The Caribbean’s Great War is a Heritage Lottery funded project to highlight the involvement of the Caribbean and her people in the First World War. The West India Committee was the heart of the Caribbean’s war effort in Britain and in 1915 established the West Indian Contingent Committee in response to the British Government’s decision to raise a West Indian army. The records held by the Committee provide a rare insight into the Caribbean’s role in the First World War, and much of what is now available has not been seen for a century.
It is a great tool for exploring more about the Caribbean’s involvement in WW1. The focus is mainly Anglophone, so it provides an important comparative perspective.
Tomorrow is 11th November, Armistice Day, which marks the end of the First World War, and is an important time to highlight my project’s humble, but I hope insightful, contribution to WW1 commemorations.
In January 2015, I attended an event on Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, which was organised by colleages at Birmingham and Nottingham’s WW1 Engagement Centres (funded through the AHRC) for researchers and members of the wider community.
The event was held at the Library of Birmingham, one of the city’s flagship buildings and a really important community space.
It was fantastic to meet a range of speakers from community groups in the Midlands area and to learn more about figures such as the footballer Walter Tull who fought and died in the First World War. I discussed my work on Zobel, and the event has spurred me on to think about Joseph Zobel, the French Caribbean and WW1.
As a result of this activity, I created a new blog page reflecting on WW1 and the French Caribbean. This seemed particularly important given that this project is running at a moment when across the world, commemorations are taking place to mark WW1.
I discuss the soldiers who fought from Martinique and Guadeloupe, and the references to WW1 in Zobel’s famous novel La Rue Cases-Nègres / Black Shack Alley (1950):
Last week I attended an international Summer School at the University of Oxford on Ecoliteracy.
Ecoliteracy is a broad term which refers to a range of different practices and theories focusing on how we interact with the natural world. In our current, rapidly urbanizing western societies, it is increasingly clear that an urgent rethinking of our relationship with nature is required.
I’ve blogged before about the importance of the environment in Zobel’s works, and my experiments at using the branch of literary theory called ecocriticism to address this neglected aspect of his work. I’ve also mentioned my new role at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) and you can read more about this here..
From his literature to his interest in Ikebana, the environment and the place of the human being within wider systems is something that urgently needs to be explored and reassessed in Zobel’s work.
The Oxford course was fantastic – the attendees hailed from many different continents and we were encouraged by our excellent teacher Jane Corbett to draw as much on our own experiences as on the theories about the environment that were on our reading list. My colleagues shared their own expertise in fields as diverse as health and safety, waste management, psychiatry, biology, retirement living and teacher training, which made for a rich and stimulating week.
It provided very fertile conditions (excuse the pun) to explore the environment in Zobel and I enjoyed setting my thoughts down on paper for my end-of-course assignment.
As a continuing professional development activity, it was refreshing to once again be the student (I’m not sure that ever stops)!
I also had the pleasure of seeing some Martinican colleagues who were visiting the UK. I took them on a whistle-stop tour of Oxford, and in amongst visiting colleges, they brought me up to date on progress with the Joseph Zobel centenary in Martinique. They were also excited to hear about what the Guardian termed my “Indiana Jones moment” 🙂
Now, it’s back to my desk! I’ll be focusing on drafting my book chapters for the rest of August, and then having a period of annual leave, so I’ll return to the blog in late September – à bientôt!
It has been another busy month so time for my regular round-up post on my more ‘traditional’ academic activities!
After conference season (see last month’s ‘Adademic Life’ post), I have been busy writing.
Queue several weeks where I have barely left my office and have tried to draw together the various strands of my research into coherent threads, and to express my ideas with clarity in my book chapters.
Quite a few people seem interested in the writing process. It is different for everyone: personally, I prefer to work in silence, on a desktop computer sitting at my desk, with my books at arm’s reach. I try not to check email until the afternoon – by then, what I think of as my “research brain” is tired, and I’m ready to address administrative emails / form filling in etc.
But no researcher is an island (not even those of us working on islands!). At times like these, keeping in touch with friends and other colleagues is essential. As we tend not to work in research teams in the Arts, and are often still working to the ‘lone scholar’ model, it is really important to schedule ‘structured’ contact with others – either in person or via skype etc. This gives added perspective on what we are doing, and helps us see the wood for the trees. These support networks are vital!
In other news, this month, as part of my public engagement and impact activities, I have published an article on my Zobel research with The Guardian Higher Education Network online.
The article describes my “Indiana Jones moment” when I realised that a watercolour in the British Library was mislabelled, and held a secret connection to Joseph Zobel:
It has been a new experience for me to write for The Guardian, and it has been both challenging and fascinating to see how to shape my research for wider audiences. I hope if nothing else the article will encourage people to learn more about the French Caribbean and Zobel, and maybe it will help other Early Career Researchers out there to tell similar stories about the different aspects of the research process.
On Friday 17th July, I will be giving a talk (in English) on Joseph Zobel at the British Library in London. The talk forms part of my collaboration with the British Library, particularly the team in the Eccles Centre, and we have been planning it for some time.
I am really looking forward to talking about my research into Martinique at the British Library, and will reveal all about a mystery image of Martinique which holds an unexpected lost connection with Zobel! I’ve been putting out some teasers on Twitter about this: https://twitter.com/ZobelProject
Here’s a short description of Friday’s talk:
Joseph Zobel, French Caribbean author
Louise Hardwick discusses Joseph Zobel’s work and its contribution to understandings of Négritude, colonialism and post-slavery Martinique.
Since I returned from Martinique, I haven’t had much free time to update the blog! I have given an invited seminar paper on Joseph Zobel at the University of Nottingham, and then last week was in London to discuss my project with colleagues at the British Library, where I’ll be giving a talk on Zobel in July (more on that in a future blog post…).
I’ve also begun reflecting on the activities I undertook in Martinique in April for the launch of the ‘Year of Zobel’ marking Zobel’s centenary, and have produced this summary of my fieldwork:
Dr Louise Hardwick has just returned from AHRC fieldwork in Martinique in the French Caribbean, where she undertook archival research and was an invited speaker at the festivities marking the centenary of author Joseph Zobel’s birth.
For the past two years, Louise has been preparing the centenary in collaboration with colleagues in Martinique, thinking about how her contribution can help to change the way that people in Martinique understand Zobel’s works. One of the key aims of the centenary visit was to discuss Zobel’s international reputation with Martinicans. Many Martinicans are unaware that he is a literary ambassador for the island and its rich culture.
In Rivière-Salée, where Zobel was born, there was keen public interest in Louise’s work. With the help of her University students, Louise contributed to an exhibition on Zobel at the Médiathèque de Rivière-Salée, a high-tech public library. Louise asked her students for their opinions of studying Zobel, and used the information in the exhibition to show young Martinicans that their literature is influencing young people at the throughout the world.
Louise was welcomed to Rivière-Salée by the Mayor, Andre Lesueur, and was invited to give a public talk to launch the town’s celebrations, which led to a lively debate and some great audience feedback.
At her school presentations, what better way to introduce pupils to Birmingham than by letting them know that the University welcomed the 2012 Jamaican Track and Field team.
Louise gave a presentation to 100 school pupils at the Lycée Joseph Zobel in Rivière-Salée, a school named after Zobel which holds an annual “Joseph Zobel Week”. She also spoke to 700 pupils at the middle school Collège George-Elisabeth during their whole-school celebrations of Joseph Zobel’s centenary.
Here’s the link to my TV interview (in French) for the channel ATV in Martinique about my activities during the Zobel Centenary!
The programme is called “3 QUESTIONS A”, although the presenter Jean-Marc Pulvar definitely asked more than 3 questions…
This was my first TV interview and everything happened very quickly. I had no idea what line of enquiry Jean-Marc would take – after a quick sound check, the cameras began to roll and the questions started to flow!
I had watched the programme before – it runs as a segment during the evening news and is one of the best-known daily programmes on Martinican TV. The strapline is “les hommes et les femmes qui font l’actualité de la Martinique” – the men and women who are making the news in Martinique – so I am honoured to be counted as someone who is shaping the Martinican news!
p.s. J’ai réussi à dire un petit bonjour aux lycéens du Lycée Joseph Zobel 🙂
I have received the following write-up of the talk I gave at Rivière-Salée’s Centre Culturel last week, and with the kind permission of the author, who is an MA student at the University of the Antilles, I have reprocuced it below.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to share my work on Rivière-Salée’s most famous author in his place of birth.
Thank you for this summary, Françoise, I am delighted you enjoyed my talk!
J’ai assisté ce mercredi 22 avril à une conférence sur Joseph Zobel, dans son fief natal, à l’occasion du centenaire de la naissance d’un « petit nègre de Petit-Bourg » dont le génie littéraire a été traduit dans le monde entier. C’était un avant-gardiste de la Négritude et de la Créolité, et il a trouvé en Louise Hardwick, enseignante-chercheur à l’université de Birmingham, en Angleterre, une grande spécialiste de son œuvre.
Zobel, Césaire, Fanon et Glissant ont été de grands hommes dont les écrits représentent une richesse étonnante de la culture antillaise et ont permis de faire rayonner la Martinique à l’étranger. Si Aimé Césaire est le plus connu, son ami, Joseph Zobel a une place de choix dans le cœur des Martiniquais, et plus particulièrement des Saléens.
C’était très impressionnant de rencontrer « une étrangère » venir parler avec autant de fascination et de passion d’un “enfant du pays” à travers la littérature qu’il a léguée aux générations suivantes. Louise Hardwick prépare un ouvrage sur cet écrivain majeur afin de faire découvrir au plus grand nombre la portée de l’œuvre d’un génie né il y a cent ans, sur les terres salées.
Ce qui fut enrichissant, c’est sa réflexion “écocritique” sur la relation de Zobel avec la terre (jardin créole et morne). Cette enseignante-chercheur de passage sur l’île jusqu’au 29 avril vaut la peine d’être écoutée. Sa maîtrise du français est remarquable.
I am honoured that Rivière-Salée invited me to give the opening talk for the Year of Zobel.
Thank you to all who attended the Centre culturel in Rivière-Salée on 22 April!
My talk was in French, and was called “Joseph Zobel, le romancier de la Négritude”? I was delighted to be able to answer so many questions from the audience afterwards – thank you for this enthusiastic exchange!
And today it was a pleasure to speak at the Collège Georges Elisabeth during their “Hommage à Joseph Zobel” – congratulations to all the pupils who took part, and to all those who attended!
But it’s not over… If you are near a TV in Martinique tonight I’ll be speaking about Zobel on ATV for the programme “3 Questions à”…(3 Questions for…) and then on Zouk TV for a special episode on Zobel.