New Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures Maps International Faculty Connections

Adiel Kaplan

The Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures held its inaugural reception last Friday, when organizers presented plans for an ambitious new database called ObieMAPS.

The OCLC, which was created this past spring through a $950,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, officially launched this semester under the direction of Sebastian Faber, professor of Hispanic Studies and chair of Latin American Studies. The Center aims to strengthen Oberlin’s international outreach with easier access to study abroad programs, culture and language programs, and community outreach.

The OCLC has begun working on several projects. One of these is ObieMAPS, a database which according to the OCLC website will allow “anyone on or off campus to see connections across departments and programs in terms of geography, time periods, and themes or topics … and to track [Oberlin’s] collective language skills.”

The project, which has been in the works for the last eight months, will officially be released in February. It represents a collaboration between the OCLC and the Cooper International Learning Center (more commonly known as the Language Lab), which have been working together since the OCLC’s inception.

“There’s going to be a private beta test [of ObieMAPS that’s] probably going to be open in the next week or two [and] will last for a month or so,” said Justin Locsei, an educational technology specialist at the CILC who did all the programming of the database. “During that time, we’ll try to figure out what exactly it can handle and what volume of users we might be expecting.”

The beta test version will be open to anyone interested, but the OCLC will only accept a limited number of participants. Registration will be available within the next few weeks.

ObieMAPS currently holds information on all permanent courses and faculty in the College and according to Faber and Locsei, information about Conservatory faculty will be added very soon. The database allows users to search for related courses and faculty through a global map shaded by most common regions, a timeline function and top themes and topics.

On individual faculty pages, viewers will be able to see a list of courses offered by each professor, as well as any outside institutional connections. ObieMAPS will also serve as a resource for people to view individual faculty language-proficiency levels. This aspect of the database was added because many Oberlin faculty members outside of the language departments speak more than one language.

Faber said that he has not been able to find any other databases like ObieMAPS and believes that it will be the first of its kind.

“Oberlin is the perfect place to experiment with something like this because we’re big enough to have an immense wealth of things … but we’re not so big that it becomes completely unwieldy to set up something like this,” he said.

Faber has many more ideas for the OCLC. Currently, the Center is accepting grant proposals for projects connecting two or more courses in different departments. This includes creating programming that is relevant to students in multiple courses and allowing discussion between participants from different disciplines.

The first of these cross-discipline courses is being taught this semester by Associate Professor of Politics Kristina Mani. With funding from the OCLC, she has created a one-credit, second-module course open to students enrolled in Latin American Politics, Survey of Latin American Literature II or Dirty Wars and Democracy.

“The interdisciplina[rity] is an important component here,” said Mani. “The course is called Latin American Politics Past and Present through Film, and the idea is to use the resource of film … to understand contemporary political, social and economic concerns in Latin America.”

Faber expects similar projects in coming years, and several new grants are currently in the works, including a possible collaboration between three different courses studying the work of German playwright Bertolt Brecht next semester.

The OCLC is also working to incorporate foreign languages into more of the Oberlin curriculum, such as creating more classes with optional discussion sections in other languages and making continued language study more readily available for students returning from study abroad.