Essays sought on Ibero-American Echoes of the French Revolution

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Essay proposals are invited for a volume in the MLA’s Options for Teaching series entitled Teaching Representations of the French Revolution, to be edited by Julia Douthwaite (University of Notre Dame), Catriona Seth (Université de Lorraine), and Antoinette Sol  (University of Texas Arlington) The goal of this collection of essays is to make the field more accessible to non-specialists and to teachers in different settings, from the Humanities class at a community college to the research seminar in a graduate program. The collection of essays will complement traditional sources and include the arts, ephemera, realia, archival material and once popular but now forgotten texts in the classroom.  Accordingly, we intend to highlight through a number of settings how the revolutionary heritage lives on in our own vulnerable times. As a glance at any newspaper will reveal, we still live in a world of propaganda, advertisement, political violence, terrorism, revolution, and reaction. The essays in this proposed volume will speak to ways current students will be helped in understanding these things as well as learning about more narrowly focused topics.

We seek essays from Ibero-American fields on Global Reverberations: The Impact of Emigration and Radicalism.

We are particularly interested in pedagogically-oriented essays on ways to integrate the French Revolution into diverse courses, along with ways to present difficult material, how to engage students, and how to help students acquire the necessary contexts to understand the volume’s topic.  In addition, essays dealing with teaching with translations, finding source materials (written, visual, or musical), and suggestions for ways to use these in the classroom are welcome.

If you are interested in contributing an essay (3,000-3,500 words) to one of these sections, please submit an abstract of approximately 500 words in which you describe your approach or topic and explain its potential benefit for students and instructors alike. The focus of proposed essays should be pedagogical.

Note that if you plan to quote from student writing in your essay, you must obtain written permission from your students to do so. Proposed essays should not be previously published.

Abstracts and CVs should be sent to the volume editors by 1 June 2015. Please send e-mail submissions to Professor Julia Douthwaite (jdouthwa@nd.edu), Professor Catriona Seth (Catriona.Seth@univ-lorraine.fr), and Professor Antoinette Sol (amsol@uta.edu) with the subject line “Approaches to Teaching the Fr Rev.” Surface-mail submissions can be sent to Professor Douthwaite at the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

On secular values six weeks after the Charlie Hebdo massacre

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Not sure what to think about secular values in France?  How about admiration?  Instead of suggesting that France should be more like other countries where religion has been allowed to creep into the public sphere (or is welcomed with open arms into the public sphere as in the USA), I suggest we celebrate the freedom allowed by la laïcité, especially in schools.

I’ve been following with interest the reporting on France by the New York Times since the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  It has been very careful.  An article on 1/19/15 entitled “An Inclusive French Republic” concluded that “France’s minister of education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is French-Moroccan, is to announce new measures on Monday to better explain French ‘republican values’ in the schools.  For the lessons to work, the Hollande government must find ways to make those values a reality for the many French youths who feel marginalized from French society.” The profile of Vallaud-Belkacem in the 2/21/15 “Saturday Profile” of the New York Times stresses her outsider status, as one of seven children of a poor immigrant family where traditional gender roles were the norm, to her rise through the ranks of the Socialist Party and her current status as Minister of Education.  It gives ample coverage of the attacks she has been subjected to in the conservative media and among other Muslims.  What is missing is support for her plans.

Instead of scrutinizing Vallaud-Balkacem for potential weaknesses, we should support her efforts to continue the French republican heritage into the 21st century.  She is a transitional figure, building on the strength of her silent mother—and legions of other Muslim women—who seek a better life for themselves and their children through public education. The article notes that despite the rigid patriarchy of their home, “her mother nevertheless pushed the seven children to study and encouraged the girls to be financially independent.”  In the photo, we see that Vallaud-Belkacem wears no headscarf, and in the few remarks that quote her directly, she states a powerful and admirable goal, of making “a lifetime commitment against social injustices, against inequalities.”  The ultimate solution to the French identity, now as in 1905, lies in education.  Carefully avoiding criticism of the way she herself was raised, she nevertheless notes, “Endless political debates have stigmatized Muslim families.  School needs to teach people that everyone is part of one community and that we are all free and equal.”

Vallaud-Belkacem is a beacon of hope.  In honor of her strong spirit, we should continue the media attention in support of republican values.  We should cheer on her efforts to combat the creeping tentacles of private interests (religious or otherwise) from encroaching into the sphere of public education.  As citizens of the premier democracy of the world, we Americans should acclaim the power of public education to change people’s lives for the better.

On money, assignats, Benjamin … and a Valentine’s day suggestion

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I’ve started thinking and reading a lot about economics in the 1700s, and the meaning of money, credit, work, in the eighteenth century and revolutionary era.  A friend in South Bend, Jeff Schneider, is actually a member of the Bank Note Society and has been generously giving me assignats for a few years now, knowing that I show them around in my classes.  Students love seeing this old money.. They are so interesting!  (And apparently not terribly expensive, if you are looking for a Valentine’s gift for your favorite revolutionary.)

For the aficionados of assignats, here is a link Jeff S. passed along; it is extremely detailed and impressive,   http://assignat.fr/

Now, if I could just get my hands on some billets de banque from the Law Scheme…

Work in progress:  “Did the ‘Ill Wind’ Blow No Good?  The Law Scheme in French Economics, Linterature, and Art, 1721-31,” for the special no. of L’Esprit créateur issue on “Paris’s Imagined Capital: Early Capitalism and Modernity in France (17th-19th centuries).”  Thinking about money changes everything.  Hmmm.

Here is a less-quoted epigram by Walter Benjamin:

“A descriptive analysis of bank notes is needed.  The unlimited satirical force of such a book would be equaled only by its objectivity.  For nowhere more naively than in these documents does capitalism display itself in solemn earnest.”

Benjamin, “Tax Advice”

(Thanks to Marc Shell’s fabulous book Art and Money, for that must-quote.)

More to come!  Anybody else out there inspired by Thomas Piketty and the Hoffman, Postel-Vinay, Rosenthal team?–Capital in the 21st Century and Priceless Markets are well worth the sometime technical language for the parts about French literature, art, culture.  Piketty does a better job on César Birotteau.   But Priceless Markets was so surprising to read; I feel like I learned a ton from watching the way they think.  Their attitude on the Revolution was very unlike most of what I’ve read to date!

A French commentary on la laïcité and Alexander Stille, by Laurent Loty

Dear Julia,

Merci d’avoir posté l’article d’Alexander Stille*, qui permet d’expliquer les différences entre la laïcité en France et la laïcité aux États-Unis.

L’article est passionnant. Mais après avoir bien expliqué les différences (par exemple, en France, entre critique d’une religion et incitation à la haine contre les personnes), il prend toutefois des positions inspirées par le système américain, qui ne correspond pas à l’histoire et à la sociologie françaises.

Une phrase est franchement erronée : “The French state was, in fact, forcing those students to pay homage to a publication that had, in their view, mocked their religion”. Non : la minute de silence dans les établissements scolaires était une manifestation de deuil envers les morts, tués comme journalistes, comme policiers, ou comme Juifs. À propos des journalistes, ce n’était pas un éloge de Charlie hebdo mais une défense de la liberté d’expression telle qu’elle est permise par la loi. On peut comprendre que des élèves aient pu croire qu’il s’agissait d’une défense de la critique de l’Islam, mais ce que des millions de personnes ont défendu en manifestant et ce que le gouvernement a défendu, c’est seulement la liberté d’expression.

Enfin, les millions de personnes d’origine musulmane en France sont relativement mal intégrées parce qu’elles sont les populations immigrées les plus récentes et les plus pauvres, en une période de fort chômage, et leur proportion en France est sans comparaison avec les Etats-Unis.

L’intégration en France ne peut se faire sur le modèle américain. A chacun son histoire, même s’il est toujours important de chercher des principes universels. En France, cela passera par la réduction du chômage, et par l’acceptation par la religion musulmane des règles de la laïcité française déjà acceptées par le passé par les autres religions.

J’ai peur de mal traduire en anglais sur des questions si graves. J’espère pouvoir être lu par une partie des habitués de ce Blog que je salue.

Laurent Loty (Paris)

*Alexander Stille, “Why French Law Treats Dieudonné and Charlie Hebdo Differently,” The New Yorker (January 15, 2015).

Secular Values to the Rescue

In the wake of the horrible tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we have been waiting with baited breath to see which way the French government was going to try to deal with religious extremism.  Would they opt for a free-floating multiculturalism and slide ever closer to the American model where religious leaders hold a dangerous sway over politics?  Or would they reassert the specificity of what it means to be French, and protect their citizens with a newly invigorated republicanism?  As a French teacher in the USA, I frequently encounter students who, in the arrogance of their ignorance, feel entitled to express indignation about the laws banning head scarves and other public signs of religious belief in the public sphere in France, and decry the “inflexibility” of the French.  “They should be more like us,” students say.  Each time I hear this, I wince, because it means that we have not done our job well enough.  Those who believe the French lack “flexibility” have never learned what the French Republic really stands for.  They ignore how long and hard people had to work and struggle and fight, from 1789 to 1905, until France achieved a definitive break between the Catholic Church (or any church) and the State.  They are oblivious to what it means to live in a State where the public sphere is a protected place, where believers and non-believers are equally free from coercion.  So it is with joy that I read the article in the New York Times today entitled, “Paris Announces Plan to Promote Secular Values,” which I invite you to read here.

For those who may not understand why secular values are so crucial to the French, you need to keep studying.  As with many facets of French culture, the origins lie in the past, in this case, the struggles of the French Revolution.

Vive la laïcité!

Crime or revolution?

While browsing through a Paris used book store in October, I stumbled upon an odd little reference book called Le Crime et la criminologie.  This quirky taxonomy of crimes is extremely well documented, which allows readers to appraise the state of European social science research circa 1960.  Particularly curious for me were articles on “astuce,” victimology, and the mindboggling variety of swindling schemes. Also intriguing is the article “Economic factor” and this  pithy definition of revolution:

“Prepared in advance, organized as well as possible, and executed by the mass of working people in an open and audacious manner, it is called Revolution; but if it is carried out by one or some individuals in haste, with fear and in the dark of night or benefiting from chance circumstances; it is called crime.”

I think this is food for thought, especially given recent efforts–in Spain and echoed in the USA–to project Lenin as a role model for modern youth.  https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/pablo-iglesias-podemos-left-speech/ *

Just as a revolt does not a revolution make; the slogan “bread and peace” is more ominous than some folks may recall.
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“Préparée à l’avance, organisée autant que possible, et exécuté par toute la masse ouvrière d’une façon ouverte et audacieuse, elle s’appelle Révolution; mais exécuté par un ou quelques individus de façon hâtive, avec peur et sous l’ombre de la nuit ou des circonstances propices: elle s’appelle crime.”   Yamarellos et G. Kellens, Le Crime et la criminologie, 2 vols. (Verviers, Belgium: Marabout Université, 1970), 177.

*Thanks to Dave Andress for bringing the Jacobin article to our attention.  As he notes: “Is it conceivable he thinks Lenin won an election, as opposed to closing down the 1918 Constituent Assembly by force on the first day it met?”

On Eric Hazan, French turmoil, and doing something to keep the spirit of 1789 alive

Check out the latest interview with Eric Hazan on the Verso website, then read on.

What can you say of a man whose work is sometimes inspiring, and whom you’d like to admire for his long and principled life, but …  I have to admit I have a problem with people like Hazan who don’t vote and claim it is some sort of civic act.  Or incite people to think of making others “vanish.”  Revolution did happen so you could vote! And so we could avoid violence in public affairs.   Democracy demands that we believe it matters, remain informed, and make elections count. France does have deliberative processes by which change can happen without violence. When Hazan speaks of “thinking about the means of insurrection,” and dismisses the ‘intermediate stages’ such as “election of a constituent assembly etc.,” what exactly is he encouraging?   The ambiguity is irresponsible.

After reading the Verso interview, I think it only fair to give a “tip of the hat” to a group in France which is trying to bring about change from within the system, using the tools inherited from the revolutionary past, for the better.  They are called Association pour une Constituante:  www.pouruneconstituante.fr .

A personal note:  My admiration for the ideals of the Fr Rev (plus having kids come of age) has led me to start teaching a weekly class of writing for children, which I’ve been doing since 2012. It seems so puny and insignificant next to the “revolutionaries” calling for “insurrection” or “vanishing” of institutions.  But equality is my personal dream, and giving underprivileged kids a way to speak and be somebody is my chosen method.  My wish for all of us is peace, and to have a chance.   What is yours, readers?

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