CLAS and Nashville Public Library Premiere of Popol Wuj Puppet Show

CLAS and the Nashville Public Library present a new marionette show, The Amazing Twins: Ancient Maya Tales from the Popol Wuj this fall. The project, which will have great impact for CLAS’ Outreach and Curriculum Development Program, is the culmination of several years of collaboration between CLAS faculty and staff and the Nashville Public Library. The campus premiere, co-sponsored by the Jean and Alexander Heard Library, took place at Vanderbilt on Thursday, September 26, with a wide audience of campus and community of all ages. The show will be presented at other local community events this fall, and will become a permanent part of the Nashville Public Library’s renowned marionette series, traveling to hundreds of schools throughout the region.

The Popol Wuj is one of the most important indigenous texts of the New World. Written in the Western Highlands of Guatemala around 1550, and translated into Spanish in the eighteenth century by the Friar Francisco Jimenez, it is a collection of myths, legends, and histories written by the K’iche’ Maya, who dominated the Western Highlands at the time of the Spanish conquest.

The puppet show presents a mythological version of the creation of the world as told in the Popol Wuj, following the adventures of twin gods Hunahpú and Xbalanqué in ancient times before the creation of man. The triumphs of these heroes against powerful forces and gods make way for the creation of man from corn. The show introduces the audience to the K’iche’ Mayan language through its partially bilingual soundtrack featuring Vanderbilt K’iche’ Mayan instructors Manuela Tahay and Mareike Sattler.

CLAS staff and faculty and the Nashville Public Library’s Bringing Books to Life program have created curriculum resources for K–12 teachers to be used in conjunction with the marionette show. These resources are available to educators online and through CLAS workshops and other venues such as the MNPS Intercession when teachers and students from Wright Middle School will see and study the puppet show. Cheekwood Museum and Botanical Gardens plans two performances at the annual Día de los Muertos festival on Saturday, November 2.

One of the regional foci of CLAS is the Maya area of southern Mexico and Guatemala. Since 2006, the center has offered study of the K’iche’ language on campus during the academic year and through an intensive summer immersion program in Guatemala. CLAS coordinates a number of other projects in Guatemala in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the School of Medicine, the School of Engineering, and Vanderbilt’s Institute for Global Health.

M. Francille Bergquist, Professor of Spanish, Emerita, Retires

Francille Bergquist, acclaimed teacher, administrator, and colleague, retired in May. She joined the faculty of the College of Arts and Science in 1977, and in 1983 she was named the associate dean of academic affairs. She was at the heart of the A&S experience for generations of students, responsible for pre-major advising and monitoring students’ academic progress. She also directed summer academic orientation, trained faculty to be pre-major advisers, and chaired the administrative committee and the committee on individual programs. She was instrumental in the creation of McTyeire International House, Vanderbilt’s international living/learning community, and taught in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, where her course on translation and interpretation was a student favorite. She has received several honors including the Chancellor’s Cup and Alumni Education Award. She will be greatly missed.


The Vanderbilt Vaccine Center and Fundación INFANT are partnering to offer an international field experience involving clinical research training and thorough insight on the health care system in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Open to Vanderbilt undergraduates, School of Medicine students and residents, this program will provide participants with the opportunity to conduct biomedical translational research or pediatric rotations at hospitals and medical centers in Buenos Aires. The program will embed participants in a fully bilingual team of both local and U.S.-trained researchers and physicians.

Director’s Corner

Director’s Corner: Edward F. Fischer

A few weeks ago there were no lines in Rand, no wait at the library or at SATCO, no jostling for position on the paths around campus. Despite the little inconveniences the flood of new and returning students now presents, I love the rhythms of the academic calendar, the clear and symbolic marking of our seasons. And fall is our spring, a time of planting new seeds and of renewal, of great energy, and new beginnings.

This year is the center’s eighth as a National Resource Center (NRC), that Department of Education designation that provides the vast majority of CLAS’ funding. In spring 2014 we will apply for a third round of NRC funding, assuming no dramatic changes in terms of congressional allocations (a big assumption, I know). We have done a great job over the last three years, and we do far more with far less than our peer institutions. Our summer awards and FLAS fellowships have had a significant impact on graduate education; our outreach program touches thousands every year, and our linkages with HBCUs and universities in the region are strong and growing; Portuguese hardly needs our subsidies anymore, and we are working to strengthen K’iche’ Maya instruction; we now work with faculty in every school and college of the university, and our faculty’s accomplishments are truly remarkable; through the hard work of Paula Covington, our library’s specialized LAS holdings continue to grow. You should be proud. That is all to say that we are well positioned for the next NRC competition, which promises to be especially tough in these lean economic times. One never knows, and serendipity and the luck of the draw with review committees can determine our fate in such a tight competition, but building on your strengths we are confident in our ability.

While writing the NRC grant, we are scheduling slightly fewer public events this year. We may call on you for more information for the exhaustive proposal, and we welcome any ideas on strategic priorities for the next four years. Beyond that, you may best show your support by attending a couple of events this year—perhaps on subjects outside of your specialty, things you might normally skip—and take part in the interdisciplinary conversations that follow.

Norma Antillón Award

In May, CLAS awarded the first Norma Antillón Award to Ashley Larson. The award honors the first-year student who best exemplifies the can-do spirit and energy of longtime CLAS Program Manager Norma Antillón. Ashley’s name is engraved on a plaque at CLAS and she received a monetary award for the recognition. Norma joined CLAS for the celebration.

CLAS Offers New Mayan Language Institute in Guatemala for Summer 2014

The Mayan Language Institute is a FLAS-eligible summer immersion program in Guatemala for the study of K’iche’ Mayan and Kaqchikel Mayan. More than 1.5 million people speak K’iche’ and Kaqchikel, placing them among the most widely spoken indigenous languages in Latin America. The goal of the institute is to help students develop and advance proficiency in their chosen language and to gain a better understanding of the cultural and political contexts that have affected the historical development and preservation of the language. Efforts to protect these languages are playing a pivotal role in the Mayan struggle to regain control over their political and cultural destiny. The institute is an intensive six-week session in which students study with U.S. faculty and native speakers. In addition to language study, students participate in cultural activities and live with local host families. The first three weeks of both programs will take place in Antigua, with students of K’iche’ Mayan spending the latter three weeks in the town of Nahualá. Summer 2014 dates are June 14—July 27.

The institute is a collaboration between Vanderbilt University, Tulane University, University of New Mexico, University of Texas, and University of Chicago. The program is open to graduate and undergraduate students from all universities, with preference given to students from partner universities. For more information about applying to the program, visit CLAS offers FLAS funding to attend the program. The call for applications for FLAS awards goes out in December, with applications due in February. Find additional information at

Portuguese Language and Brazilian Culture Summer Program in São Paulo

This intensive academic program in Brazilian Portuguese is organized by Tulane University, Vanderbilt University, and Emory University with the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP). São Paulo, the largest metropolis in South America, is an exciting center for fine arts, theater, music, and cultural life. This city is a medley of Brazilians from the country’s 26 states and from multiple ethnic groups, which makes for an exciting mix of traditions and fabulous food on every street. Most students stay with host families in São Paulo for a total Portuguese immersion experience. The program is open to graduates and undergraduates, and students with Summer FLAS Fellowships are eligible. Students have the opportunity to earn 6–7 credits and will take one Portuguese language course (two levels are offered) taught by PUC-SP faculty and a Brazilian culture course taught by Tulane/Vanderbilt and/or Emory faculty.

Vanderbilt’s Institute for Coffee Studies Examines Economic Prospects for Coffee Farmers in Guatemala

Economic prospects improved for small mountain farmers in Guatemala when consumers developed a taste for coffee brewed with beans grown at high altitude, according to a new study from the Vanderbilt Institute for Coffee Studies. A passion for sipping the “Strictly Hard Bean” brew grown above 4,500 feet has led to improvements in the modest living conditions of these indigenous Maya growers, Vanderbilt researchers Edward F. Fischer and Bart Victor found.

Fischer and Victor, through the Institute for Coffee Studies, recently published a study published in Latin America Research Review, which was co-funded by Anacafé, the Guatemalan national coffee producers association. The paper sought to examine how the desire for a better future steered small producers toward the newly emerging market for high altitude beans. They found that economic prospects improved for small mountain farmers in Guatemala when consumers developed a taste for coffee brewed with beans grown at high altitude. The next question for study is how these newer coffee growers will weather economic tests, such as the spreading coffee rust disease that threatens the crops, and how such threats will impact the cost and demand for high-end coffee.  The Vanderbilt Institute for Coffee Studies was established in 1999 in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The institute moved to CLAS in 2007 to expand its mission beyond the biomedical aspects of coffee to include historical, literary, sociological, and economic importance.

Mexican Studies Group

In spring 2013, the Mexican Studies Group invited Roderic Camp (Claremont McKenna College) to give a talk, “Can Peña Nieto Change Mexico’s Future? A Discussion on ‘The Pact for Mexico.’” Since Peña Nieto’s recent election, great attention has been given to the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI famously held power in Mexico for 70 years prior to being ousted in 2000, leaving behind a controversial legacy. As a representative of the PRI, Peña Nieto has vowed to reduce political infighting and work for the Mexican people. Whether he will be successful is a topic of debate and was the focus of Camp’s lecture.

Other spring 2013 Mexican Studies Group speakers included Lance Ingwersen (Vanderbilt), Chris Boyer (University of Illinois at Chicago), and Silke Hensel (University of Münster, Germany). In September 2013, the Mexican Studies group sponsored a lunch talk with sociologist Arturo Santamaria Gomzez (Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa, Mazatlan) entitled “Fútbol y Patria: La Nueva Identidad Mexicana.”

The Mexican Studies Group brings together faculty and graduate students from history, political science, literature, sociology, art, anthropology, music, pedagogy, and Latin American studies, with the aim of raising the profile of research related to Mexico on Vanderbilt’s campus.

CLAS and Music City Baroque Present “Hacemos Fiesta: Let’s Celebrate” Concert

In May, CLAS partnered with Nashville’s professional historical ensemble Music City Baroque to present a concert of early music from the Spanish New World titled, “Hacemos Fiesta: Let’s Celebrate. Baroque Music from the New World.” The Benton Chapel lobby was transformed into a town festival scene, featuring colorful papel picado and gigantes to greet the concert-goers. The performance featured a variety of works, including choral, instrumental, sacred and secular pieces.

Mareike Sattler (Department of Anthropology) explained to the audience how the concert was structured like a traditional Mexican fiesta, with the first half of the program consisting of liturgical music and the latter half dominated by secular villancicos and dances with gut-string violins, valveless horns, deer-hoof rattles, and turtle shell drums. These instruments were on display following the concert. The performance was well attended by the general public, local educators, and Vanderbilt faculty, students, and staff. Murray Somerville, Music City Baroque’s artistic director emeritus, returned to Nashville to conduct the performance.

Read more about the Music City Baroque Concert at