Turkish Shows and Films Now Offered as a Course at an American University!

This week GNS+ professor Nâlân Erbil was featured in Turkish language newspaper Önce Vatan Gazetesi. This interview, originally conducted in Turkish, is part of a series of interviews with influential Turkish-Americans for the Turkish speaking audience living in Turkey and the US.

Topics ranged from: history of the Turkish program in the department and university; intensive summer program and TURFLI; diasporic connections; our student population and their motivations to take Turkish; learning & teaching Turkish in the US; popularity of the Turkish TV shows in the US in relation to a new UW course on Turkish shows.

Below you will find an abridged version of the interview that has been translated by Nâlân Erbil. You can find the original article in Turkish at: https://www.oncevatan.com.tr/roportaj/turk-dizi-ve-filmleri-amerikan-universitesinde-ders-oldu-h162234.html

Turkish shows and films are now offered as a course at an American university! (abridged)

Interview: Anıl Sural
Photographs: Rona Doğan
Önce Vatan Newspaper, Washington DC

Anıl Sural (journalist): A common point surfaced in most of the interviews I conducted with successful Turkish people living in the US was the possibility of actualizing the “American Dream” depicted in Hollywood movies. Film and TV industry today without doubt is one of the best marketing tools to promote one’s country. And the Turkish movie and TV shows have reached an unprecedented point of success over the last decade…There’s also been a growing interest in Turkish films and TV shows in the US particularly since Netflix started airing them. As a result of this emerging popularity, a new course titled “Nation, History, Family in Turkish TV and Film” has recently been taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which also offers Turkish language courses. We discussed all about this new course and students’ interest in Turkish with Dr. Nâlân Erbil who is a Faculty Associate and Turkish Program Coordinator in the department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+.

Could you inform us when and how did Turkish courses start at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

Turkish has a fifty-year-old long history at the university. The Ottoman and Turkish history professor Kemal Karpat founded Turkish Studies program in 1967 when he was first appointed in the History department. During the same period from 1976 until her retirement in 2010, Professor Sarah M. Atış, whom I initially came to work with on Turkish literature, taught Turkish literature and culture courses in the department of Asian Languages and Cultures. In short, Turkish has been a member of the university for over fifty years now.

Could you also talk about your department and the history of Turkish there?

Turkish is relatively a new addition to the department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+ which offers as many as sixteen languages. Regular Turkish language courses are currently offered to undergraduate and graduate students at all levels in addition to undergraduate cultural courses during the academic year in the department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+. In the summer, intensive Turkish language courses are offered through the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish Language Institute. The university also received a federal grant to administer the Turkish Flagship Language Initiative last year. So, the department works in collaboration with other institutes to support the study of Turkish at the university.

When we consider Turkish in relation to Turkic languages in Central Asia and Balkans, and to the diaspora in Germany, we can see that Turkish is an organic branch of the department’s other geographical and academic areas. One of our professors B. Venkat Mani, for instance, researches on Turkish-German literatures!

In summary, Turkish’s semi-nomadic footprints from Central Asia to Middle East, from Germany to Scandinavia mark its trans geographical and national mobility. And I consider this transnational visibility of Turkish in the departmental and university level as an advantage.

Nâlân Hocam*, how is the interest in the US towards Turkish films and shows?

Currently, interest in Turkish films and TV shows [dizis] in the US is not as high as in Asia, the Balkans, Middle East, and the South America. However, thanks to digital platforms like Netflix, we see a rise in attention particularly to dizis. It is not hard to predict that if Turkish TV sector grows at this rate and the shows become more easily available to American audience, interest in Turkish and Turkey will also increase. I’ve had students who wanted to learn Turkish after watching Turkish dizis, and this is a testament to the global cultural influence of the Turkish dizi sector. I recently offered a course in English called “Nation, History, Family in Turkish TV and Film” for the first-time last semester as a direct result of the popularity of dizis. My students in that course even referred to TV shows as dizis in Turkish when discussing them, and I think that that was an initial step to build intercultural understanding.

*An honorific in Turkish sometimes preceded by one’s first name for clarity and emphasis. It translates to “my teacher” and is used to directly address one’s own teacher and any teacher out of respect at all times.