Nineteenth-Century French Studies 2001

Roundtable on Pedagogical Issues: Experiences and Experiments

University of Wisconsin, Madison
October 18-20, 2001

Updated May 17, 2004


Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48202

All texts will be available for consultation and downloading by September 28, 2001. Following brief position statements by the panelists, the panel will be devoted entirely to discussion.

Panelists and paper titles (to link to papers, click on highlighted titles -- complete abstracts below):

Michael D. Garval, North Carolina State University, "'Tours de France': an experiment in pedagogical flexibility, and its broader implications for the French Studies curriculum" [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]

Adrianna M. Paliyenko, Colby College, "Collaboration Matters: Sparking a Connection between French Literary and Cultural Studies" [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]

Evlyn Gould, University of Oregon, "Baudelaire en Europe"

Liz Constable, University of California-Davis, "Feeling demented, tormented, and/or mentored: Mentoring through literature in graduate education"

Abstracts :

Michael D. Garval, North Carolina State University

Abstract: "'Tours de France': an experiment in pedagogical flexibility, and its broader implications for the French Studies curriculum"

Over the past two years, I have developed and taught "Tours de France," a new approach to the undergraduate "Advanced French Conversation/Contemporary French Cultures" course at North Carolina State University. This approach takes students on simultaneous "tours" of France, using the fin-de-siècle French school reader, Le Tour de la France par deux enfants, a current French guide book, web sites, and video material. Special attention is paid to patterns of change and continuity in France, as well as to development of oral fluency, through student presentations; class discussion of moral, social, and political positions espoused in Le Tour de la France par deux enfants; and individual "log-books" of reflections on both the readings and students' explorations on the World Wide Web.

In this paper, I underscore the flexibility of this approach, and the advantages it offers in responding to the diverse needs, interests, abilities, and goals, of both students and faculty - indeed, to the hybrid nature of the French Studies curriculum itself. To this end, I shall 1) offer a description of the course as it has been taught at North Carolina State; 2) highlight the advantages of this approach within this particular institutional setting; 3) suggest how such a "flexible" approach might be adapted to other institutional contexts; 4) and, finally, reflect upon the broader implications, for the field of French Studies, of this experiment in pedagogical and curricular flexibility.


Adrianna M. Paliyenko, Colby College

Abstract: "Collaboration Matters: Sparking a Connection between French Literary and Cultural Studies"

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
--Albert Einstein

The vexing issue of declining enrollments prompted the creation of a double track in French literature and French studies at Colby College five years ago. This curricular development has succeeded in drawing a considerable number of majors, but has inadvertently jeopardized the future of literary studies in our department. A majority of our majors now select the cultural track to complement a primary interest in international studies. In the wake of this trend, which threatens the place of literature in our major, I devised an upper-level course, entitled "The Cultural Legacy of 19th-Century France," with the aim of enrolling both tracks of majors. Through my attempt to redress the curricular imbalance between literary and cultural studies, I discovered an uneasy, and yet rich, alliance. Various elements of creative tension, which I shall address in this paper, sparked productive connections between the art of reading disparate texts and visualizing their contexts.

Conscious attention to enrollment figures in the trendy retrospective twist that frames the course and the methodological turn to power point focused on illuminating richly textured connections between the literary and visual culture of 19th-century France. My initiation into the use of power point in particular enabled me to overcome my own uneasy relationship with technology-assisted instruction, and to bridge through carefully constructed presentations the ever-widening gap in linguistic, literary and cultural competence between majors following ostensibly distinct tracks. The curricular agenda-and discontents-of my venture, as I shall discuss, involved showing, rather than telling, my students how to make sense of the link between a text, whether literary or visual, and its cultural context.

To highlight the principle of chance in the adoption of course materials, I shall underscore juxtapositions of literary and visual texts that sparked for my students surprising correlations between the foreign culture of 19th-century France and their own cultural context. Our majors in French studies are especially anxious about their ability to read critically with aesthetic sensitivity, while students majoring in French literature are keenly apprehensive about their ability to approach visual culture with the discerning eye of an art historian. Class presentations and discussions concentrated on relating the literary and the visual, and thus sharpened for students the connection between seeing what is read and reading what is seen. Students in turn developed the close relation of literature and culture in individual projects, transforming an uneasy alliance into a creative association. However uncomfortable shifting alliances may be, especially when enrollments determine curricular choices, they may provoke unexpected, and thus creative, responses that open up new ways of thinking about how we teach what truly matters to us.


Evlyn Gould, University of Oregon

Abstract: "Baudelaire en Europe"

There is nothing new in pointing out that over the course of the last ten to fifteen years, French enrollments have declined dramatically while enrollments in Spanish have soared. This may be especially true in the West where the shift from French to Spanish is motivated by several factors. At worst, there is instrumental economic thinking (ie.: "Spanish is more likely to get me a job."). Better, there is a kind of ethical belief that all Americans should speak Spanish. Best, or at the most intellectually challenging, we may note an uneasy sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with privileging European ideas in Humanities' curricula on American campuses today.

The era of the so-called "multicultural debates" inaugurated a biting critique of "Europe"--which meant, in practice, Western Europe or "the West" (and let's face it, France at the universalizing center of that West)--as the mode-type of the Ethnocentric, imperialist, and phallocentric tradition. This "Europe," constituted as a monocultural monolith, is set in opposition to the ethnic, the peripheral, the marginal, the voice-less. As a new generation of scholarship emanating from a variety of contemporary critical corners like cultural studies, post-colonial and post-modern studies, or ethnic and subaltern studies came to value periphery and margins over centers and wholes, new generations of students came to be unreflectively prone to anti-European sentiments. Programs focused on Western Europe, like French, were faced with justifying their very existence.

On our campus, a collective response to this anti-Eurocentric tendency called to the New Europe as a promising site of passionate debate over these competing pedagogical values. As the political battleground of Europe changed and the cold war politics of the pre-1989 era gave way to a fundamentally altered sense of what Europe is, our Europe became an intellectual arena in which to both acknowledge the value of anti-Eurocentric thinking and to confront the faulty notion of a European monolith. Our goal, ultimately, was to revitalize interest in European thinkers (and in their languages), thinkers who themselves give us ways of addressing their own ambiguously pro- and anti-Eurocentric perspectives.

This is where Baudelaire takes center stage. With the help of Edward Said or not, Baudelaire's Europe is always in dialogue with its Oriental other in a questioning of value that frequently leaves the poet both here and there: both representative of a certain Eurocentric imagination and yet, quite self-consciously critical of this imagination. I have been successful in recruiting students who may never have studied French by setting Baudelaire's "Invitation au voyage" within a broader European context. In this pedagogical panel, I will suggest ways of reading Baudelaire within the frame of Europe, a 19th century Europe still very much with us today.


Liz Constable, University of California-Davis

Abstract: "Feeling demented, tormented, and/or mentored: Mentoring through literature in graduate education"

In the last decade, academic cultures of graduate education in foreign literature departments have had to face a rapidly evolving intellectual, institutional, political, economic and demographic landscape here in the US. Teaching faculty, administrators, and graduate students have all responded to these tectonic plate shifts in higher education by re-conceptualizing and re-envisioning the different components of graduate education to ensure that French Studies can adapt to change, and at best, thrive, at worst, survive.

These efforts are familiar to us, and include the following types of responses. Some programs have re-defined the character of Ph.D in French Studies through infusing more substantial interdisciplinary paradigms, e.g., reshaping programs to bring in the disciplinary perspectives of cultural history. Other programs have attempted to match the student intake in Ph.D granting programs to more accurately correspond to the number of college-level positions that are likely to be available to these same students upon graduation. Yet other institutions have revised the conventional dissertation requirement for graduation to encompass instead more flexible portfolio format for presentation of research work.

Amongst these re-constructive efforts within graduate programs in French Studies, there are two inter-related areas where rather less interest has focused. Apart from the work of David Damrosch, the mentoring of graduate students in this changing environment has not been addressed in significant ways. Related to the issue of mentoring, there has also been little
discussion of the cross-overs between graduate students' scholarly study of literature and the study of literature as the source of richly complex discussions of the very issues that we face on an everyday level within our graduate programs: i.e., what constitutes effective mentoring for graduate students in French Studies today?

My interest in this topic originally stemmed from my work on a Task Force re-structuring the networks of mentoring for new faculty on my own campus at the University of California, Davis. Through this Task Force, I have found that many of the changes we're implementing for new faculty can be usefully translated into very positive changes for reforms in graduate programs. To offer one example, the conventional top-down, one-to-one mentorship models are no longer as useful, or appropriate in an academic culture that requires that graduate students connect laterally, or horizontally across the intellectual communities. Models of multiple, and
student-initiated, mentoring are now more useful in graduate programs.

From this starting point, I decided to put together a graduate seminar on nineteenth-century French literary texts that would raise questions about mentoring, teacher-student relationships, independence-dependence in mentoring, and the gender politics of mentoring amongst other issues. In doing this, I sought to devise a reading list whose concerns address the experiences of feeling demented, tormented (to borrow David Damrosch's title) and/or (in the most positive scenario!) mentored. In the same way as a literary psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips, turns to literature for the most complexly rich discussions of our psychic and social lives, my paper will describe the organization of a graduate seminar about the literature of mentoring as a departure point for discussions about the changing face(s) of mentorship in graduate programs in French Studies today.