The newly formed Graduate Group in French, Italian and Germanic Studies (FIGS) is united by shared commitments about the relevance of literary and cultural studies for contemporary issues, in particular: migration and refugees; climate change and the environment; inclusiveness with respect to race, gender and sexuality; multilinguality; multiliteracy and new forms of media. Our primary mission is to provide linguistically and culturally informed learning and research in the traditions and practices of knowledge, cultural production, and critique in French, Italian, and Germanic languages. These are all global languages with millions of speakers worldwide and interwoven cultural and historical legacies.
We are defined by our commitment to foreign language and humanistic approaches to culture as necessary skills for serious and broadly informed research across the humanities. This commitment is as essential for utilizing foreign language resources unique to Penn—such as the holdings of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts—as they are pertinent to understanding current societal phenomena on a global scale. As we move inevitably into a world shaped by the climate emergency, strained or failing democratic institutions, radically increased numbers of displaced people, excessive wealth inequality, persistent racism, post-literate culture and new visual media, we find that a longer historical view provides us and our students with more apt comparisons and concepts for understanding current developments. The research and teaching of the standing faculty in FIGS underscore the relevance of cultural-historical knowledge for confronting the pressing issues of the twenty-first century.