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UConn Advance

Professor to use Fulbright to study women writers
By Luis Mocete
May 9, 1997

While attending Bennington College in the 1960s, Lucy McNeece went to Iran to work in an orphanage.

"It was a formative time for me," said McNeece, now an associate professor of French and Francophone studies, "but I did not have the time to study the culture thoroughly."

Now she will. McNeece has been awarded a Senior Fulbright Scholar Award under the Middle East, North African and South Asia Regional Research Program. The program aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through educational and cultural exchanges.

"I will use this opportunity to research woman writers of North Africa because their work incorporates traditional cultural forms that have survived the impact of French colonialism," McNeece said. "These forms have been overlooked by both those in power in these countries and by outsiders eager to help the region enter the future."

It wasn't until 1985, when she began her teaching career at UConn, that McNeece studied North African literature again.

"I read a small book by a Moroccan author, Abdelkebir Khatibi," she said. "It was a poetic, surreal, comic autobiography about his growing up under French rule. It astonished me, confused me and captured my imagination."

After reading his book, McNeece wanted to learn more about these Arab countries that saw their educational and political structures influenced by French rule.

Limited exposure
"There has been limited exposure to this culture in the United States because Americans don't have a colonial history in that region," she said. "We also don't have strong economic ties and our perceptions of the Arab world are not very positive because of recent political events."

McNeece believes these events have concealed the historical exchanges that occurred between Europe and the Arab cultures during the Middle Ages, a situation made worse by the attempts of European colonialists to erase local traditions in North Africa.

"The problem with the post-colonial situation in these countries is that political independence did not bring economical or cultural freedom," she said. "Since the colonial period ended in the '60s, these people are still trying to find out who they are."

One of the challenges facing North Africans is how to make the transition from a pre-industrial world to one of modern technology without modeling themselves after the west.

"I think women of these Arab countries have been closer to the patterns of traditional culture than men," McNeece said. "By using women as a model these Arab countries can define their own future and remain connected to their rich and varied heritage."

Since she has been at UConn, McNeece has established an exchange program with the University of Fez and Rabat, in Morocco.

"This has allowed students to develop a better understanding of the culture," she said.

McNeece will conduct her research in Morocco and Tunisia.

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