Graduate course descriptions

French America, 1534-1804
Prof. P. Force
A study of the French Atlantic World from the exploration of Canada to the Louisiana Purchase and Haitian Independence, with a focus on the relationship between war and trade, forms of intercultural negotiation, the economics of slavery, and the changing meaning of race. The course is designed for advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

Eloquent Animals in Medieval Literature
Prof. E. Zingesser
Medieval literature, like contemporary literature, sometimes features talking animals. But medieval grammatical treatises describe non-human animal utterances as meaningless and (usually) as untranscribable in writing. Some human utterances also fall into this category—a fact that grammatical treatises acknowledge—, rendering language alone an inadequate means of shoring up the species boundary. When authors liken their own language to that of a non-human animal, such as the myriad medieval poets who profess to "sing like the birds," is this a serious claim, leading to experimental poetics? When non-human animals "speak" in medieval fiction, do they speak differently from their human counterparts? This seminar surveys texts in which animals communicate—via language or via other symbolic systems. How, if at all, did medieval authors attempt to draw the line between human and non-human animals? Our reading will include lyric poetry by the troubadours and trouvères, Chrétien de Troyes' Yvain, Philomena, selected lais by Marie de France, the Novas del papagai (The Story of the Parrot), the Roman de Renart, and Gaston Phébus's Le livre de chasse. Alongside these texts, we will read theoretical reflections on language and sound, both medieval and modern, including medieval catalogs of animal "noises" and grammatical treatises on voice. Contemporary reflections by Derrida, Jean-Christophe Bailly, Mladen Dolar and others.

Discovering Existence
Prof. S.B. Diagne
Modern science marking the end of the closed world meant that Earth, the abode of the human being, lost its natural position at the center of the universe. The passage from the Aristotelian closed world to the infinite universe of modern science raised the question of the meaning of human existence, which is the topic of the seminar.  How that question continued to resonate in French literature and philosophy, will be examined, first through the study of texts by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century; then through the reading of texts centered around the topic of the “discovery of existence” (echoing, as we will see, many of Pascal’s topics): texts by Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon and Albert Camus will thus be analyzed. 

The Maghreb in Transition: Culture and Society in North Africa Since 1990
Prof. M. Dobie
In this course, we explore cultural production in the contemporary Maghreb. We consider how important dimensions of social and political life are explored in literature and film as well as the role of these and other media in shaping social and political dynamics. We focus on Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, though we also situate these nations in broader regional and global contexts. As former French colonies, these three nations share a multilingual cultural environment in which French coexists with Arabic. Though our sources are primarily in French, we examine material produced in both languages with options to read/watch in translation. Most of the course materials are also available in English translation.

The course begins in roughly 1990, a time of disenchantment when the political leadership brought to power at Independence was replaced or at least challenged. We explore the dynamics of Algeria’s ‘Black Decade’, Morocco’s emergence from the ‘Years of lead’ and, with an eye to more recent developments, Tunisia’s ‘Arab spring’ as well as less punctual and less highly mediatized currents of social and economic life. Our primary focus is on the varied ways in which the arts and cultural media have responded and contributed to change while also revisiting the past and reframing national narratives. The course is interdisciplinary, combining historical, sociological and anthropological approaches with close reading of texts and films.

The syllabus is organized both historically and thematically. We explore questions including aesthetic responses to violence and the theorization of trauma and memory; the changing geography and sociology of migration and the changing landscape of media and publication. Many of our sources explore the meaning of ‘modernity’, often in conjunction with explorations of subjectivity and spirituality, gender and sexuality.

Pascal, Hermeneutics and Rhetoric
Prof. P. Force
A study of Blaise Pascal’s complete works, including the Pensées, the Lettres provinciales, and the Entretiens sur Epictète et Montaigne, with a focus on issues of persuasion, Biblical interpretation, epistemology, and politics.

Practicum in French Language Pedagogy
Dr. P. Hubert-Leibler
For first-time Teaching Fellows (second-year graduate students). The goal of the course is to provide novice instructors with practical support throughout their first semester of teaching, help them learn about and apply best practices, and give them a theoretical foundation in second-language pedagogy. 

The 68-Effect in French Theory
Prof. E. Balibar
A study of the relationship between the May 68 events in Paris and "French theory," with a focus on 1) “Power and Knowledge” (Foucault and Lacan); 2) “Desire” (Deleuze-Guattari and Irigaray); 3) “Reproduction” (Althusser and Bourdieu-Passeron).

African Literature and Philosophy
Prof. S.B. Diagne
The seminar will examine the poetry and the philosophical writings of Negritude authors Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001) from Senegal, Aimé Césaire (1913- 2008) from Martinique and Léon Gontran Damas (1912-1978) from Guyana in connection with the works of Marx, Nietzsche, Bergson, Levy-Bruhl, Sartre, and Teilhard de Chardin. Discussions on philosophical questions of identity and difference, or of an African aesthetics, or of universalism will be combined with close readings of the poetry and theater of the three authors.

French Empires
Prof. E. Saada
As in many other European countries in the last twenty years, the historiography of France has been reshaped by interest in the imperial trajectory of the nation. This class will explore this 'imperial turn', and examine its specificity vis-à-vis the historiographies of other European empires. We will examine the questions that have been at the center of the historian's agenda: what kind of historical processes are revealed (or masked) by the imperial perspective? How do we think historically about the relationships between nation, republic and empire?  How has the 'imperial turn' shaped the categories and writing practices of historians? What are the contributions of historians to the understanding of post-colonialism?

Rousseau and his Critics
Prof. J. Stalnaker
In this course we will read Rousseau through the lens of the extremely polarized critical reactions his writings have elicited, from Diderot to Derrida and beyond. We will try to understand why this figure has been viewed as an exemplar of both the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment, as a defender of human liberty and as a proto-fascist, as an inspiration to women writers and as a misogynist. We will also address the ways Rousseau defined himself and his work, often in opposition to his fellow philosophes and critics. The course will be held in French, but papers may be written in English for students outside the French department.

Proseminar: Introduction to Literary Research
Prof. P. Force
Designed for first-year graduate students. An introduction to the conceptual and practical tools of literary research.

Structures of Feeling: Emotions in History and Literature
Prof. T. Dodman
This seminar initiates graduate students in the humanities and social sciences to the historical study of emotions broadly defined. It provides an interdisciplinary genealogy of a field recently propelled into the spotlight by the so-called “biological turn,” and pushes to reflect upon the opportunities and pitfalls of studying emotions. Topics covered include: anthropological and psychological understandings of emotion; affect theory and its critique; what insights neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and evolutionary biology can bring to the humanities; and, conversely, what a historically grounded approach to emotion can provide to a critical understanding of society and culture.