Category Archives: This Academic Life

This Academic Life: May 2015

I was in Martinique all of April, so haven’t updated “this academic life” entries for two months. Time to rectify that!

The past two months have been exceptionally rewarding. It is hard to believe that my fieldwork for the 2015 Zobel centenary is over, as I had been planning it for two years. That’s a lot of emails between the UK and Martinique!  Events ran really well and talking about my work on Zobel with people from his native region was a fantastic experience which has helped me to gain new perspectives about my research project. These kinds of events are increasingly important for researchers based in the UK, as new government guidelines are encouraging us to incorporate “impact” into our research projects – i.e. working with other people outside academia. It was all the more challenging to run these events in French, and in the Caribbean to boot, but I really enjoyed both the intellectual and linguistic activities. Speaking on French TV was a daunting first media experience, although it all went well. I think that I will try to attend one of the University’s media training courses in future, for more tips and advice.

In other news, the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham are strategic partners, and I co-supervise a PhD student with a colleague at Nottingham through the Midlands Three Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Strengthening the ties between our institutions, I gave a seminar paper at Nottingham in early May on my research on Zobel, and it was excellent to meet more colleagues over at Nottingham, and to gather feedback on my work to date.

I’m also working hard on my partnership activities with the British Library in London. I’ll be giving a talk on Zobel in July, and will post more about that nearer the time.


This Academic Life – March

This month has been pretty much dominated by Salon du Livre preparations and the event itself, which was fantastic. It was extremely valuable to discuss my work on Zobel during a public debate with key cultural figures who are also interested in him from Martinique and France. You know it has been a good discussion when, unprompted, a member of the audience asks if they can take the microphone and respond to the comments we were making!

This represented a real leap forward for my work to change the public understanding of Joseph Zobel and Caribbean literature more generally. My Round Table comments drew some very positive and helpful feedback, and I’m now in the final stages of planning more research and public engagement activities in Martinique…

I’ve included the write-up of my Salon du Livre activities which appeared on the University of Birmingham news pages below:

Paris Book Fair

Louise Hardwick was an invited speaker at the prestigious Paris Book Fair this weekend, and participated in a Round Table debate on Joseph Zobel’s legacy.

The debate was organised by the Ministry for Overseas France in collaboration with a French group of cultural advisors, museum curators, writers, artists and academics who are working on Joseph Zobel. The event was a major milestone in Louise’s programme of activities in the UK, France, Martinique and the USA as an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow.

At the Round Table, Louise spoke alongside Professor Romuald Fonkoua from the Sorbonne, artist Roland Monpierre who has just launched a graphic novel adaptation of one of Zobel’s novels, and members of the Zobel family, Jenny Zobel and Charlotte Zobel, who are actively involved in exploring Joseph Zobel’s legacy.

Louise discussed her current AHRC-funded research project on Zobel, which will lead to a complete reassessment of Zobel’s many novels, short stories, poetry and other cultural output (including painting, sculpture and radio broadcasts), giving rise to a more complete understanding of the impact of this prolific author who played a major cultural role in Martinique, Senegal and France.

The French Minister for Overseas France, George Pau-Langevin, was present in the audience, as was the President of the Martinican Cultural Commission, Yvette Galot, who praised the Round Table debate for improving the public understanding of Zobel’s significance, commenting that “it is essential to continue this vital work on Zobel’s heritage.”

Zobel’s best-known novel La Rue Cases-Nègres and its film adaptation Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy are both widely studied across the Anglophone world, from the USA to Australia. Euzhan Palcy, who is based in New York, and Martinican Head of Museums Lyne-Rose Beuze were also present at the Salon du Livre, and provided their invaluable perspectives on Zobel’s legacy.

Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean

hardwick-childhood-caribbean161x240I’m currently working on a book on Joseph Zobel, and as those ideas take form, I’ve been blogging about some of the directions I’ll take. If you’re interested in this, take a look at the pages on Ecocriticism and WW1 and the French Caribbean.

But what sparked my interest in Joseph Zobel?

I wrote an AHRC-funded doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford, which I then adapted into the book Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean which was published in 2013. In this project, I discussed récits d’enfance, or childhood narratives, by a range of authors, including Zobel. In the scope of this project, I examined La Rue Cases-Nègres, La Fête à Paris (later republished as Quand la neige aura fondu) and Laghia de la mort.

So if you’re looking for academic criticism of Zobel which has already been published, here’s the write-up of that book:

Louise Hardwick, Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013)

The book  draws attention to a neglected body of récits d’enfance by contemporary bestselling, prize-winning Francophone Caribbean authors Patrick Chamoiseau, Maryse Condé, Gisèle Pineau, Daniel Maximin, Raphaël Confiant and Dany Laferrière, while also offering new readings of texts by Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, Joseph Zobel, Françoise Ega, Michèle Lacrosil, Maurice Virassamy and Mayotte Capécia.

This book examines a major modern turn in Francophone Caribbean literature towards the récit d’enfance, or childhood memoir, and asks why this occurred post-1990. Texts are read in the context of recent changes in public policy and education policy concerning the commemoration of slavery and colonialism both in France and at a global level, including the UNESCO project ‘La Route de l’esclave’, the ‘loi Taubira’ and the ‘Comité pour la mémoire de l’esclavage’.

The study proposes an innovative methodological paradigm with which to read postcolonial childhoods in a comparative framework from areas as diverse as the Caribbean, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly the Haitian diaspora in North America.

Find out about my other recent publications at:

Reviews of Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean

Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean is the first book-length study of a remarkable literary phenomenon that emerged in the last decade of the twentieth century in the French Antilles and Haiti – the autobiographical narrative. Louise Hardwick expertly analyses this relatively understudied genre which uses childhood narrative in as much a politically as an aesthetically subversive manner. Her clear, meticulous and informed study reveals the ways in which these narratives of childhood, driven by a devoir de mémoire, relate individual memory to collective identity. This is a welcome critical work that makes a major contribution to francophone as well as to postcolonial literary studies.   Professor J. Michael Dash, New York University

… a study that is a pleasure to read … Hardwick’s meticulous research, balanced approach and lucid prose merit serious consideration from specialists of the region. Professor Françoise Lionnet, University of California Los Angeles

In an impressive series of close readings, Louise Hardwick analyses the genre of autobiographical childhood narratives … These innovative readings constitute the volume’s tour de force: in inaugurating the critical field of récits d’enfance studies, it renews our approaches to Francophone Caribbean literature in general. Dr Malik Noël-Ferdinand, Université des Antilles-Guyane

Louise Hardwick’s excellent study is a most welcome contribution to the field … With its beautiful style and pedagogical structure, it is a didactic masterpiece. Dr Christina Kullberg, Uppsala University, Sweden

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.

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.




AHRC Leadership Fellows Conference

I’m just back from several days of rushing up and down the country for professional development events!

I was in Sheffield for the Arts and Humanities Research Council Leadership Fellows Conference on 26th November. As one of the researchers funded through the prestigious new Leadership Fellowships scheme, this was a valuable chance for me to discuss my research project and public engagement activities with my peers, senior colleagues and with representatives of the funding council.

I discovered lots of other fantastic research projects, and two which really struck a chord with my own research interests were Rebecca Braun’s AHRC project  ‘The Author and the World’ and Nicola Frith’s work on Mapping Memories of Slavery: Commemoration, Community and Identity.

In addition, I gave an invited presentation ‘Advice on Applying for ERC Funding’ at the AHRC Peer Review College members and Early Career Researchers Event for Languages and Linguistics researchers at the University of Warwick on 28th November, where I was fascinated to speak with Charles Burdett about the AHRC ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages’ project . Find out more about the project goals and team at their website.

I also took part in a third AHRC event here at the University of Birmingham on 19th November. The AHRC Tenth Anniversary Consultation Day, “Crowd Sourcing the Anniversary” was led by my colleague Dr Richard Clay, AHRC Commons Fellow, and brought together Early Career Researchers from all AHRC-funded disciplines for lively debate and a planning session for future AHRC events with the general public.

These events are a far cry from sitting in a library with my primary texts – but they are essential for helping me shape my  work and think about its development and delivery. Rather than being a “lone scholar”, it’s also really important to remember our work is part of a larger community of researchers and has the potential to reach wider public audiences.

This week, it’s back to the books though…!