Research - Prof. dr. E. Helena Houvenaghel

Exile & Migration - Myth & History Rewriting

Helena Houvenaghel (ICON Research Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Utrecht University, Chair of Spanish Literature) focuses on two lines of research: Exile & Migration and Myth & History Rewriting.

1.Exile & Migration

The focus of Exile & Migration is on 20th-and 21st-century exiles and migrants from/to Spain and Latin America. Taking a transgenerational viewpoint on exile and migration, I emphasize how migrant and exile descendants find themselves, even more than their ancestors, negotiating transnational identities in between different countries, languages, and cultures. Furthermore, the impact of gender on the exilic and migrant experience is a fundamental concern of my research. In the projects included in this line of research, I focus on migrant identity construction and put an emphasis on social and gender aspects of self-construal, on the ethics of migration, and on topographical and cartographic writing. The societal relevance of this part of my research is connected with migration and societal change and with the creation of a more inclusive society. My Exile & Migration-projects provide a better insight in (female/ second & third generation) exiles’ and migrants’ worldview, self-image, and moral judgments.

See 1. Exile & Migration for an overview of Houvenaghel’s insights, projects, and publications in (first, second and third generation) refugee writing.


2. Myth & History Rewriting in literature

The emphasis of my Myth & History Rewriting-projects is on the transtextual processes by which ancient myths and key historical episodes of world history are rewritten in 20th and 21st-century Spanish and Latin American contexts. The projects included in this research line draw attention to the creation of new (ethical, social, political) meanings for old stories. This line of research foregrounds how rewritings and re-interpretations, created under the influence of changing socio-political circumstances, add an extra layer of meaning to the original story. My projects especially highlight how gendered rewritings transform our understanding of ancient myths and key historical episodes. The focus is on unraveling the paradoxical structure of myth’s universal language which involves a fundamental opposition between a polysemic, dynamic and endlessly renewing potential, on the one hand, and an unchanging, traditional core, on the other. The societal relevance of this second line in my research is related to the double role of myth and history re-telling in society. This role consists, first, in creating an awareness of right and wrong and in serving as a guide to (changing) social norms and values. Second, its role is to create a (changing) collective memory of certain key events and to help individuals and societies to make sense of the past.

See 2. Myth & History Rewriting for an overview of Houvenaghel’s insights, projects, and publications in Myth & History Rewriting in Literature