Tag: Postcolonial Studies

Publications, progress reviews and teaching: a year in the life of a PhD student

This semester seems to be flying past and it doesn’t entirely seem possible that we should already be a week or so away from our mid-semester break. Our Year 1 students have just received feedback on the essays they wrote as part of our package of Bridging Materials, assessment deadlines are starting to fall for this semester’s modules, the schedule of films for Stirling’s section of the French Film Festival has made its way into the MacRobert programme… Against that busy backdrop, it’s good to get a chance to reflect on what a year in the life of French at Stirling can look like, from the perspective of one of our PhD students, Fraser McQueen who has very kindly made time to send us this blog post:

“I came back to Stirling to start my Ph.D in French Studies in October 2016, having originally graduated with a degree in French and History in 2014 before going to St Andrews to do an MLitt in French Studies and then spending a year teaching English as a lecteur at the Université de Toulon. I came back to Stirling mostly because I thought that it was the best place in Scotland for my project, given the department’s strategic focus on colonial and postcolonial studies, but also because I’d enjoyed my time here before. If it seems like a year is a long time to leave it before writing a blog post, I’m the only one to blame: I’ve been promising to do this for several months now!

I’ve just passed the first year review of my Ph.D, which means that I’m officially allowed to progress into the second year: the review process, during which I had to answer questions from three academics on the work I’ve produced so far, was quite stressful but also very helfpul in showing me the areas in which I still have a lot of work to do.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the first year of my Ph.D. I research representations of Islamophobia and coexistence in contemporary French literature and film: I believe that this is an extremely important subject, and it’s been great to have the chance to research it in depth.

I’ve also enjoyed the other opportunities that come with doing a Ph.D: I’ve presented at three conferences and had four articles published in The Conversation, a news and opinion website via which academics from Ph.D level upwards are able to share their research with a non-specialist audience. This is something that I’ve particularly enjoyed: I think that it’s important to communicate academic research to people outside of academia, particularly with projects like mine, and The Conversation is a great way to do that. Writing for non-specialists has also really helped me to write more clearly: I used to have a bad habit of writing huge sentences filled with jargon, which their professional editors wouldn’t allow. Although I can’t use the exact same style for my academic writing as I would in The Conversation, the experience of needing to be more concise has definitely helped and I’d strongly recommend that other Ph.D students try writing for them.

I also had my first journal article published in Modern and Contemporary France last week, which I’m really pleased with. Getting it through peer review was a very long process – I originally submitted it last November – but I feel that the article is much better for it. I also had a book review published in Modern and Contemporary France earlier in the year, and am now working on another journal article which I hope to submit elsewhere in the next month or so. I’m enjoying all of this, but trying to balance it all out with actually doing my research and writing my thesis can be tricky at times!

Problems balancing my workload and the occasional stress of writing to one side, though, I’ve really enjoyed the first year of my Ph.D. Over the next year I’m hoping to get draft versions of four of my thesis chapters written: it’ll be a challenge, especially given that I’m now also teaching undergraduates, but it’s one that I’m looking forward to.”

Many thanks to Fraser for taking the time to write this and congratulations on the progress review success, as well as on the publications front!

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‘One of the best things about academic research is how eclectic and varied it can be’

With the teaching term over, staff turn to their research and have more time to attend conferences. Dr Fiona Barclay was speaking at a conference in Leeds last week. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“One of the best things about academic research is how eclectic and varied it can be, and how it offers the chance to investigate the significance of familiar cultural phenomena. For example, many people in the UK and further afield will be familiar with Downton Abbey, and its fictional portrayal of the ups and downs of an upper-class family around the turn of the twentieth century. It’s an example of a family saga, which is a genre often used by writers to examine the changes taking place in the nation, using the fortunes of an often middle- or upper-class family as a way to stand in for the experiences of society more generally. So, in Downton Abbey we see the effects of the First World War on the different classes, and see how the class structure evolves over time; it’s a microcosm of the changing nation. The conference which I attended in Leeds last week focused on portrayals of the family saga in literature, TV and radio, but not just in English: it brought together academics working on texts in French, German, Spanish and even Czech and Japanese. So we heard papers on the great literary family sagas of nineteenth and twentieth-century France, some of them running to 27 volumes, but also on the East German equivalent of Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’ , which told the story of a typical socialist family in the GDR, and TV series on the Mafia such as ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Gomorrah’.

My own paper looked at the French settlers who lived in Algeria until it became independent in 1962 and they were forced to resettle in France. It looked at novels which recount the tale of four generations, from the earliest settlers in the 1840s onwards, and showed how the writers used the tremendously difficult experiences of the early pioneers, many of whom were soon killed by violent conflict and disease, to justify the privileged existence of their settler descendants, who were very poor but not as poor as the Arabs they lived amongst. But the novels are not solely about justifying the settlers’ treatment of the Arabs: they also suggest that Algeria itself is a family of characters in conflict. By presenting the warring Europeans and Arabs as the ‘brother enemies’ Cain and Abel, and considering whether the act of colonization might be a re-enactment of the original sin of the ‘first man’ (which is the title of the Algerian philosopher Albert Camus’ last novel), these writers use the form of the family saga and draw on Biblical ideas about family inheritance and the ‘sins of the fathers’ to ask difficult questions about colonialism which it would be unthinkable to ask in other contexts. Given the furore which greeted President Emmanuel Macron’s recent suggestion that colonialism was ‘a crime against humanity’, this is one contentious issue which will continue to provoke strong reactions for a long while to come.”

Many thanks to Fiona for sending us this blog post and we look forward to posting more about other research activities over the course of the summer.

Black History Month: Dakar 1966-2016

As part of Black History Month, French at Stirling’s David Murphy organised a series of events and film screenings in October to mark the 50th anniversary of the First World Festival of Negro Arts, held in Dakar in April 1966. These events emerged from research for his recently published book, The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966: context and legacies2016-david-dakar-book-cover-sept.

On 14 October, at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, there were screenings of two documentary films on the 1966 festival, followed by a panel discussion, ‘Dakar 66: Fifty years on’. Later in October, he was involved in more screenings/events as part of the 2016 Africa in Motion (AiM) Film Festival. On 28 October, he gave a talk on the 1966 festival at a symposium, ‘Havana-Dakar 1966: Capitals of an artistic and political revolution’, at the University of Edinburgh, and held a Q&A after screenings of two documentary films. Then, on 30 October, David introduced documentaries on the ‘Zaïre 74’ Festival (held in conjunction with the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight between Ali and Foreman) and the 1966 festival, as part of another AiM screening. Finally, from 8-10 November, David was in in Dakar, Senegal, where he had been invited to speak at a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the festival. The event featured academic papers and personal testimony from participants in the festival, and it received wide local media coverage. While in Dakar, David carried out further research on the 1966 festival, including filmed interviews with participants from the 1966 event.

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David Murphy at the Dak’art Arts Biennale

2016 Murphy Dakarts logo MayHaving just returned from a workshop at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, French at Stirling’s David Murphy is off to Senegal where he has been invited to speak about his research on the 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts at the Dak’art Biennale (3-21 May). He will be presenting two documentary films on the festival and leading a workshop as part of the programme run by Suba arts magazine. You can read more about David’s work on the 1966 Festival in his article in The Conversation here.

AHRC Studentship Success

Congratulations to Fraser McQueen who graduated in French and History from Stirling two years ago and who, we have just learned, will be coming back to Stirling to undertake an AHRC funded PhD under the supervision of Fiona Barclay.

Fraser is currently working as a University lecteur in France. Here’s what he has to say about his project and his return to Stirling: “My project will involve a comparative analysis of literary, filmic, polemical and media texts representing immigration, integration, and Islam published in France since 2005. I’ll explore artistic texts’ capability to contribute to the debates over these subjects which have taken on an ever-increasing importance in French society over this period, and potentially to counteract discourses of exclusion diffused through the media.

I’m looking forward to coming back to Stirling for this project, as I thoroughly enjoyed my four years there as an undergraduate: it was at Stirling, and particularly in my fourth year, that I became interested in the legacies of French imperialism, which are vital to understanding the racial and religious tensions in modern-day France. The French programme at Stirling’s strategic focus on colonial and postcolonial studies makes it the perfect place to carry out this research: almost every member of staff has some interest in one of these themes, and I know from previous experience that they’re friendly and approachable. It’ll be a wrench to leave the sunny south of France to come back to Scotland, but I’m looking forward to getting started!”

It’s snowing as I write this particular blog piece, so apologies on the weather front but congratulations, Fraser, and we look forward to welcoming you back in the Autumn!

From Stirling to Amsterdam via Aix-en-Provence

With teaching over, and the oral exams for French already a thing of the past, it’s time to catch up a little bit with blog posting and for another few posts from recent French at Stirling graduates, starting with Saara Sippola who graduated with a BA Hons in French almost two years ago:

‘I came to Stirling University to study Business Studies but eventually decided to change my course and graduated with a degree in French in 2014. The reason why I chose to study at Stirling University was because I wanted to move abroad from Finland, where I’m originally from, and was keen on studying in English. I then decided to visit a few universities in Scotland. As soon as I had seen Stirling, I decided that it was my top choice as the campus was stunning and the modules offered seemed very interesting.

2016 Saara Sippola St Andrews April
Trip to St Andrews

I still receive questions on why I wanted to study French in an English-speaking country but I always tell people that it was one of the best decisions I made. Not only did my English improve but I also made lifelong friends, studied a variety of interesting modules and was taught by excellent tutors and lecturers. Scottish people were warm and welcoming and I never experienced a culture shock, a feeling I have encountered in other countries I have lived in.

2016 Saara Sippola Monaco April
Monaco

My favourite part of the degree was my semester abroad. I chose to study at the Aix-Marseille University in Aix-en-Provence. I was very nervous when I moved there as I didn’t know anyone but I quickly got to know to other Erasmus students and we became a close group who would travel around the French Riviera. The university in itself was very different compared to Stirling. There was less freedom when it came to choosing modules, for example, and in the beginning it was a challenge to follow the courses in French but it did get easier.

What I enjoyed the most in the South of France were the food and the weather. After my Erasmus was over, I decided to stay in France and agreed to work as an au pair in a French family. My language skills improved quickly and I learnt colloquial French – this was very important as I felt that I understood the culture better. As much as I enjoyed my time in France, I was very happy to return to Scotland.

2016 Saara Sippola Aix-en-Provence April
Aix-en-Provence

When I returned, it was time to start writing my dissertation on North African Immigration in France. The reason why I chose this topic was because of my experience in Marseille and in other cities in France that have a high number of immigrants. As much as I would have liked to cover the whole topic, I understood that it was too vast and decided to tie immigration and French rap music together. I was very motivated when writing my dissertation as I noticed it improved all the time. The meetings with my supervisor, David Murphy, were very beneficial as he gave me a lot of support and was always available for my questions. The dissertation inspired me so much that I am hoping to study a Master’s course in Immigration Management soon.

My French degree has helped me to get different positions in international companies and I now work in Booking.com’s Amsterdam office and manage the company’s Freelance Translators. Even if I do not translate myself, I understand the translation industry completely and it has also made me interested in working as a freelance translator in the future.

Overall, I’m very happy I chose to study at Stirling University. The quality of teaching, the approachable tutors and lecturers and the other students interested in the same topics are the key factors why I would choose Stirling again. Even if I enjoy my time in Amsterdam, Stirling is still very special to me and I’m hoping to return very soon.’

Thanks to Saara for this article and best of luck for the future!