Any of you with an interest in African cinema (one of our areas of research expertise at Stirling) should catch up with Radio 4’s The Film Programme where Lizelle Bisschoff, founder of the annual Africa in Motion Film Festival (and former French at Stirling PhD student), has just been talking about her Africa’s Lost Classics project. The 2017 festival kicks off next week and the full programme is online here.
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!
It’s been a very busy few weeks since the new semester started in mid-September and there’s a bit of a backlog of blog pieces to be posted so, hopefully, we’ll make some progress on that over this week. As I get the information together for those various articles, here – in no particular order – is some of the news about French at Stirling from this new academic year…
First and foremost, we’re very pleased and proud to report that French at Stirling was rated 17th in the UK and 3rd in Scotland in the Sunday Times Good University Guide last month. A great achievement!
On the research front, welcome to our new French at Stirling PhD student, Lauren Kenny, who will be working on the translation of subtitles, supervised by Cristina Johnston and our colleague in Translation, Xiaojun Zhang. And congratulations to our continuing PhD student, Fraser McQueen, who has had another article on contemporary France published in The Conversation, as well as an article in Modern and Contemporary France on ‘France’s elites, Islamophobia and communities of friendship in Sabri Louata’s Les Sauvages‘.
In terms of research events, this year’s Literature and Languages research seminar series started with a great talk on the role of the public intellectual in France by the University of Edinburgh’s Emile Chabal. Plenty of food for thought and good to see staff, postgrads and undergrads in attendance. In December, we’ll be welcoming a group of French-English Translation postgrads and postdocs to Stirling for a week-long workshop on translation for historians and for history journals. We’re running the workshop in conjunction with our colleagues at ATLAS (the Association pour la Promotion de la Traduction Littéraire) with our own Siân Reynolds as one of the tutors for the week. And we’re also looking forward to seeing the full line-up for Bill Marshall’s Cinéma-Monde Conference that is due to take place at the end of May next year.
As for our students, plenty to report there too. Thanks to everyone who came along to our get-together for returning Study Abroad students, Year 3 students about to head off for their Semester Abroad, visiting exchange students and this year’s Translation and Interpreting cohort from our partner at Hebei Normal University in China. Particular thanks to Fiona Buckland and the International Office for their support in organising that event – always great to see our students exchanging their tips about our Study Abroad partners. We also have around a dozen students who have just embarked on their English Language Assistantships across France, a small group of whom are participating in SCILT’s ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ scheme, about which more soon… And we’ve sent our first Language Ambassadors of 2017-18 out into a couple of schools to talk to the pupils about the benefits of language learning – again, more on that very soon.
And we have five Erasmus students – Axel, Manon, Léa, Elodie and Léna – who will be leading weekly 30-minute conversation sessions across our degree programmes – a great benefit for our students but also a fantastic addition to the CVs of the Erasmus students who are involved. It’s still early days but all of them seem to be enjoying the experience so far!
Oh yes and our Study Abroad Advisor for French, Jean-Michel DesJacques, has been invited to attend the ‘Erasmus@30’ celebrations at the Scottish Parliament later this month, along with his Spanish counterpart, Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, and Fiona Buckland from the International Office. Watch this space for photos…
What else? Well, the programme for the French Film Festival at the MacRobert has been firmed up so I’ll be able to post a little more about that very soon and Africa in Motion (founded by one of our former PhD students) has also just launched its 2017 programme which, as ever, looks brilliant!
Lots more to follow over the next few days.
Another week until the start of semester and these final few days before the new academic year are full of news to report. Usually, the bits of this blog that are written by me (Cristina Johnston) are written in Scotland but this post sees me making my way to Strasbourg where I’m headed for meetings with our colleagues at the Ecole de Management. We’ve had an exchange partnership with them for many years now and currently have a great Integrated Masters programme that we run with them in International Management and Intercultural Studies. As is the way with these things, most of the time that just means corresponding via email and it’s our students who benefit from being able to enjoy the delights of our respective institutions and cities. Every now and then, though, colleagues come from Strasbourg to Stirling or from Stirling to Strasbourg and that’s what I’m up to just now. A good day of meetings and discussions about possible future partnerships and teaching and research collaborations lies ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see the EMS.
The added bonus – from my perspective, at least – is that I spent my own year abroad when I was an undergraduate as an English Language Assistant living and teaching in Strasbourg so it’s a city I used to know well. As those students who were away as ELAs last year make their way back to campus in Stirling, and some of those who are just starting on new adventures as assistants in places as far-flung as Colombia (watch this space for more…) send emails to say hello, it’s great to get a chance to reminisce on my own experiences as a Language Assistant. I taught at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg where – at the time, at least – they taught both the French Bac and the European Bac, meaning that one class of pupils in terminale had extra language tuition, History and Geography taught in English and an impressive openness to the possibilities that language learning opened up for them.
For me, it was a great first experience of teaching – I wasn’t much older than the pupils, they were (without exception) really keen to learn, and the school was incredibly supportive (of me and of their pupils). As well as the actual teaching, I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany that terminale class on a 10-day trip to Northern Ireland and was just generally made to feel part of the school community. I kept in touch with some of the pupils for a few years after I came back and, ever since then, have also kept in touch with one of the former English teachers from the school so this EMS trip will also give me a chance to catch up with her, having not actually seen her face-to-face in 20 years! All in all, a good trip lies ahead!
Enough about me, though… What other news? Well, Fiona Barclay and I had a great meeting last week with the ever-enthusiastic Grahame Reid of Stirling’s MacRobert cinema to talk about (fingers crossed) bringing some of this year’s French Film Festival films to Stirling again this year. All being well, November should be French cinema month at Stirling but more will follow on that once we get confirmation. French at Stirling has also been busy preparing workpacks for all the modules we’ll be running in the new semester and generally getting ourselves ready for all our new and returning students. And, at the end of this week, just before the focus shifts back more towards teaching, many of us will also be attending a Research Away Day led by Bill Marshall to discuss research plans and ideas with colleagues from Languages, Translation, Religion, English and Creative Writing. Oh yes, and our former PhD student Martin Verbeke has another article forthcoming: “Represent Your Origins: An Analysis of the Diatopic Determinants of Non-Standard Language Use in French Rap” has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Francophone Studies!
A flurry of pre-semester activity! And pictures of Strasbourg will doubtless appear on the blog over the next week or so…
As promised, following on from Alex’s post about his experiences at Stirling and plans for the future, here is the article Jeanne Nozahic has sent us about her time in Granada. As well as studying at the University there, Jeanne – who is about to enter Year 4 of her degree in International Management with European Languages and Society – has been working on research on ‘untold histories’ that she was able to conduct thanks to a Stevenson Scholarship.:
“The Stevenson Scholarship has been an amazing opportunity. Indeed, it has made me realize that intercultural research is what I want to do in the future. In order to get a better idea of how Francoism was dealt with in Spain, I was able to combine both archival work, buying books (i.e: Otras miradas sobre Golpe, Guerra y Dictadura. Historia para un pasado incómodo by Fernández Prieto and Artiaga Rego , Qué hacemos para la Memoria Histórica? by Escudero et al. …) looking at the various books on the subject in different libraries in Granada (i.e: Biblioteca Pública Provincial Granada), the University library, Spanish media… and visits to numerous “lieux de mémoire” in Granada, Madrid and Toledo. The project has enabled me to have many discussions with friends, classmates, teachers, guides in museums, librarians…thus providing access to different perspectives and opinions.
In fact, the ‘Valle de los Caídos’ was the most recurring example given by the people I have spoken to regarding my research project on the ‘untold’ and historical memory. They were furious, ashamed that Franco could ‘rest in peace’ in the basilica of the ‘Valle’ while so many mass graves (‘fosas communes) have still not been exhumed, preventing families ‘the right to mourn’. I therefore decided to go and visit the Valle de los Caídos, (an hour away from Madrid), where we find the tomb of Franco, and which is not presented as a site of memory condemning the dictator’s actions but rather presenting him as a ‘hero’.
He lies in a beautiful basilica, in a tomb decorated daily with fresh flowers by the monks. What struck me during my time abroad, and which was particularly interesting was the ongoing presence of fascist symbols, imagery. This could be interpreted as the best example of a lack of political determination (‘voluntad política’). For instance, I learned that the economic crisis in 2008 was used to justify the inability to carry on with exhumations (Escudero et al., 2013). This infers the persistence of a Francoist influence at a political level: the past is still too ‘recent’.
Regarding the way the history of Spain is taught at school level, many students told me they did not study the Civil War nor the dictatorship, or only very briefly, the reason being that it was always taught at the very end, and that there wasn’t enough time to work on it. This is comparable with the Algerian War in France, being a ‘late event’. At the University of Granada, the same problem occurred with the course “Civilisation et Culture Française” which taught the entire French history, from prehistory to modern day in one “cuatrimestre” (four months), making it impossible for the teacher to finish the program, leaving aside the most recent events (Colonisation, WWII). The problem seems to be ‘chronological’. However, many Spanish people have told me it is ‘an excuse’ more than anything when I told them about this ‘chronological reason’. The teaching time could be distributed differently: should it be more dedicated to recent, contemporary events rather than spending more time on the Reyes Católicos in Spain, or the Gaullois in France? It is a long, complicated debate. Nonetheless, the Civil War, and the Dictatorship, need to be taught. At the University of Granada, I also took the course “Spanish Literature of the XXth century: theatre and prose”. We were taught key works set during the Civil War, the dictatorship…such as “Qué has hecho hoy para ganar la Guerra?” by Max Aub (1939). Limiting the teaching in courses focusing on defined time-periods could perhaps be beneficial when it comes to recent, still painful events: it could guarantee their teaching. Moreover, my teacher herself (Gracia Morales) said that literature as a means of communicating, teaching historical facts could help as it is not perceived as the teacher’s own opinion, but as the work of an author which is interpreted. I must say that this was my favourite class!”
Many thanks to Jeanne for this update on how things have gone with the Stevenson and the doors it has opened up in terms of this particular topic of research. We wish you all the best for the rest of the Summer and hope this post gives future Stevenson scholars ideas for ways they can conduct their own projects.
The Summer is always a good time for a bit of a catch-up on news about research by French at Stirling colleagues and postgrads (past and present) so, if you’re looking for some pool-side reading, we would highly recommend:
‘Rapping through time: an analysis of non-standard language use in French rap’ by Martin Verbeke, who completed his PhD with us last year, and Bill Marshall’s latest article, ‘Imagining the First French Empire: Bande dessinée and the Atlantic.’ Current PhD student Fraser McQueen also has a new article in The Conversation about French President Emmanuel Macron. Bill has also been continuing his research on parkour with an invited lecture on parkour and visual arts at the Parkour Research and Development Forum at Gerlev (Denmark) earlier this month.
More research updates to follow over the weeks ahead…
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.