Monthly Archives: January 2015

This Academic Life (Jan 2015)

As the project develops, I thought I’d introduce a monthly round-up of my more ‘traditional’ research activities – that is to say, the activities which involve me doing lots of reading, writing, listening and thinking, and will lead to future research publications and funding bids… in turn, this also influences the way I teach topics to my students.

I ended 2014 with a research visit to Paris, to undertake archival research in a number of libraries. Thanks to online databases, I had a pretty good idea of what would be of interest, but as ever, being ‘sur place’/on the spot always throws up extra, unexpected leads. The hours of reading and investigating new sources – printed and audiovisual – have helped me move forward with my own writing. I even queued outside for over two hours to get into the Centre Pompidou Library! It was 2nd January, and it appeared that every student in Paris had headed there to revise for their start-of-year exams… It’s the first time I’ve encountered a library with a one-in, one-out policy! Once I finally got inside, I made my Zobel enquiries and also visited the excellent exhibition on Marguerite Duras.

expo-haiti-creation-artistique_0Another fantastic exhibition was the Haïti: Deux siècles de création artistique retrospective at the Grand Palais, where I booked in for a guided tour to get the most out of the display. Jean-Baptiste_Belley,_Girodet


I teach the Haitian Revolution as part of a Second Year module, so this was a fascinating opportunity to find out more about Haiti and to think about new ways of teaching Haitian history and culture. I was pleased to spot a picture which is often reproduced on book covers: the striking portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley, representative of Saint-Domingue and first black man to be made part of the Convention, one of the interim governing bodies during the French Revolution. The portrait is by the (male) French painter Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (who took the additional names of his adopted parent). I was also struck by Sasha Huber’s intricate portraits of Papa and Baby Doc, created using staples. The final effect is an astonishing reflection on the violence these men inflicted.

You can see images from the exhibition and hear exhibitors speaking about them (in French) here:

Back in the UK, I was pleased to receive copies of my latest publications:

  •  a special issue which I guest-edited with Alessandro Corio of the International Journal of Francophone Studies, featuring articles by Charlotte Baker, Alessandro Corio, Judith Misrahi-Barak, Michael Wiedorn, C. J. Bretillon and Dominic Thomas

Full references are on the new Publications page.




Using TED to improve French and Translation skills

(Version française ci-dessous)

Thanks to your feedback, I know that this blog is being used by students and French teachers from all over the world. My aim isn’t only to improve your knowledge of Zobel, but also to create a space, or even a tool, to promote modern language learning.

After a quick look at the TED website, it seems that most TED talks are in English. However, lots of them have subtitles in French (and other languages).

In an innovative move, TED is inviting the public to participate in subtitling its talks. The site offers free training to get you started, and all work is re-read by experienced subtitlers: a great idea which really harnesses the potential of mass media. To find out more, click here:

And let’s not forget TEDx, live events which reproduce the TED experience. These are all official, local, independently-organised events which are non-profit making, and I blogged about my visit to TEDxOxford last week.

There are lots of TEDx talks in French – for example, the talks given at TEDxParis, many of which may well interest readers of this blog. To name but two:

The Senegalese sculptor and artist Ousmane Sow discusses the men who have marked his life.

The French biologist Joël de Rosnay considers the future potential of the internet.

And what about TEDxMartinique…? According to an interview with Marc Lesdema, an event is being planned for 2015… fingers crossed!


Grâce à vos feedbacks, j’apprends que ce blog est consulté par des étudiants et des professeurs de français un peu partout dans le monde.

Mon objectif n’est pas seulement d’approfondir vos connaissances sur Zobel, mais aussi de créer un espace, voire un outil pour promouvoir l’apprentissage des langues vivantes.

Après un rapide tour du site web TED, il me semble que la plupart des conférences « TED » sont en anglais. Pourtant, bon nombre ont des sous-titres en français (et en d’autres langues).

Dans une démarche innovante, TED invite le public à participer au travail de sous-titrage. Le site propose une formation gratuite et le travail est relu par des traducteurs expérimentés : une idée sympathique qui exploite le potentiel du web. Pour en savoir plus :

N’oublions pas TEDx, conférences locales qui reproduisent l’expérience TED. Ces événements sont tous officiels, locaux, indépendants, auto organises et à but non lucratif. J’ai posté sur ma visite à TEDxOxford la semaine dernière.

Il existe beaucoup de conférences données dans le cadre de TEDx qui sont en français : par ex., les conférences de TEDxParis, dont plusieurs pourraient intéresser les lecteurs de ce blog :

L’artiste sculpteur Ousmane Sow discute des grands hommes qui ont marqué sa vie.

Joël de Rosnay, biologiste français, nous propose un voyage vers le futur du web

Et qu’en est-il de TEDxMartinique… ? D’après un entretien avec Marc Lesdema, un événement se prépare pour 2015… on croise les doigts !




TEDx Oxford: Ideas Worth Spreading

Have you heard of TED talks? TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and describes itself as a non-profit organisation devoted to “ideas worth spreading”. The talks, of about 20 minutes each, are hosted online at TED’s homepage:

Curious to see how speakers conveyed complex ideas to a non-specialist audience, I headed to the annual TEDx event in Oxford. These events are independently-organised by local communities: essentially, they invite a programme of diverse speakers to come and deliver their TEDx talk in front of a live audience.

Several of the speakers at TEDxOxford, but by no means all, were researchers and academics, and talks ranged across subjects as varied as translating Shakespeare’s Hamlet online, to what it’s like to spend a month living underwater.

Taking a step back, the most exciting aspect of the day was feeling part of a bigger conversation. The assembled audience of over 1500 people had chosen to give the January sales a miss, and instead be stimulated, perplexed and entertained by ideas.

The day also offered insights into how people are engaging with the internet and social media in active, rather than passive, ways. Without the online world, the kind of global connections we heard about simply could not be made – but being connected in itself is not enough. When these links and connections are established in a way that generates change, then the full potential of the internet and social media as a force for education begins to emerge. TEDxOxford certainly provided food for thought about the new kinds of approaches to Joseph Zobel that this blog could generate…

In my next post, I’ll say a little more about TED, foreign languages and translations…

2015 – Zobel’s Centenary

Happy New Year! Bonne année!

2015 is the year of the centenary of Joseph Zobel’s birth, on 26th April  1915.

I’m really looking forward to taking part in events marking this centenary throughout the year.

To celebrate the beginning of his centenary year, I’m posting a text about my own ‘first meeting’ with Zobel.

During Martinican fieldwork in 2013, I was lucky enough to meet Mme Raphaëlle Bouville at the Médiathèque in Rivière-Salée. She had produced a wonderful display on Zobel, bringing his literature to life for local readers of all ages. Raphaëlle asked me to contribute a text on Zobel so that school children in the Rivière-Salée area would understand my perspective on his literature… and how much his work is appreciated by readers all over the world. Bonne lecture! Happy reading!

Ma rencontre avec Joseph Zobel

Ma rencontre avec Joseph Zobel est une rencontre littéraire. Elle m’a transportée de ma vie quotidienne en Angleterre pour me projeter dans un nouveau monde: la Martinique. Le premier de ses livres que j’ai lu, c’était Laghia de la mort. Grâce à ce texte, j’ai découvert ce que c’est, un « laghia », cette lutte entre deux hommes, rythmée par le tambour. Et le conte ‘Le Syllabaire’, qui parle de l’importance de l’école, institution qui peut nous ouvrir de meilleurs lendemains. Institution qui reste, hélas, hors de portée pour beaucoup d’enfants à travers le monde. C’est cette même thématique que j’ai retrouvée chez La Rue Cases-Nègres, son magnifique récit d’enfance.

L’importanchardwick-childhood-caribbean161x240e de l’enfance chez Zobel et d’autres auteurs antillais m’a inspirée à écrire une thèse doctorale à l’Université d’Oxford, thèse récemment transformée en livre, Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean (2013).

Avec mes étudiants à l’Université de Birmingham, nous faisons la connaissance des Antilles françaises à travers les très beaux textes de Joseph Zobel. C’est une lecture qui nous sensibilise aux grands problèmes de l’humanité: l’exploitation de l’homme par l’homme, la nécessité de respecter son environnement et l’importance de la famille. Comme l’a dit l’écrivain guadeloupéen, Maryse Condé, ‘la lecture de Joseph Zobel, plus que des discours théoriques, m’a ouvert les yeux.’[1]

Malheureusement, je n’ai jamais pu rencontrer M. Zobel en personne, mais je prends plaisir à le retrouver à chaque fois que j’ouvre un de ses livres.


[1] Maryse Condé, Le Coeur à rire et à pleurer (1999)