Undergraduate course descriptions

Major literary works from the XIIth Century to 1700. The goal of this course is to train students in literary analysis, and to make them comfortable speaking and writing on literary topics. Authors include Chretien de Troyes, Rabelais, Moliere, Corneille, Madame de Lafayette.

Prerequisites: Satisfaction of the Columbia University language requirement or the permission of the Director of undergraduate studies. W3405 helps students to improve their grammar and perfect their writing and reading skills, especially as a preparation for taking literature or civilization courses, or spending a semester in a francophone country.

Examines conceptions of culture and civilization in France from the Enlightenment to the Exposition Coloniale of 1931, with an emphasis on the historical development and ideological foundations of French colonialism. Authors and texts include: the Encycloplédie; the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen; the Code noir; Diderot; Chateaubriand; Tocqueville; Claire de Duras; Renan; Gobineau; Gauguin; Drumont.

Alexandra Borer
Paris may be referred to as the capital of modernity, as the city of romance and pleasure, as the center of social and political powers, or as a privileged stage for crises and revolutions. Analyzing and researching the meanings of these diverse representations would expose students to key aspects of French and Francophone political, social, and cultural history. This is a course intended for students who, having completed their language requirement in French, would like to better their knowledge of French language and society. It offers students the opportunity to study representations of Paris over the centuries as a way to practice writing, reading, and conversation in French and as a way to deepen their understanding of French and Francophone cultures. Materials for the course include major literary texts as well as paintings, movies and popular songs, but also museum websites, local newspapers and local ads, brochures from retail and food malls, restaurant menus, postcards... such variety can be utilitarian and intellectually compelling at the same time. It allows students not only to study language registers and vocabulary contextualization but also work on finding patterns and making connections.

Class sessions follow a chronological order helping students discover and understand the geography and the history of the construction of the city from the Renaissance to present-day Paris, focusing more particularly on the 19th and 20th centuries. Within this chronological time-frame, each week would be devoted to a specific social or cultural topic relevant to the period.

Antoine Compagnon
This seminar is required for all French and French & Francophone Studies majors, who usually take it during their senior year. Students have the opportunity to collaboratively create their own syllabus of literary and critical readings.

Souleymane Bachir Diagne
The seminar will examine the writing of violence, resistance and hope in two films by Ousmane Sembène, Moolaadé and Guelwar, and four novels dealing with the genocide in Rwanda: Boubacar Boris Diop’s Murambi, le livre des ossements, Veronique Tadjo’s L’ombre d’Imana, voyage jusqu’au bout du Rwanda; Abdourahman Waberi’s Moisson de crânes, and Tierno Monenembo’s L’aîné des orphelins.

Madeleine Dobie and Thomas Dodman
In this course we explore the history of epidemics and medical confinement in France and some of its colonies/former colonies, from the 1720 plague in Marseille to recent outbreaks of Ebola and COVID-19. We consider how disease, contagion, quarantine and confinement have been understood and represented, drawing on contemporary and later sources that include medical treatises, news media, personal accounts, fictional works, films and visual depictions such as paintings, illustrations and cartoons. Though we focus on disease and representation in the French and ‘francophone’ context, the course also has a comparative dimension: we turn to other historical contexts and texts associated with them when these connections are illuminating. The course is organized around a series of five case studies centering on different contagious diseases and their historical context. We will see that each of these pandemics raises its own moral, political, social and historiographical questions, though there are also connecting threads that traverse historical periods, including the linkage between epidemics and the othering of certain population groups; the intersection of colonialism, revolution and warfare with disease and the introduction of new medical protocols, and the gradual emergence of biopolitics as a framework for the relationship of individual to state.
Discourses about contagious disease have always had a ‘literary’ dimension, making regular use of metaphor and allegory. This course explores the intersections of history and literature, considering not only these recurrent tropes but also how writers and, to a lesser extent, film-makers have explored the experiential, ethical and political aspects of illness and contagion. Without making general claims about the specificity of literature, we approach literary texts as sites that condense and catalyze philosophical and political reflection and debate. The course examines chapters in the history of disease and medicine but it also has a historiographical component as we consider how representations of epidemics have changed over time and to what extent the historical study of illness, medicine and public health helps us to think about the present.

Kaiama Glover
Looks at the portrayal of women as unsettling figures in the Francophone Caribbean literary universe. Examining the uncanny heroines in the novels of both male and female writers, students will identify the thematic commonalities and specific configurative strategies that emerge in the fictional representation of women in the region. The symbolic import of zombies, schizophrenics, and other "disordering" characters will be analyzed as indicators of and reflections on broader social realities. FREN BC1204: French Intermediate II or the equivalent level is required.

Kaiama Glover & Alex Gil
The Internet is analogous in important ways to the Caribbean itself as dynamic and fluid cultural space: it is generated from disparate places and by disparate peoples; it challenges fundamentally the geographical and physical barriers that disrupt or disallow connection; and it places others in relentless relation. This class will both introduce students to the digital humanities and to the French-speaking Caribbean as a generative geo-cultural space for exploring the potential of the Internet to confront and disrupt many of the structures of dominance that have traditionally silenced marginalized voices. It will provide an introduction to several of the formats and tools that have facilitated such engagements, along with immediate critical reflection and discussion about their value to the academy. Since information technology has become one of the key ways in which the peoples of the French-speaking Caribbean and its diasporas both communicate with one another and gain access to global conversations, alongside this exploration of digital tools, in general, this class will consider how the Internet enables people in marginalized spaces to engage with crucial social problems and to express their intellectual and political perspectives.
Heidi Holst-Knudsen
Socio-political issues and language through the prism of film. Especially designed for non-majors wishing to further develop their French language skills and learn about French culture. Each module includes assignments targeting the four language competencies: reading, writing, speaking and oral comprehension, as well as cultural understanding. Note: this course does not count toward the French major or concentration.

Major literary works and films since the 1700s. The goal of this course is to train students in literary analysis, and to make them comfortable speaking and writing on literary topics. Authors include Montesquieu, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Baudelaire, Proust, Sarraute.

In this course, students return to an exploration of the general concepts introduced in “Introduction to French and Francophone Studies I” and evaluate the significance of these ideas in the particular context of French-speaking communities in the postcolonial world. Re-examining such notions as universalism and relativism, tradition and modernity, integration and exclusion, etc., students consider the extent to which challenges and questionings of 18th and 19th century ideology have affected French imperialism and brought about changes in contemporary constructions of cultural and national identity. We examine and discuss France’s historical and cultural sense of itself with respect to its former colonies, along with that of the francophone world with respect to metropolitan France. Moving between sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Caribbean, and France, we reflect on the socio-political phenomena of decolonization, nationalism, and immigration – from the early 1930s into the 21st century. Readings, films, class discussions, writing assignments, and exams are all in French. (3421 can be taken independently or before 3420)

Based on readings of short historical sources, the course will provide an overview of French political and cultural history since 1700.

Madeleine Dobie
Offered in conjunction with the Center for Spatial research, this seminar explores representations of space in contemporary Algerian literature and film, considering how spatial imaginaries engage with changing social and political landscapes. The arts in Algeria have often been approached from the perspective of their narration of national history, notably the country’s emblematic War of Independence against France (1954-62). We consider how they attend, in addition, to contemporary social and political dynamics distilled in the experience of space, e.g. urban overcrowding, intra and inter-national migration, environmental damage and real estate development and speculation. We also look ‘outside’ the text/image at the sites and physical locations of cultural production such as publishing houses and book fairs, film festivals and cine-clubs, arts associations and literary cafes. The course methodology is cross-disciplinary, combining a primary focus on the arts with readings in sociology, critical geography and urban and architectural history. We draw on seminal theoretical approaches to the experience and representation of space, including the influential French tradition represented by Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and Guy Debord, for whom colonial Algeria furnished crucial points of reference. The course also has a cartographic component. Students explore how, since the colonial era, Algeria has been mapped and remapped, considering the political and economic investments that have underpinned these cartographic practices. Through a 1.5 credit Center for Spatial Research workshop,Questions in Spatial Research, they receive technical instruction in digital cartographic methods and develop skills to undertake digital projects that reflect their own questions and modes of enquiry.

Pierre Force
A study of seventeenth-century prose writers who cultivated brevity and paradox in their accounts of the human condition, with a focus on Pascal’s Pensées, La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes, and La Bruyère’s Caractères.

Aubrey Gabel
For many Americans, May ’68 is remembered as the French analog to Woodstock: the apogee of social and cultural effervescence brought on by youth rebellion. Idealistic slogans like “sous les pavés la plage” (“under the cobblestones the beach”) and “il est interdit d’interdire” (“it is forbidden to forbid”) are foregrounded in our own nostalgic memories of the Summer of Love or British counter-cultural movements (imported in France Johnny Hallyday) often overshadow the political foundations of the events. May ’68 can refer not only to the events of May proper, but to the preceding and following months, during which squabbles between students and administrators over pool and dormitory usage expanded to include the largest student-worker strike in French history. By May 20th, 1968, wildcat strikes in factories across France temporarily shut down the country, resulting in the dissolution of the French National Assembly and the flight of French President Charles de Gaulle. In this course, we will use literature and film, alongside primary historical sources and theoretical documents to explore May ’68 from multiple angles— as a social, cultural, and political moment that fundamentally marked French history. Beginning with génération de Marxisme et Coca-cola, we’ll consider how a thirty-year period of relative financial stability, called les Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975), fostered a youth culture marked by sexual liberation, anti-consumerism, and anti-Americanism. Fundamental shifts in the postwar French political landscape, such as French Communist Party’s slow demise and several wars of decolonization, paved the way for diverse political movements. Just as France of the 1960s turned inward, coming to terms with its own collaboration in World War II, it nevertheless continued to repress nationalist movements in Algeria and elsewhere. French thinkers turned their gaze to workers’ rights both home and abroad, turning East to Vietnam and China for inspiration. Feminist and gay rights theorists at home also began to organize. Finally, looking at contemporary France and mass movements in France today, such as the 2005 “riots” on the outskirts of Paris, the anti-gay marriage movement “la Manif pour tous,” or the Gilets Jaunes, we’ll consider the “aftermath” of May ’68. Was May a “failed” revolution?  

Emmanuel Kattan
This seminar will explore the multidimensional interplay between collective memory, politics, and history in France since 1945. We will examine the process of memorializing key historical events and periods – the Vichy regime, the Algerian War, the slave trade – and the critical role they played in shaping and dividing French collective identity. This exploration will focus on multiple forms of narratives – official history, victims’ accounts, literary fiction – and will examine the tensions and contradictions that oppose them. The seminar will discuss the political uses of memory, the influence of commemorations on French collective identity, and the role played by contested monuments, statues and other “lieux de mémoire” (“sites of memory”). We will ask how these claims on historical consciousness play out in the legal space through an exploration of French “memorial laws”, which criminalize genocide denial and recognize slave trade as a crime against humanity. These reflections will pave the way to retracing the genesis of the “devoir de mémoire” (“duty to remember”), a notion that attempts to confer an ethical dimension to collective memory. The seminar will examine the multiple uses of the French injunction to remember – as a response to narratives of denial, as an act of justice towards the victims, and as an antidote to the recurrence of mass crimes and persecutions. We will examine how amnesty is used to reconcile conflicting collective memories and will evaluate the claim that the transmission of knowledge about past crimes can become an effective tool for civic education. 

David Haziza
A French inquisitor said in the 17th century: “To one wizard, ten thousand witches.” The witches were seen, not only as “female wizards,” but as qualitatively different from wizards and warlocks. There was something fundamentally female about their magic. At first sight, witches, fairies and female vampires differ greatly. Yet they all embody a certain female (supernatural or natural) power, that fearful men tried to restrain and stigmatize over the centuries. Daughters of both Eros and Thanatos, they share features that were frowned upon by political and religious institutions. Moreover, female vampires may be former witches, while witches are often given names actually referring to fairies: the borders between those categories, whether it is in medieval or romantic literature, are definitely not as rigid as they might initially seem. The struggle against or for female magic occurred within literature and art. This class aims at showing how the artistic and literary representation of those creatures evolved from medieval times until our own, oscillating between condemnation, ambiguous fascination, and mere rehabilitation. It questions the role of gender politics in the literary construction of witchcraft and other supernatural phenomena. An important place is given to female French writers, who, for obvious reasons, envisioned those topics in a peculiar way, frequently turning negative stereotypes into sources of empowerment. The final two weeks will be devoted to a comparative, French-American approach to the Salem trials. We will discuss literary excerpts, short stories and poems (mostly in French though a vast majority are accessible in translation) as well as paintings and movies. The class is taught in French. It is principally designed for French and Comparative Literature majors, or advanced undergraduates with a good knowledge of French.