U of A helping to change the world, one Fulbright scholar at a time

September 11, 2009 - (Edmonton) There needs to be more investment in educational opportunities in order to challenge knowledge as a way to offset the challenges globalization presents societies, said

14 September 2009

September 11, 2009 - (Edmonton) There needs to be more investment in educational opportunities in order to challenge knowledge as a way to offset the challenges globalization presents societies, said Jonathan Hart, University of Alberta English and Film Studies professor.

"The greatest threat is closing up education and not opening it up further and further. And that's the great thing about internationalization," said Hart.

"It may not cure everything but it gives hope, because by providing education, you break down stereotypes, you open peoples' minds and give them opportunities."

Hart, who earlier this month was awarded Fulbright Canada's prestigious Fulbright Visiting Chair Award to conduct research at Harvard and Duke universities, says the Fulbright program plays an important role in fostering international understanding by providing educational opportunities for engagement.

This is the second time that Hart, who is also the director of the U of A's Office of Interdisciplinary Comparative Literature program, has been named a Traditional Fulbright Scholar. He will be conducting research on a book he is working on entitled, Promoting and opposing empire: U.S. and Canadian identities and the British Empire, 1558-1814.

His current research project, which he will undertake during his scholarship, takes a look the impact of the expansion of the British and European empires. In particular, he says he's seeking out how knowledge gained during the 19th century, for instance, impacts the way we now look at the world politically, scientifically and culturally. He believes that the examination of the way history has created a current world view is necessary because, by understanding the mistakes made with the use of knowledge in the past, we could prepare for a better future.

"Education gives us a world view, but it should also give us the flexibility to change our world views," he said. "Knowledge builds on knowledge but it also modifies itself by testing ideas against actual experience in the world and changing them when necessary..

"People have to realize that the education they had is provisional, you can't allow old knowledge to become dead knowledge. Knowledge has to renew itself."

For example, Hart uses a point during the 19th century when the culture of Aboriginal people in North America was vanishing. He says it was an opportunity to let go of "old knowledge" and that we must keep on learning in order to obtain a more accurate world view.

The Fulbright program, he says, does that by helping promote global understanding by turning scholars into ambassadors.

"If you go out and try to understand others and work with others, at places with international faculty and students, it opens our minds and opens our hearts. And I think that's the only way forward, if we're going to survive and thrive, not just as a university but as a world community," Hart said.

But if knowledge has to be dynamic to be useful, Hart says he recognizes that stereotypes also take new forms. He says his research contributes towards not only ensuring that we do not repeat the mistakes made earlier in history, but also helping us avoid conflict as much as possible and work towards harmony.

"Even though that can be utopian, I think it's worth doing. In a multicultural society we face some of the same problems in trying to understand other people and to be open-have open hearts and minds to traditions that are a little different than our own-and to try to broaden our perspective.

"That's internationalization," Hart said.

Harts says his current research, which will partly be done during his Fulbright scholarship, is part of his ongoing work, which examines issues of the past, present and future. His most recent work, Empires and Colonies, takes a close look at previous empires. He says to an extent, some recent wars are not new.

"The war in Afghanistan, as did the one in Iraq, raises old questions about empire," Hart said. "These ancient places were the crossroads of empire, the Mongols, the Turks, the British, the Russians and now the Americans. They remind us of the overstretch of empire and of the frictions between cultures, as well as the limits to cultural knowledge."

Consensus, compromise and listening to many points of view locally and internationally are keys to solving our problems, Hart says.

"Cultural blindness in a global age is a fatal flaw."

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