Over the past 6 months or so, we’ve been able to report on a whole series of fantastic new appointments to French at Stirling starting with Beatrice Ivey, then Emeline Morin, then Aedín ní Loingsigh and finally Hannah Grayson who took up her post at the start of this year. And it’s with great delight that we get to welcome another new colleague in the shape of Nina Parish who will be joining us as Chair in French at the start of July. Nina is currently at the University of Bath and her research expertise encompasses representations of the migrant experience, difficult history and multilingualism within the museum space. She was part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 UNREST team working on innovative memory practices in sites of trauma including war museums and mass graves. She is also an expert on the interaction between text and image in the field of modern and contemporary French Studies. She has published widely on this subject, in particular, on the poet and visual artist, Henri Michaux.
Our students will get their first chance to meet Nina in the Autumn semester and we’re all very much looking forward to working with her and doubtless gently persuading her to write a few blog posts along the way…
Next up in today’s blog catch-up, I’m delighted to have our first post by Hannah Grayson who joined us as a Lecturer in French at the start of this year, focusing on her research trip to the States earlier this semester:
‘Back in March I was lucky enough to be in the USA for two academic conferences. My first stop was Washington, DC, where the American Comparative Literature Association was hosting its annual meeting at Georgetown University.
Unlike a lot of conferences, the ACLA has a distinctive structure where seminar groups of 10-12 people meet for two hours each day over three days in order to foster extended discussion. I would definitely choose to participate in this kind of structure again, as it allowed us lots of time to develop our conversations and draw links between papers. Our seminar stream, organised my colleague Eloise Brezault from St Lawrence University and myself, was titled ‘Responding to Violence: Hierarchies of Memorialization in Postcolonial Africa’. Our aim was to explore why certain instances of violence take precedence over others in terms of historicization, and how literary/cultural texts can both reorient historiographical trends and provide new lenses for revisiting historical moments. Among other things, we discussed the use of digital technology to tell stories in new ways, and different forms of responding to the silencing of history.
Our Stirling colleague Fiona Barclay presented research on the contested memorialisation of the massacre that took place on 26th March 1962 in Algiers from her current project. My own paper ‘Responding to Ebola’ was on En compagnie des hommes, a recent novel by Véronique Tadjo who is one of the authors studied at Stirling in the option module French and Francophone Cultures of Travel. I discussed Tadjo’s itinerant writing, and her critique of political responses to the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic. There was also plenty of time to attend other sessions, and I followed a fascinating seminar stream on injustice and witnessing. On the final evening, the keynote address was given by prize-winning author, Amitav Ghosh, who spoke to us about the challenges of representing polyglot societies in what he described as the essentially monolingual form of the novel.
With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Though I was mainly marking first-year commentaries, it was also a great opportunity to read some new material on Tierno Monénembo, a francophone Guinean author whose writing was at the heart of my doctoral research. I also got to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, but will have to plan a return trip to make the most of Washington’s amazing collection of museums.
The next stop was Oklahoma City: a place, according to those I asked in DC, known for being totally flat, extremely windy, and not much else! Oklahoma City certainly isn’t known for being a centre of interest for scholars of French and Francophone literature, but it is there that we gathered for the annual 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Colloquium. I presented on Tadjo again, but this time on a panel about the suffering body: ‘Corps en souffrance: s’adapter et survivre face à la maladie’. It was great to discuss the place of illness and mourning, and the position of the patient, in literary texts by René Allendry, Maëlys de Kerangal and Emmanuèle Bernheim.
The theme of the conference, ‘Catastrophes, Cataclysms, Adaptation & Survival’, had caught my eye because of my research interest in fictional representations of crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Where the majority of papers were based on texts from metropolitan France, those from the wider francophone world particularly interested me and I’ve now added Edgar Sekloka’s Coffee and Failles by Yannick Lahens to my to-read list for this summer. Stirling students who take the French Atlantic Slave Trade module would have especially enjoyed Fabienne Kanor’s presentation on the process of writing her novel Humus, which tells the stories of 14 female slaves who in 1774 chose suicide in the Atlantic rather than a life of slavery. She spoke about the journeys she made from archives in Nantes to Badagry, Nigeria, and her process of writing those 14 voices, always keeping the sounds of the sea present in the text, and asking herself, “comment témoigner à leur place de cette catastrophe?”
On the final day of the conference I made my way through a huge St Patrick’s Day parade to the Oklahoma City national memorial and museum. Having discussed the filmic and literary representations of so many episodes of violence in the two conferences, it was very moving to walk around the monument to the 168 lives lost in the domestic terror attack of April 1995. I spoke with staff there about the process of designing the memorial, the decision to have an empty chair for each of the lives lost, and the presence of an elm tree which remarkably survived the blast and all the destruction that followed. I was also reminded of research I’ve done in Rwanda around how museums, monuments, fiction and testimony all contribute to building a memory landscape in the wake of the Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. But perhaps that’s something for a future blogpost!
All in all it was a great trip, and I came back to Scotland with a huge to-read list, and lots of ideas to follow up.’
Many, many thanks to Hannah for this article and we’ve taken careful (and grateful!) note of the promise of future ones!
As regular followers of the blog will know, most French at Stirling students will either spend a year working as an English Language Assistantship at some point over their degree (usually between Year 2 and 3, sometimes immediately after graduation) or a semester on Study Abroad at one of our range of partners across the French-speaking world. Every now and then, though, we have a student who manages to spend a full year on Study Abroad and that’s the situation Tom finds himself in at the moment, in the 3rd year of his BA Hons in French and Spanish:
Having never previously visited, my initial thoughts of Geneva were a pleasant surprise – everything worked, things ran on time and the locals were kind, welcoming and accepting of my rusty French. I had a week to settle in before university started, giving me time to explore the city and the surrounding areas, as well as to find a regular game of football. After a few meet ups with ESN I met some great people from all over and I went from there.
University life here has been great, learning translation in both Spanish and French has given me great opportunities to test out a potential career path and what’s more is that the other modules on offer at the university also help me further my other interests such as history and reading. The best part, however, are the people you meet at the university and around the city – be they other ERASMUS students or students from other walks of life.
Geneva can be difficult for immersive language learning, as individuals come from a variety of countries to study, live and work there, making English the de facto language at times. Nevertheless, I found a variety of local cafés and bars that provided me with opportunities to improve my French and after a couple of weeks it had improved to the point where I could hold conversations.
Geneva is famous for plenty of things but, after a year in a small Colombian town, the most notable for me is the high cost of living. It can be extortionate at times, but this has just encouraged me to explore a wider variety of places. My friends and I often get buses, cheap flights or rent a minibus to do weekend trips, ticking off places such as Milan, Lake Garda, Interlaken, Bern, Paris, and Berlin. That has been one of the best things about Geneva, its central location in Europe has given me the opportunity to get around everywhere. I can highly recommend taking road trips through the Swiss alpine countryside, you can see the whole landscape and get a real feel for the culture of each place.
Living in a different country has its positives and negatives, the comforts of home can be sorely missed, I’ve realised however that being proactive, doing activities and exploring your new home is the best antidote.
Overall, my experience has been a great one and my language skills have improved immeasurably (even if I sometimes forget how to speak English!). Although tough at times, these have been the situations where I’ve learned the most and I consider myself very lucky to have had this opportunity to meet new people, live in a new country and experience a different university.’
Many thanks to Tom for the great blog post and pictures – we’re delighted this year has worked out so well and look forward to welcoming you back to Stirling in the Autumn!
Keeping things ticking over nicely on the blog, another update from one of our current students. This time, it’s the turn of Alex Janes who is coming to the end of his compulsory Semester Abroad which he has spent in Aix-en-Provence (among other places…):
‘I did a blog post over a year ago about my first 18 months at the University of Stirling and I said that I would probably be writing another blog post about my semester abroad. So here it is!
From the beginning of my research, I knew I wanted to go the south of France for my semester abroad. It was an area of France I’d never been to and the partner institutions there had a great selection of modules to choose from. So when I discovered that the French department at Stirling decided to allocate me to Aix-Marseille Université, I was beyond excited. And after a lot of decision making over modules and a stressful application, I made the journey to the small city of Aix-en-Provence in mid-January.
The first full day after arriving was truly extraordinary. After a welcome meeting in the morning at the university, I spent the afternoon taking in the sites and scenery. I was not to be disappointed as with its stunning architecture, narrow shopping streets and bustling market squares, I knew that Aix was going to be a great place for the next few months. I spent most of the first week investigating the cafes and restaurants, so unsurprisingly a lot of wine was consumed in the process.
Considering that the campus I was on was solely dedicated to Arts, Languages and Humanities subjects, the university had a vast array of modules. One module recommended to the Erasmus students was “Les études comparées des sociétés européennes contemporaines”, which covered modern history in European countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Russia. The most peculiar but interesting module I took was “L’introduction de l’étude des mondes arabe et musulman”, which gave an insight into the Arab and Muslim worlds. This module covered population statistics, languages, the Quran and the Caliphate empires. I had learnt about French culture before but had never taken a module like this before. I was totally fascinated by how much I learnt in the 12 weeks of teaching, even learning a few basic Arab characters and Algerian words.
To make the most of my time abroad, I went on several trips to discover other parts of the country. After just a 3-hour journey on the TGV, I went for the first time (ever!) to Paris to reunite with some friends from university. Over the course of the 3 days I was there, I managed to visit a host of landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Arc d’Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Sacré-Cœur and the Pantheon. I reunited with more friends in Bordeaux, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The lively shopping streets, strolling along the river and of course, the beautiful wine, were the highlights of that weekend.
An organised coach excursion took myself and a group of Erasmus students into the Alps of Provence. Following the winding roads in the mountains, we explored quaint villages with glorious view points and the Gorges du Verdon, which is the largest gorge in the world by distance. And after finishing my exams, I spent a weekend in Nice absorbing the gorgeous sunshine and mid 20-degree heat. Nice has everything you could need for a weekend away with a wonderful beach, intriguing museums and wonderful green spaces. A 20-minute train ride away was Monaco, where my eyes were opened to the world of money, flash cars and business men in suits. As well as these longer trips, I took shorter day trips to Marseille, La Ciotat, Barrage du Bimont and Les Îles de Frioul, all within an hours travel from Aix-en-Provence.
Biggest achievement would have to be climbing Montagne Saint Victoire, the mountain famously depicted in much of Paul Cezanne’s artwork and seen easily from Aix. Standing at around 1000m in altitude (2.5 times higher than the height of Dumyat), it was a challenging climb to say the least but felt so satisfying once you reached the top.
Overall, my semester abroad has most definitely been a positive experience. It was a massive culture change and different way of living, but I soon got used to it. I would urge anyone who is thinking about doing a semester or year abroad or has any opportunity to live abroad, to go for it. I feel very privileged that I have been given this opportunity to enrich my student and life experience as a whole, considering the uncertainty hanging over Brexit and the future of exchanges. If I had any advice, it would to be immerse yourself as much as possible with the natives and locals. They are the people who can have the greatest influence on your time abroad, especially when it comes to enhancing your language skills.
And who knows, maybe there will be a graduation blog post?!’
Many, many thanks to Alex for taking the time to send us this post and for so kindly volunteering to write another!! In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your Summer and we look forward to welcoming you back in September.
David Murphy has been invited to give a paper on Lamine Senghor for this year’s prestigious Rendez-vous de l’Histoire de Blois, the theme for which in 2014 is ‘Rebelles’. David’s paper will be part of a round-table entitled ‘Rebelles contre l’ordre colonial’ and will then form the basis of a paper to be published in a special issue of the French history journal Histoire. The full programme for this year’s Rendez-vous can be found here. David’s critical edition of Senghor’s La Violation d’un pays et autres écrits colonialistes was published by L’Harmattan in 2012.