Barry McNamara  |   Published June 02, 2016

Food for thought

de Farias encourages Monmouth students to be ‘global citizens’
  • Newly promoted Monmouth College history professor Amy de Farias.
Newly promoted Monmouth College history professor Amy de Farias says American colleges and universities typically place an emphasis on teaching the history of two continents.

“There’s more to history than the United States and Europe,” she said. “I try to get students away from that sort of arrogance and show them the value of learning about other cultures. It’s a global world, and our students are increasingly becoming part of an international community.”

Of the five other continents, de Farias has studied or taught in three of them: Africa, South America and Asia. She said that has helped her become a better “global citizen,” an attribute she believes is crucial for the next generation of college students.

And de Farias practices what she preaches. She is the coordinator of Monmouth’s growing international studies program, she received a Fulbright to teach and conduct research in Mozambique in 2011, and she spent last fall leading the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Jordan program.

de Farias spent 10 years in Brazil, where she earned a doctorate from Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Brasil in 2002. She joined Monmouth’s faculty three years later, and her promotion to full professor was announced during May’s Commencement ceremony.

How it started

de Farias’s road to Brazil began at Manchester College in Fort Wayne, Ind., where she studied computer science.

“I took a Western Civilization course and really, really fell in love with history,” she said. “I mostly enjoyed the Renaissance – the history of ideas. The professor was so charismatic. I also took a history of Africa class that was so fascinating. Then I took a Latin American class, and I decided this is what I wanted to do.”

While a graduate student at Indiana University, de Farias spent a summer doing exploratory research in Brazil, and fell in love with the country. A further specialization emerged, as de Farias gained an interest in the “Black Atlantic,” studying it from an intellectual and political point of view.

“Black studies isn’t just studying about slavery,” she said.

José da Natividade Saldanha, who was one of the leaders of a republican revolt in northeast Brazil in 1824, is one such example.

“I was curious as to why he had literally been forgotten, given his great influence at the time,” said de Farias of the journalist and poet. “During his travels, he attempted to garner support to revive the republican revolt in Brazil. He was accused of being a ‘black Jacobin’ during his stay in France, and was viewed as a dangerous republican in Colombia. Ultimately, he was murdered in 1831. Saldanha is the perfect example of a black Atlantic rebel during the 19th century.”

Food for thought

Slavery, however, comes up in another one of de Farias’s interests – teaching the history of food, which she’s done through a Global Perspectives course that is part of Monmouth’s Integrated Studies curriculum.

“Teaching about sugar gets into slavery, but it also gets into today’s problems with obesity,” she said. “Every single major can contribute something to the course. I’ve never had a student say it’s boring.”

What her students do say in evaluations is that her classroom environment is “extremely relaxed.”

“I don’t believe a professor should be authoritarian,” said de Farias. “I want my classes to be a learning community where the students can be comfortable. There’s a dialogue going on. Even on exams, I use essay questions, so there’s never just one answer.”

Her food course helped her earn the ACM position, which she called “one of the best teaching experiences” of her career. She tweaked her Monmouth course to focus on Islamic and Middle Eastern culture.

“I found that food was really a way to get the students engaged in the culture,” she said. “I also made the students do restaurant reviews, thus ‘forcing’ them to get out and explore the city of Amman and all the different Middle Eastern cultures represented there.”

de Farias will switch her Integrated Studies focus next year from Global Perspectives to Citizenship. But she will still work in food security topics, such as doing projects with Monmouth’s Jamieson Community Center. She also is in charge of the web page for the College’s Presidents United to Solve Hunger initiative.

2020 vision

Asked to give advice to Monmouth’s incoming Class of 2020, de Farias sang the praises of the liberal arts, using her own journey as an example of their transformative power. Although de Farias started college with the goal of mastering computer languages, she wound up as an historian who is fluent in Portuguese and speaks Spanish and French.

“Discovering my passion for learning really transformed my life,” she said. “It just molded me. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d started at a research school. I know it sounds like a cliché, but the liberal arts just opens up so many doors. There are so many political and social concerns in the world today. I want to be able to contribute something. I’m not a religious person, but teaching the liberal arts helps me contribute in other meaningful ways.”

She concluded: “There was a colloquium series we had to go to when I was in college. I remember thinking that I would love to have that influence over a group of people. I always felt so inspired when I left those talks. … I’ve always said that if I can inspire even one person a year, that’s enough. Because it happened to me.”
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