The MIT Research Seminar in French and Francophone Studies

Founded in 2013 as part of MIT Foreign Languages and Literatures's Global Studies Initiative, RSFFS aims to bring together MIT faculty, instructors, and graduate students interested in the study of French and francophone cultures across disciplines.

Each semester, leading American and international scholars in the field of French and francophone studies present their research. RSFFS is also a space for discussing current research projects by MIT faculty, instructors, and graduate students, as well as recent readings and translations.

RSFFS is open to the public and everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Founding chair: Professor Bruno Perreau
Co-chairs: Professor Jeffrey Ravel and Professor Catherine Clark


Spring 2014:

France's Jewish Star: Rachel at the Comédie Française
Professor Maurice Samuels(Yale)

This talk examines one of the most stunning cases of Jewish integration in the "golden age" following emancipation: Rachel Félix, who became France's most celebrated actress in the 1830s and '40s with her electrifying performances as the heroines of Racine and Corneille at the Comédie Française. The daughter of poor, Yiddish-speaking peddlers, Rachel single-handedly revived the neoclassical theatrical tradition while at the same time maintaining—some would say flaunting—her Jewish identity. Reading the critical response to Rachel from the time, Samuels explores how she offered a model for the way French universalism, embodied in the neo-classical tradition, could be enabled rather than hindered by Jewishness.

Maurice Samuels specializes in the literature and culture of nineteenthcentury France and in Jewish Studies. He is the author of The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France and Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France. He also co-edited Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader, which includes his original translations of nineteenth-century French Jewish fiction. Professor Samuels has published articles on diverse topics, including romanticism and realism, aesthetic theory, representations of the Crimean War, and boulevard culture. He is currently working on a new book on the relationship of antisemitism and philosemitism in France from the French Revolution to the present.

Date: Monday March 3, 2014
Time: 4:30 PM

Sovereignty and Empire in the Imperial Mediterranean: The Case of Tunisa

Mary Lewis (Harvard)

Mary Lewis is Professor of History at Harvard University. She specializes in Modern French and European social, legal, and political history. Her current research interests center around international and imperial history, the history of rights, and the connections between international relationas and everyday local life. She will talk about her recent book, published in 2013 by the University of California Press.

Date: Tuesday April 15, 2014
Time: 4:30-6:00 PM
Location: E51-275

Book Presentation: Returning to Reims

Didier Eribon (University of Amiens, France) & Michael Lucey (UC Berkeley)

After his father dies, Didier Eribon returns to his hometown of Reims and rediscovers the working-class world he had left behind thirty years earlier. For years, Eribon had thought of his father largely in terms of the latter's intolerable homophobia. Yet his father's death provokes new reflection on Eribon's part about how multiple processes of domination intersect in a given life and in a given culture. Eribon sets out to investigate his past, the history of his family, and the trajectory of his own life.

"On thinking the matter through, it doesn't seem exaggerated to assert that my coming out of the sexual closet, my desire to assume and assert my homosexuality, coincided within my personal trajectory with my shutting myself up inside what I might call a class closet."—from Returning to Reims

Didier Eribon is well known for his groundbreaking biography, Michel Foucault, first published in 1989. He is also the author of Insult and the Making of the Gay Self, as well as numerous other books of critical theory.

Date: Monday April 28, 2014
Time: 5:00-7:00 PM
Location: 4-231

Theme for Fall 2013: Identities, Communities, and Spaces

Being gay-friendly in Park Slope and Le Marais: a Comparative Study of New York and Paris
Professor Sylvie Tissot (Universithy of Paris 8)

Same-sex marriage became legal in France in May 2013. Large protests against gay marriage erupted despite opinion polls revealing a growing acceptance of homosexuality. Tissot compares two neighborhoods—Le Marais in Paris and Park Slope in Brooklyn—to examine “gay-friendliness.” To what extent are gay-friendly attitudes shared in these communities? What underlies these attitudes? To what extent have they become the social marker of a specific social layer?

Sylvie Tissot is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Paris 8. Before studying gay-friendliness in Paris and New York, she did fieldwork on gentrification and upper middle class culture in Boston, and on urban policies in the outskirts of Paris. Her most recent book, De bons voisins (Good Neighbors. Researching Upper Middle Class Progressives), was published in French in 2011 and will be published in English in 2014.

Date: Monday September 23, 2013
Time: 4:15 PM
Location: Cabot Room, Busch Hall, Harvard University

French Discourses about Jewish Memory in the 1980s and 90s
Professor Carolyn Dean (Yale)

This talk will address the way that French intellectuals and journalists on both the Left and Right used debates about Nazism and Stalinism to address the question of Jewish memory in the wake of the “Vichy Syndrome” the trials of Klaus Barbie and Paul Touvier, and fears of the emergence of a “new anti-Semitism.”

Carolyn J. Dean is a Professor of History at Yale University who specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of Europe as well as in gender and sexuality studies. She is the author of several books, including The Frail Social Body: and Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France (Berkeley, 2000); The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust (Ithaca, 2004), and most recently Aversion and Erasure: The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust (Ithaca 2010).

Date: Thursday October 3, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: 14E-304

A Transatlantic History of Urban Underworlds
Professor Dominique Kalifa (University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne)

Dominique Kalifa is a Professor of History at the University of Paris I (Sorbonne), where he is director of the Center for 19th-Century History. He specialises in the history of crime, transgression, social control, and mass culture in 19th and early 20th France and Europe. His talk will present his latest book: Les Basfonds. Histoire d'un imaginaire (2013). He is also the author of Biribi. Les bagnes coloniaux de l'armée française (2009), Crime et culture au XIXe siècle (2005), Naissance de la police privée (2000), L'Encre et le Sang. Récits de crimes et société à la Belle Époque (1995). Talk in English.

Talk co-sponsored by the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department at MIT and the French study group, at the Center for European Studies, Harvard.

Date: Friday November 22, 2013
Time: 2:00-4:00 PM
Location: CES Cabot Room (Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 27 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138)

Theme for Spring 2013: Empires

Sex Talk, Race Talk, Empire Talk: The “Arab Man” in French Debates about Violence and Sex in the 1970s
Professor Todd Shepard (Johns Hopkins)

Todd Shepard will explore how French discussions over the course of the 1970s about sodomy and rape which in many other ways replicated debates then taking place in the US and elsewhere turned around the figure of the “Arab man.” While scholars at the time (notably feminists and Foucault) remarked that these discussions raised crucial questions about the relationship between “acts” and “identities,” Todd Shepard suggests that they were also sites where questions about empire, racism, and colonial violence (notably the Algerian War) shaped understanding of how politics functioned.

Todd Shepard is Associate Professor of History and Co-Director of the Program in the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Johns Hopkins University. His first book The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006) won numerous awards, including The Council of European Studies’ 2008 Book Prize. He is now working on three book projects: Voices of Decolonization (A Brief History with Documents) (forthcoming, Bedford/St. Martin); La France, le sexe et les arabes (1962 à 1979) (forthcoming, Payot); and Affirmative Action and the End of Empires: ‘Integration’ in France(1956-1962) and the Race Question in the Cold War World.

Date: Tuesday April 2, 2013
Time: 5:00 PM
Location: 14E-304

Around the World in Eighty Moves: Bets, Races, and a Brief History of the Game of the Goose
Professor Marie-Hélène Huet (Princeton)

In her talk, Marie-Hélène Huet will examine the origins of the game of the goose and its role in an adventure novel written by Jules Verne in 1900: Le Testament d’un excentrique (The Will of an Eccentric).

Marie-Hélène Huet is M. Taylor Pyne Professor of French at Princeton. Professor Huet has written extensively on cultural history, historiography, 18th- and 19th- century literature, and the French Enlightenment. She is the author of L’Histoire des voyages extraordinaires, Essai sur l’oeuvre de Jules Verne (Minard, 1973); Le Héros et son double (Corti, 1975); Rehearsing the Revolution. The Staging of Marat’s Death, 1793-1797 (University of California Press, 1982); Monstrous Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1993), which was awarded the Harry Levin Prize in Comparative Literature; Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997); and The Culture of Disaster (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Fall 2012).

Date: Monday April 22, 2013
Time: 4:30 PM
Location: 14E-304

Soccer Empire: Thinking Empire, Immigration, and Race Through Sport
Professor Laurent Dubois (Duke)

In this discussion, Laurent Dubois will present a chapter from his book ‘Soccer Empire’ and discuss some of the methodological and theoretical questions raised by using soccer as a way to think through the history of French empire, decolonization, and immigration. How does the study of sport -- which remains relatively marginal in French Studies -- allow us to re-think our approach to the categories of analysis and methods we use in understanding these topics?”

Laurent Dubois, a specialist in the history and culture of France and the Caribbean, is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University, and co-director of the Haiti laboratory of the Franklin Humanities Institute. He is the author of most recently, of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press) and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (Metropolitan Books, 2012).

Date: Thursday May 2, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: 14E-304

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