Twentieth-Century French Studies Colloquium 2000

"Début de siècle, début des départements de français"

University of Pennsylvania
March 30-April 2, 2000

See Colloquium Web Page:

Updated May 17, 2004


Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48202

All conference participants may access each of the papers and supplementary material below, prior to the Colloquium, from February 25 onward. Panelists will only present short position statements based on these longer papers, allowing for general discussion of issues raised. Email request for these materials may be sent directly to, by March 15, 2000, at latest.

Nicole Buffard-O'Shea (Oakland University): "Teaching French: an interdisciplinary approach"

In this essay and discussion, I would like to focus on two points: 1/ First I want to talk about a program that one of my colleagues, Professor Dikka Berven is in the process of developing at Oakland University which would entice students in disciplines such as the sciences, business, engineering etc. to study a foreign language. In this program the students would be required take two years of a language (our first and second year classes), to study abroad for one semester or a year which means that they would become empoyable by companies who have international partners and need to send their people abroad. This means that the university would get in contact with such companies to get to sponsor the students' study abroad program. Professor Berven will provide me with a detailed description of her project which I believe should be of great interest for a lot of French programs around the country.

2/ The second point I would like to make concerns mainly an interdisciplinary approach to French, that is either teach French literature and/or culture and/or civilization to classes in other departments (which would mean that the courses would be in English) or have professors from other disciplines teach (French history or philosphy) to our students. This kind of interaction would result in a better knowledge of each other's fields, it would allow us to advertise French studies across campus, and it would generate a larger number of courses in French studies. In this part I would also like to talk about the involvement of French departments in Masters of Liberal Arts programs. For the undergraduate programs in French it can be a way to access graduate education (that's what we are planning to do here at Oakland) and at the same time it allows us to develop more courses and make us more desirable. Last argument about all these ideas: they would generate revenues for the universities. This tends to be a key issue for our administrators.

Nathalie Rachlin (Scripps College): "French Today: The Relevance of Undergraduate French
Studies, for Teachers and their Students"
[A revised version of this essay will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

France today has lost the economic, political, and cultural world predominance it had at the beginning of the century. As a result, the importance of French studies within the American undergraduate curriculum as well as its relevance to an understanding of our globalized world are no longer self-evident -- and we can no longer pretend or act as if they are. We, professors of French, need to articulate for ourselves and for our students why French Studies still matters today. This paper argues that one way to do this is to help our students understand contemporary global changes by teaching the specificity of the current French debate over the American-led globalization and the strong reservations that have emerged from that debate. In helping our students understand at once the terms of this debate and what is at stake in its elaboration, we can help them understand that the relevance of French is not merely to contemporary positions or debates. Rather, we can help them see the extent to which these issues determine what in French culture, past and present, pertains to the circumstances of our students themselves in the world today, as global citizens.

Gayle Zachmann (University of Florida): "Overseas Engagements: The Presence and the 'Futures' of Study Abroad" [A revised version of this essay will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

While this presentation reflects on the potential and implications of designing study abroad structures as a means for stimulating interest in, and developing the quality of undergraduate French programs, the topic cannot be divorced from what colleagues nationwide regard as the major issues affecting French studies today. Aside from evident logistic à faire's of place (Francophonie or Metropolitan France), space (home stay, dormitory, or tour) and time (summer, semester or academic year), I will address how, at state and private institutions alike, approaches to overseas studies engage with the plethora of philosophical and pragmatic paradigm shifts affecting French sections and departments across the country.

My discussion will focus on my home institution's efforts to mount a study abroad program within this increasingly complex context. Analyzing the creation and structure of our program as responses to cultural, curricular, and administrative "realities," the ambit of my remarks will be to show how the overseas program offers: 1) a speculative microcosm in which many of the issues facing French studies compete for discursive and curricular space and, 2) a propitious occasion for addressing many of the transformations that preoccupy undergraduate educators of French and Francophone language, history, culture, and cultural production at our fin de siècle.

Nicole Vaget (Mount Holyoke College): "From Amherst to Zimbabwe: Distance Learning with French in Action"

Bien que dans mon institution les lettres et les arts aient été traditionellement très estimés, depuis quelques temps un certain malaise s'est installé auquel on s'est efforcé de palier à grand renfort de
nouveaux programes d'études françaises, francophones ou interdisciplinaires. Mais ce rajeunissent du choix des textes et des points de vue, tout méritoire qu'il soit, ne suffit plus à capter l'intéret de l'étudiant moyen qui veut aussi qu'on lui facilite la tâche. “Savoir enseigner” devient donc de plus en plus urgent, et pour cela il est bon de faire appel à la technologie, cette nouvelle déesse de l’information.

Du prof-prophète au prof-gestionnaire
Le professeur ne peut plus se permettre au XXIème siècle de se contenter de faire de régulières apparitions en classe, muni de livres, de notes et d'idées à égrener au fils du cours. Le professeur moderne doit abandonner la notion que tout se dit en classe pendant les quelques heures de tète à tète avec les étudiants. Certes, il peut capter leur attention par une belle performance, mais il doit surtout maintenir l'intêret de toute sa classe en demeurant omni-présent chaque jour du semestre, et en offrant à chacun une communication individuelle et personnelle.

Pour cela il lui suffit de gérer ses cours à l'aide du web et du courrier électronique. Chaque cours doit avoir sa page Web que le professeur utilise constamment. L'étudiant y trouve le syllabus, la bibliographie, les textes annotés, les examens, des liens vers d'autres sites et les notes de cours du professeur. L’étudiant doit aussi pouvoir y trouver des liens vers sa propre page afin qu’il puisse afficher ses propres devoirs. Cette page Web doit rendre compte du contenu et du but du cours, mais aussi de sa progression et des progrès des étudiants. L'étudiant qui a été absent ou qui n'a pas compris y retrouvera toujours
le matériel et les arguments manqués.

Démystification du rôle du professeur.
Ainsi, en facilitant la communication, la toile cybernétique abolit les distances physiques et sociales, les distances hiérarchiques entre professeurs et étudiants, et les obstacles psychologiques. Mises à plat
sur un tableau d'affichage publique, les idées du professeur sont moins intimidantes et plus accessibles. L’exiguïté des pages Web exige une certaine simplification des idées et une grande clarté d'expression, ce qui est pédagogiquement bénéfique. La fonction du professeur se trouve ainsi démocratisée puisqu'il devient un distributeur d'idées. Enfin pour ceux qui prisent le confort et l'absence de contrainte, cours et
étudiants se trouvent au bout des doigts du professeur en tous temps et en tous lieux.

Nora Alter (University of Florida,): "Film Studies and Foreign Language Programs: Suture or Jumpcut?"

In my presentation, I will address issues related to the inclusion of both film courses and a full-time film faculty line in a foreign language department, particularly as these relate to undergraduate studies.

Starting in the late eighties and continuing through the nineties, German departments have made a concerted effort to incorporate film as one of their staple offerings. The reasons for this were primarily practical and self-interested: the courses are usually run in English and thereby help bolster flagging enrollments, especially in institutions where student hours go to the home department of the professor offering the course and not to the department of program sponsoring the course. Today, an interesting shift has taken place in the field of German Studies, mainly that with one or two notable exception, internationally top scholars in German film are operating almost exclusively operating out of US German departments. Unfortunately this is not the case with French film. Sadly, it is just the opposite; indeed, the study of French film and theory (Lacan, Metz, Barthes, Bazin), recognized as one of the richest film traditions (unlike German), has been almost completely colonized by academics with little or no training in French literature, culture, civilization, history, not to mention language. This has produced an unbalanced body of scholarship which focuses primarily on formal developments within the genre, at the expense of the development of film within the larger cultural framework. The study of film as a genre has increasingly gained a foothold in the academy. Both last year's job list and this year's have advertised for over fifty new positions, yet resistance remains. The reasons for this resistance is in part because film studies sparks old arguments concerning the canon: issues of high vs. low, popular or mass culture -- what place, if any, do the latter have in traditional departments. Additionally, in foreign language programs, questions arise of whether courses in the core curriculum should be taught in English. Finally, the credentials of junior colleagues who take up the field are often considered suspect since they do not necessarily hold degrees in the target language. These are just some of the issues and tensions surrounding the place of film in foreign languages which I will be discussing.