Category Archives: online education

Visiting Maryse Condé and Richard Philcox

Recently, I was lucky enough to see Maryse Conde and Richard Philcox in London. Maryse was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, and we talked about her recent work, including Mets et Merveilles which has just been published.

We also discussed my project on Zobel. Maryse and Richard remembered meeting Zobel in Africa, although they did not know each other well.

In her childhood memoir, Le Coeur à rire et à pleurer (1999) / Tales from the Heart (trans), Maryse’s first encounter with  Zobel’s literature is a pivotal episode which I really enjoy teaching to the students on my University course. After having read La Rue Cases-Nègres with me first, it is always interesting to see how they react to Maryse’s own discovery of the text. In the same book, Maryse makes a comment which has inspired me to delve deeper into Zobel’s work and life: “La lecture de Joseph Zobel, plus que des discours théoriques, m’a ouvert les yeux” (p. 103)

I won’t be updating the blog for a few weeks now, so I’ll leave you with some video material. In 2010, Maryse and Richard accepted my invitation to give Guest Lectures at the University of Birmingham, and you can watch all of Maryse’s lecture by clicking here:

Tweet Tweet @ZobelProject

I would like to extend my warmest thanks to the Zobel family for these images of our Round Table on Joseph Zobel!

The lively debate led to great feedback from the audience, which included members of  the public, Martinique officials and the French Minister for Overseas Territories, George Pau-Langevin.

Salon du Livre Louise Table ronde Salon du Livre Table ronde

The Joseph Zobel Project is now live on Twitter, and I’ve been tweeting highlights from my Salon du Livre experience, with more to come over the weekend.

Follow the latest developments at @ZobelProject

This Academic Life – Feb 2015

It’s the end of another month, and time for a brief update on the more ‘traditional’ academic activities I’ve been up to – that is to say, the activities which will lead to academic publications, presentations and public engagement. Drawing on the research I carried out in Paris over December 2014-January 2015, I’ve been drafting the introduction to my book on Zobel. So I’ve been doing lots of writing (or rather typing), trying to synthesize the information I’ve gathered. The key challenge is to emphasise what kinds of new insights my research can provide into Joseph Zobel’s literature and career.

Another strand of my AHRC project involves ‘public engagement and impact’, and I’m currently concentrating on ways to bring my research to audiences who are not academics. I’m preparing for a visit to Paris in March, and to Martinique in April, and am in contact with colleagues in museums, libraries and schools. This will help me to play my part in improving the  public understanding of Zobel in Martinique and France more generally.

So when I’m not drafting my introduction, I’m sending and receiving lots of emails to co-ordinate activities with my French contacts in Paris and Martinique, and I’m excited to see how this strand of my work will develop.

Willard Wigan: Through the Eye of a Needle

think small to think big

 think small to think big

 think small to think big

think small to think big

think small to think big

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Joseph Zobel was a keen artist and sculptor who was inspired by global culture from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and even Asia – he was trained in the Japanese art of Ikebana flower arrangement.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a fantastic exhibition by Willard Wigan at the Library of Birmingham. Like Zobel, Willard considers his art international and hopes that it will be accessible to everyone. He makes the most amazing microscopic art – so small that it fits in the eye of a needle! To do this, he has found a way to slow his body down so he can work to the rhythm of his body’s heartbeat to make his microscopic incisions.

Willard was there on the day, and kept us amused with stories of his childhood in Wolverhampton and the development of his career. Several of his pieces are nods to his Caribbean roots, including Usain Bolt in his traditional ‘thunderbolt’ pose, and an absolutely beautiful hummingbird feeding on flower nectar.

Willard reminded us that nothing in our world is too small to matter.

This made me think of how many references there are to ‘petit pays’ (literally meaning ‘small country’) in Francophone music – and not just from the Caribbean. A beautiful song by Cap Verdean singer Cesária Evora, called Petit Pays, which has a French chorus, is now my earworm.

Inspirational stuff!


In January, I blogged about TED talks – you can see Willard’s TED talk, including images of his art, here:

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…