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Eleni Coundouriotis
Director of the Research Program on Humanitarianism | Human Rights Institute

Eleni Coundouriotis is Professor of English and a faculty affiliate for the program in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies. Her work has focused on issues of genre and literary history in anglophone and francophone literatures from Africa and the Caribbean, and across the tradition of the realist novel in nineteenth-century Europe. Her first book, Claiming History: Colonialism, Ethnography and the Novel (Columbia UP 1999), places the emergence of the postcolonial novel in Africa within the context of ethnographic discourse and argues that the novel’s engagement with history through realism provided a model of critique of ethnographic discourse for African writers. Most importantly, realism as an aesthetic enabled African writers to ironize their position as authentic subjects.  Her engagement with ethnography led to other publications: essays on the African short story and its relation to folktales, on Melville Herskovits and the idea of history, and on Bessie Head’s ethnography of the Botswana village of Serowe. Furthermore, she has published a number of essays on African women writers (Nadine Gordimer, Yvonne Vera, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Bessie Head). Her work on human rights has focused on victims’ narratives in South Africa, child soldier narratives, rape and testimony (with specific attention to Rwanda), and on the emerging genre of human rights history. Her second book, The People’s Right to the Novel: War Fiction in the Postcolony, was published in 2014 by Fordham University Press. This study of the war novel as a genre situates the African war novel at the convergence of two sensibilities: the naturalist aesthetic and the discourse of humanitarianism. Both these sensibilities are present in culturally hybrid forms in the African war novel, reflecting its syncretism as a narrative practice engaged with the colonial and postcolonial history of the continent. The war novel stakes claims to collective rights and the genre is analyzed as a form of people’s history that participates in a political struggle for the rights of the dispossessed. Her current project, “Making It Real,” examines the realist aesthetics of various types of testimonial narratives that attain canonical status as human right narratives.

Curriculum Vitae