisz Könyvek (Artemis Books), the idea of the two series editors, sociologist Beáta Nagy (Corvinus University, Budapest) and Nóra Séllei, was to reach a broad reading public. In the Hungarian cultural context, where feminism, including academic feminism, is a later development than in the Western countries, the series was a relatively early attempt to publish and make widely available books that address the issue of gender, and as such the series intended to mediate the results of the international feminist scholarship, while also to present new results in Hungary. In its eight years of existence the series published translations of monographs and autobiographies, an edited volume of translated theoretical texts and an original Hungarian edited volume alike. The volumes of the series, though painfully out of print, are still sought after. Perhaps now, in the context of two parallel universes, that of an emerging gender consciousness and that of the anti-gender movements, they are even more sought after – and more badly needed – than when the volumes were originally published.
The members of GSC are happy to undertake further jobs of communicating with and even mobilising the public. Whenever there is a chance, the GSC team are pleased to give public lectures and workshops at art galleries, cultural centres and secondary schools. In addition, GSC has had some consciousness-raising communal outreach programmes like charity campaigns to alleviate the menstrual poverty of homeless women and the annual runs within the framework of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, alerting the public of their city to the issue of systemic violence against women. GSC, thus, whereas deeply devoted to teaching as a highly responsible profession and to research based on rigorous scholarly principles, is also committed to, and is actively engaged in, the political cause of gender.
(Posted 3 March 2020. Updated 3 January 2023)