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The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

Professor Spotlight: Claudia Mesa Higuera

Photo by Axel Hildebrandt.
Photo by Axel Hildebrandt.

Dr. Claudia Mesa Higuera is a professor of Spanish and Cohen Chair in English and Literature at Moravian University. As an undergraduate, she was a transfer student from Universidad Nacional in Colombia and earned her B.A. and M.A. at Boston University and her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She has been teaching at Moravian University since 2006. Her primary area of research is in the field of Early Modern Peninsular literature with an emphasis on iconography and the visual arts. Her research focuses mainly, although not exclusively, on the relationship between narrative prose and emblem literature, a pan-European genre that combines pictures and texts.

What inspired you to go into your field of study?

Since I was a girl, I have been interested in pictures and storytelling, and I think that being a professor of language and literature perfectly combines those early inclinations. When looking at an image or reading a passage that I find intriguing, I always have the desire to share this beauty with others. I encourage students to read more carefully, gain artistic appreciation, and improve their communication skills. It sounds simple, but I think it invites students to open their minds to new worlds and become critical thinkers.

What research are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working on three articles. The first one explores the intersection between baroque emblems and the poetry of Severo Sarduy, one of my favorite Cuban writers of all time. The second one examines innovation and discovery in the allegorical engravings of Giovanni Stradanus and Diego Saavedra Fajardo’s mirror for princes and an emblem book titled Empresas políticas. For the last one, I am planning on writing about an understudy play by Alonso de Castillo Solórzano that deals with the Thirty Years’ War and the battle of Nördlingen (1634). I am particularly excited about this last project because I am planning to present this work at a conference in Oxford in September.

What do you think is the most recent important development in your field of study?

The most important development since the 1990s is the rediscovery of female voices as part of the literary canon in early modern Spanish literature. Female writers like María de Zayas, Ana Caro, Mariana de Carvajal, Catalina de Erauso, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz have been critically studied by now.

There are academic organizations in Spain like Gemela, which focus on women’s cultural production in medieval and early modern Spain and colonial Latin America, and book series in translation like The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe published by the University of Chicago Press, devoted to female writers who were involved in the development of the European Renaissance.

More recently, scholars have been working more on topics such as race and ethnicity, environmental, and animal studies.

What job would you have if you couldn’t be a professor, regardless of salary and job outcome? Why? 

I think I would have loved to be a graphic designer who makes books by hand. I cannot say that I would have liked to be a medieval scribe because they were usually monks, but I have always been fascinated with illuminated manuscripts, and perhaps the closest to that in our time is to create hand-made books.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were in college?

I wish I had taken more advantage of the knowledge and experience of my professors in the U.S. I finished my undergraduate degree at Boston University, but I was a transfer student from Colombia (Universidad Nacional) and not only the language, but everything else was very different. I thought that if I were to visit them during office hours, I would be a burden on them, and almost never went. But professors usually enjoy speaking to students, and we like to help and get to know our students better.

What is your biggest student pet peeve? 

The lack of intellectual curiosity and a sense of apathy toward the outside world. I can deal with many things, but perhaps those two are the ones that bother me the most.

What should students expect from your classes? What is the secret to succeeding in your classes?

I am old school and I like students to come to class and to be present (by that, I mean to work on the task at hand). I want them to come prepared to discuss and share ideas, and to interact with each other. For me, it is important that students become friends with their classmates and that they feel comfortable to participate. I have a class this semester that I love because every time I walk in, students are talking with each other and having a good time.

What was the last good show/movie that you watched or the last good book that you read? 

Perhaps, like other people of my generation, I used to go to the theater to watch movies on the big screen rather than inside my living room. I still prefer to do that rather than to watch a series. The last movie I watched on the big screen was Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City at the Angelika Film Center in New York. One of the last books I read was Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (2020). The novel is loosely based on the family of William Shakespeare, including his wife and his three children, one of whom, Hamnet, tragically died from the bubonic plague when he was only 11 years old.

What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know? 

I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate who thought that by studying philosophy, I was going to be able to avoid math at all costs. Little did I know that among the few requirements that we had was to take four semesters of logic and math. I was stressed about it, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences I had as an undergraduate and I am still grateful for that. I encourage students to be open to other fields and to try to enjoy the ride because you never really know what to expect before you try it out.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I would like to encourage students to travel and take some risks, to be passionate about what they love, and to be open to new ideas and possibilities. Life is too short to stay where you first started. Go and live it; this is the time of your life.

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