Category Archives: This Academic Life

BBC Who Do You Think You Are? ft Liz Bonnin

Last night, the popular BBC show Who Do You Think You Are? featured the science presenter Liz Bonnin. I was particularly excited about the programme, because behind the scenes, I had helped the researchers to prepare her episode!

In the spring, I received an email out of the blue asking if I could help with the programme because it was going to include a celebrity with links in Martinique. The researchers had found me online, which was a great surprise, and reminds me of the importance of keeping my staff profile page up to date…!

At that stage, I wasn’t allowed to know who the celebrity was, so my mind went into overdrive 🙂

The emails duly arrived… I helped the team look at some archival documents – birth, marriage and death records – mainly providing contextual advice on the French Caribbean, and also adding some specific comments on the information the researchers had already compiled, to help them deepen their understanding. They had questions about Martinican history, language and culture, as well as specific questions about the documents that they had found.

When I saw the name Gros-Désormeaux, I knew it rang a bell… there is a Martinican publishing house, Désormeaux, whose books I cite in my own research, so I mentioned this to the team… in the end, it turned out to be the same family!

We had a couple of long phone conversations, and I was really impressed by the quality of the research that the WDYTYA? team had carried out – they had clearly used online databases which I use in the course of my academic research.

I was able to use my language skills and knowledge to help the team understand that in the French Caribbean context, the French word ‘l’habitation’ is not translated by ‘habitation’, as it is the word used for a plantation.

They then sent me a further batch of documents, which included the celebrity’s surname, so at that point, I had to sign a disclaimer to acknowledge that I would not spill the beans before the programme was scheduled! This was all new to me, and an exiting development! I was delighted to see it was Liz Bonnin, whose work I really admire.

Last night, when the documents that I had looked at popped up on TV, I was jumping up and down on my sofa! And then the word ‘habitation’ was subtitled as ‘plantation’, which was a bonus 🙂

Liz Bonnin’s thought-provoking story really captures the complexity of societies in Martinique & Trinidad. I am so pleased to have made a contribution to helping her fascinating story reach the UK public!

And I think it’s going to become required viewing for my students… 🙂

Missed it? View at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08501cj

Keynote at SFPS, London

What a weekend!

It was the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Annual Conference, held at Senate House in London, and I was the keynote speaker on Friday evening.

My talk, ‘Joseph Zobel: Négritude and the Novel’ was a chance to present aspects of the research I’ve been working on for the past few years.

With so much to say, it was tough to narrow it down to a 45min presentation, and rather than talk about one specific novel, I decided to concentrate on challenging the current academic understanding of Zobel’s work more generally, asking why he is so often considered a ‘one-hit wonder’, and showing why this is certainly not the case! I also explained how my book (under contract, coming soon…) aims to reshape the current understanding of Zobel’s relationship to the Négritude movement.

There were lots of questions after the paper on various aspects of my research and my public activities in Martinique.

It was a really valuable opportunity to present to distinguished colleagues, early career researchers and PhD students – and to hear their own thoughts and comments on my project!

The two-day conference was intense and fascinating, with papers on all areas of the Francophone world.

Take a look at my Twitter feed @zobelproject for live tweets about some of the other sessions I attended.

What academics do over the summer ‘holidays’

Le temps passe vite…!

Well, this post is a round-up of recent June-July activities, and another opportunity to set the record straight about what academics do during the summer ‘holiday’. Although the Undergraduate students have mostly left campus, the Postgraduates are still around and we continue to supervise them… and I have been so busy that I realise now that this blog is long due an update! So here goes:

I’ve been juggling a number of projects these last few weeks. Firstly, we brought our series of Francophone Postcolonial film screenings to a close with a public workshop reflecting on what we’d done. It was a chance to unpick the terms ‘francophone’ and ‘postcolonial’ with members of the general public, and we were delighted to have teachers and A Level students present, as well as others who are interested in some or all of the terms Francophone / Postcolonial / Film. This rounded off our film series with some very positive feedback and ideas for future developments!

Then it was off to York, to present at the inaugural AHRC Commons event, which brought together academics and organisations including charities, businesses and educational bodies to showcase and discuss how Arts & Humanities research contributes to bring about real world impact and societal change. My talk was a co-presentation called ‘When Mockingbird met French Studies…’ delivered with my collaborator at Mockingbird, an SME at Birmingham’s Custard Factory. We discussed our work together screening Francophone Postcolonial films to date, and in future, and shared advice and best practice on our experiences. We were thrilled to see that our fantastic image of the Mockingbird was chosen to head up the Collaborate section of the programme for the AHRC Commons: (see p.3).

Since then, I’ve been sequestered away and writing my book about Zobel, as well as supervising dissertation students, mentoring a postdoctoral researcher, supervising a postdoctoral Research Assistant, attending meetings and training courses, making preparations for a conference in the US in the autumn, advising potential future PhD students, preparing module paperwork, preparing bids for more work with non-academic partners… the list goes on…!

So all in all, it has been a very busy end to the academic year, and certainly not a ‘holiday’! The summer is the time when we push forward with lots of projects that are either in progress or in the pipeline! And it continues… but more about that next time!

 

Cardiff guest talks/Angolan book launch

It has been a very busy week. Marking dissertations, presenting research, more marking, meetings, emailing, planning…

I’ve just written an item for my University webpages giving an update on my activities, and here it is below, too:

On 25-26th April, Dr Louise Hardwick gave a guest seminar paper at Cardiff University on her current research into Joseph Zobel. The talk was part of a larger event which included a research paper on Mozambique, and a book launch for a cultural Foundation based in Angloa. Louise was invited by Dr Rhian Atkin, Lecturer in Portuguese, who organised the stimulating programme of activities!

neto

These activities were an invaluable opportunity to consider postcolonialism and the black consciousness movement of Negritude across Francophone and Lusophone contexts. Although the presentations spanned different languages and continents, the similarity of the themes discussed was striking.

After the papers, the book launch celebrated a generous donation of books about the life and works of the Angolan poet and politician Agostinho Neto. The donation was made by the Agostinho Neto Foundation, which is based in Angloa. For more about the foundation, see the @zobelproject twitter feed https://twitter.com/ZobelProject , and visit the foundation’s official website: www.faan.og.ao (in Portuguese) which currently features items on the events in Cardiff. The TV station Televisão Pública de Angola also ran stories on the launch.

The following day, to celebrate 26th April, which would have been Joseph Zobel’s 101st birthday, Louise led a workshop where she discussed her public engagment and Impact activities in Martinique, metropolitan France and the UK.

Transnationalizing Modern Languages

Last week, I attended an event held at the British Academy in London which addressed many of the challenges facing Modern Languages as a discipline, and which proposed innovative responses to these challenges.

The event was structured around the following questions:

  • How do Modern Languages promote cultural as well as linguistic competences that are vital in an increasingly globalized world?
  • How do University curricula articulate with the range of subjects that students study in schools?
  • How do they encourage a nuanced and inclusive understanding of notions of translation within multicultural spaces and societies?
  • How do they enable students to compete and meet the demands of a changing workplace?

Put simply, to quote Prof. Charles Burdett (Bristol), how do Modern Linguists – researchers and students – articulate what Modern Languages study is?

This blog is one small part of responding to that challenge, as it aims to present the various strands that go into ML research activities – from queuing for hours to get into a Parisian library with a one-in, one-out policy (see Jan 2015 posts) to being interviewed on the Martinican evening news (see this post).

006 me on atv

The large project, ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages’ (TML), on which Prof. Burdett is a PI, is part of the AHRC’s ‘Translating Cultures’ initiative, and aims “to provide a model that allows Modern Languages to be construed and practised not as the inquiry into separate national traditions, but as the study of cultures and their interactions.”

This prompted me to reflect on my own research practice, and how it has evolved during my current AHRC Fellowship to integrate processes of consultation and the co-production of knowledge with wider communities in Martinique, Paris and the UK… As I’ve said before on this blog, no researcher is an island, and the photo memories below certainly reflect this!

Article in British press

A quick update, as I’m busy writing and redrafting some chapters on Zobel…

The launch of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies has been covered in an article in the British press, in the Times Higher Education.

You can read the article here: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/research-intelligence/post-colonial-studies-time-step-out-comfort-zone

Modern Languages research projects, all of which are giving rise to some really interesting public engagement work (with publics all over the world), were well represented on the day.

The Latin-American focused Quipu project, which had been previously covered in THE, received a helpful mention, and the overall article is an engaging account of a very thought-provoking event.

I’ll be discussing the article next week at a postgraduate Reading Group, known affectionately as the “Poco Reading Group”, and am looking forward to hearing what the postgraduates make of it… !

MLA at Austin, Texas

Happy New Year!

The Zobel project is on the move once again. I’m in Texas to present a research paper at the major research conference in my field, the Modern Language Association of America annual convention.

Thousands will attend this conference, which is held this year in Austin, Texas.

I’ll be speaking in a special panel on Caribbean Women, which will present four Francophone Caribbean case-studies. My fellow panellists and I will be exploring the role of women as novelists and cultural figures, as well as the representation of women in Francophone Caribbean literature and culture.

My own paper is entitled “Zobel’s Women” and I’ll argue that the depiction of women characters in Zobel’s literature is far more complex and interesting than has previously been acknowledged.

The MLA will be the biggest conference I have ever attended. Thousands register for it every year!

To prepare for it, I’ve been reading this Guest Blog by Natalie M. Houston, which is a great “Survival Guide” to academic conferences in general, and the MLA specifically! You might enjoy it too:

https://convention.commons.mla.org/guest-post/surviving-and-thriving-at-the-mla-convention?shareadraft=baba335_5682f9fa5936e

 

 

 

 

This Academic Life – July 2015

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.

Me outside the British LibraryThe 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:

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/jul/30/my-indiana-jones-moment-the-day-i-uncovered-an-error-in-the-archives

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.

This Academic Life – June

The end of June is traditionally what we often refer to as “conference season”. I have just returned from speaking on Joseph Zobel at the annual Society for French Studies conference, which was held this year in Wales at the University of Cardiff.

Academic papers are usually about 20 minutes long, with time for questions afterwards from the audience. My conference panel was responding to the theme of “Translating Cultures”, one of the “themes” the conference announced in its call for paper submissions back in 2014 (yup, you need to submit months in advance, so it takes some organizing). My paper was called “Translating Rhythms, Translating Zobel” and I examined the short story ‘Laghia de la mort’ which is about a combat dance, considering it in the light of recent scholarship around Caribbean music and dance, notably by scholar Martin Munro, and also drawing on earlier critics such as the Martinican musicologist Jacqueline Rosemain.

Then I rushed back to Birmingham for the Society of Caribbean Studies annual conference at the cultural centre The Drum. In a happy coincidence, I met a colleague there from Japan, Professor Yoshiko Shibata, who explained to me that she shows the film Rue Cases-Negres to her anthropology students at Kobe University. I’ve blogged before about this project’s (sometimes unexpected) connections with Japan – here’s another one, which reminds us of the value of Zobel as a global ambassador for Martinique.