Dr. Christina Di Gangi, Dawson Community College English Instructor, was part of a panel discussion titled “Forces of Nature” at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (RMMLA) 2018 Conference held October 4-6 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The panel’s discussion focused on how environment shapes the creation and teaching of literature, particularly in areas that have experienced social or economic loss.
Di Gangi first grew interested in this topic while on a trip through Ohio, where she used to work and teach. A drive down U.S. Highway 23, also known as the “Country Music Highway” where it winds through southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, took Di Gangi through one of the areas hit hardest by America’s opioid epidemic. The landscape was a stark reminder of the epidemic’s effects on the area and its people. This beautiful area’s small towns seemed, to Di Gangi, less busy and vibrant than in years past.
That drive through Ohio was the beginning of a new area of research and writing for Di Gangi, whose work usually focuses on the medieval period. She had recently read books arguing that economic policy was responsible, at least in part, for many social issues, including the opioid epidemic. These arguments formed the basis for Di Gangi’s ideas.
There were areas all over the country, Di Gangi knew, that had recently experienced some form of social or economic loss, and she was interested in determining how those changes influence literature. Di Gangi’s recent paper, “NAFTA, Narrative, and Teaching,” explains how social and economic downturn affects not only literature written in and about the area, but how teachers in that place present literature to their students.
DiGangi believes that literature is a reflection of where and when it was written, even if not intended to be, and environment also influences how and what teachers decide their students should learn.
The RMMLA conference was not only a good opportunity for Di Gangi to share her ideas with a larger audience, but to receive feedback. “Conferences like this allow you to meet different people and get different ideas,” Di Gangi said. That’s especially helpful when a researcher ventures out of their usual subject area, as Di Gangi did with this project.