Recent Courses

Although courses are not repeated on a regular basis, the following course list should give an idea of the types of courses generally offered by department faculty.

Making Modern France

From Henri IV’s edict of Nantes, which ended the French Religious Wars, through Louis XIV’s cultural and political project of French absolutism, through the Enlightenment, the revolution of 1789, the rise of Napoleon, the restoration of monarchy, and revolutions again, this course will provide an introduction to political and cultural history of France from the beginning of the seventeenth century through the Second Empire. We will study historical documents as well as images of art and architecture in order to engage topics such as industrialization, the transformation of Paris, the role of women in society, and France’s relationship with the broader world.

French and Francophone Film: "1959±"

1959 was an important year in French film. It is the year in which the first successes of la nouvelle vague were produced (Les 400 coupsHiroshima mon amourA bout de souffle), and for that reason alone it is a watershed year. But these films are part of a broader context in both French filmmaking and French culture at large. This course will explore the period of the late 1950s and early 1960s by focusing on films clustered around the year 1959, plus ou moins. Some of the themes to be explored will include: the fallout from World War II, the looming nuclear threat, the decline of the French colonial empire, the Algerian War of Independence, the influence of American culture and cinema on post-war France, the tensions between traditional culture and modern consumer society, youth and criminality, the changing roles of women, along with existential and psychological themes such as alienation, trauma and memory, and romantic ideals. The course will also provide a framework for understanding the film history, techniques and genres most relevant to the films discussed. Film viewings will be accompanied by weekly readings and short writing assignments. In addition to class meetings for lecture and discussion, there will be a separate weekly screening time.

Films will include:

Chris Marker, La jetée (1962)

Jean Rouch, Moi, un noir (1958)

Louis Malle, L'ascenseur à l'échafaud (1958)

Jacques Tati, Mon oncle (1958)

Robert Bresson, Pickpocket (1959)

François Truffaut, Les 400 coups (1959)

Jean-Luc Godard, A bout de souffle (1959)

Alain Resnais, Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

Agnès Varda, Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)


Women on Top and Bossy Bottoms

Since 1975, when Natalie Zemon Davis published her landmark essay “Women on Top,” feminists have focused a great deal of attention on the many abrasive, defiant, self-assertive female characters to be found in outwardly sexist forms of literary, theatrical, visual, and ritual culture. There has been good reason for them to do so, as these Women on Top offer a privileged vantage point from which we may observe the contested, dynamic nature of patriarchy. While aesthetic depictions of shrews, scolds, gossips, and fishwives were clearly used to legitimize the subjection of real women, they also alert us to the fact that patriarchy isn’t an absolute, inflexible, or unchanging system of hegemonic control but is instead a moving equilibrium structured around a variety of negotiated, oppositional relations. Unfortunately, in our rush to revalue these Women on Top and bring to light the cultural and political tensions surrounding them, we have tended to neglect their more obedient but equally provocative sisters: Bossy Bottoms who manage to unsettle patriarchal ideologies by deliberately and ostentatiously choosing to subordinate themselves to a masculinist agenda. This seminar will focus on both of these character types, perceiving them as manifestations of the transactional and unstable nature of late medieval and early modern marriage. Readings for the course will include historical studies by Natalie Zemon Davis and Mary Hartman; short fiction, plays, and conduct books; Les quinze joies du marriage; two Shakespeare comedies (Taming of the Shrew and All’s Well That Ends Well); and a number of key texts in criticism (Fran Dolan, Kathryn Schwarz, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Glenn Burger) and theory (Gilles Deleuze, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler).  All Middle French materials will be available in English and modern French translations.  Seminar discussions will be conducted exclusively in English.

Topics in French Civilization: "The Social Network in 17th Century France"

Je songe donc à vous, et je souhaite toujours de vos lettres; quand je viens d’en recevoir, j’en voudrais bien encore. J’en attends présentement, et reprendrai ma lettre, quand j’en aurai reçu”  – Madame de Sévigné to her daughter Madame de Grignan

The radical expansion of the “poste aux lettres” in 1668, a year before her beloved daughter married and moved away, allowed Madame de Sévigné to establish an intimate correspondence widely seen as representing a new kind of writing in French that conjures emotional immediacy and expresses new modes of affective connection.

Living in the early 21st Century, we understand very implicitly how social media can transform our experience – connecting us to people, ideas and markets, creating communities of discourse and cultural and personal relationships. The seventeenth century witnessed a comparable revolution in services, institutions and technologies that likewise transfigured social relationships and formed new networks of communication, affiliation, knowledge and exchange.

This quarter we will study the networks that traversed and shaped France in the seventeenth century, from the burgeoning trade in print and consumer goods; to the cultural obsession with news and gossip; to the proliferation of salons and Academies that gave rise to new forms of knowledge and expression, including the modern psychological novel and the official French dictionary. We will examine how contemporary network theory might illuminate the French seventeenth century, and also inquire into the way the seventeenth century understood the dynamics of network circulation, from Harvey’s De Motu Cordis (1628) to treatises on the circulation of planets, rights, fashions, illnesses, and demonic possession.

Students will gain archival research experience using the library’s collection of incendiary political pamphlets dating from Louis XIV’s minority. An exciting range of digital projects (France’s Gallica, the Netherlands’s ePistolarium, a virtual edition of Donneau de Visé’s Nouvelles nouvelles based in Switzerland, as well as international collaborations such as ARTFL and Stanford’s “Mapping the Republic of Letters”) provide access to – and new ways of scrutinizing – correspondence networks and a burgeoning periodical press. Readings available in French or English.


Topics in Medieval Literature

This course will offer an introduction to the study of Old French language and literature. Our aims will be to master the basic elements of Old French morphology, grammar, and syntax and to develop skills in the philological and formal analysis of medieval literature. We will pay particular attention to new trends in literary formalism and to scholarship that seeks to reorient the theory and practice of close reading. Students will be asked to do regular translation assignments and explications de texte. Class sessions will be structured as workshops and will require active, informed participation from all students. Course requirements will include a translation exam and a 10-page paper. The course will be taught in English, however a reading knowledge of Latin and/or a modern Romance language is required.

For current and upcoming course offerings, please see the department's Course Schedules page.