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Prof. Page Laws - Prof. Daniel Stein

A Long-Standing Research Collaboration between Norfolk State University (USA) and the University of Siegen.

When Prof. Dr. Page R. Laws, Professor of English and Dean of the R. C. Nusbaum Honors College at Norfolk State University, returned to the Adolf-Reichwein campus last summer, she did not travel alone. Invited by Prof. Dr. Daniel Stein, chair of North American Literary and Cultural Studies in the English Department at Siegen, for a conference on Migration and Immigration in Europe and the Americas, Prof. Laws brought five colleagues from Norfolk State, one of the three remaining historically black colleges and universities located in Virginia, to present papers and discuss current and past movements of people across borders. The group had already visited Graz, where they had participated in the “Ethnicity and Kinship: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Family, Community, and Difference” conference of the Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies: Europe and the Americas (MESEA), and they were eager to share their work with colleagues from Siegen.

This conference was only the latest instalment in a long-standing research collaboration between Norfolk State and Siegen. Initiated by Dr. Cathy Waegner (now retired, but still actively involved) from the English Department at Siegen and Prof. Laws at Norfolk, the partnership between the two universities is now in its 12th year. It began with a chance meeting of the two at a European conference, where they decided to start a cooperation that would soon include faculty and student visits in Siegen and Norfolk, three conferences, and a book publication that established the core theme and research interest of the collaboration: Transculturality and Perceptions of the Immigrant Other: “From-Heres” and “Come-Heres” in Virginia and North Rhine-Westphalia (eds. Cathy Covell Waegner, Page R. Laws, and Geoffroy de Laforcade, Cambridge Scholars 2011).

Questions of migration and immigration were at the forefront of a 2007 conference at Norfolk State University on “America’s 400th Anniversary: Voices from within the Veil,” where Waegner and Laws presented papers that were eventually published in the conference volume Voices from within the Veil: African Americans and the Experience of Democracy (eds. William H. Alexander, Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, and Charles H. Ford, Cambridge Scholars, 2008). Since then, Page Laws has visited Siegen many times, teaching a course on socially conscious films, giving lectures, and, as a Bollenbeck-Fellow (Fak. I) in 2015, teaching the very popular MA-level course “Shakespeare and Race.” In 2018, she returned to Siegen, this time as an official research alumna, to present a paper on Gianfranco Rosi’s Immigration Documentary Fire at Sea (2016) and reinforce the long-standing ties between Norfolk State University and the University of Siegen. Her service as a co-editor of the second book publication to grow out of this collaboration, tentatively entitled Mother(s) of Exiles? Migration in Europe and the Americas – Aesthetic and Civic Interventions (ed. Cathy Covell Waegner, Page R. Laws, Geoffroy de Laforcade, Daniel Stein), further underscores her enthusiasm for the partnership that has been formalized by an ongoing Memorandum of Understanding between the universities since 2015.

With Prof. Stein, Prof. Laws is also advisor to an interdisciplinary research project that is spearheaded by her Norfolk colleague and fellow Bollenbeck guest researcher Dr. Aprilfaye Manalang, and locally organized by Britta Moelders from Berufskolleg Ehrenfeld. In three visits between 2017 and 2019, Manalang and Moelders have collected surveys from several hundred students and conducted over sixty in-depth interviews with students at Berufskolleg Ehrenfeld for the project “Religion, Community, Family, and Difference: An Intersectional Analysis of the Role of Religion in Integration among Immigrant Millennials and Their Families in Cologne, Germany.”

Finally, Prof. Laws has been host to several scholars from Siegen during their visits at Norfolk State, allowing Daniel Stein to introduce his research on African American literature and culture to Norfolk students and faculty in a 2015 guest lecture on jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s autobiographical writings in 2015. Most recently, Dr. des Lukas Etter, also from the English Department in Siegen, visited NSU in January 2019 to deliver a lecture enticingly entitled “Sheep, Hounds and Co.: On Benjamin Banneker’s Mathematical Word Problems” and explore the legacy of slavery and history of higher education in the area. If another small contingent of Siegeners will travel to Virginia to attend the many events commemorating the 400-year anniversary of the first African slaves landing in North America, it will be largely thanks to Page Laws’ efforts to foster interdisciplinary and intercultural research and exchange between Siegen and Norfolk.