Sept. 2, 2008

Cornell to host inaugural French studies conference

Cornell will host "Historiography, Theory, Literature: Franco-American Exchanges," the inaugural joint conference in partnership with the elite Parisian university École normale supérieure (ENS), Sept. 11-13 in the A.D. White House. The bilingual conference is presented by the French Studies Program at Cornell.

ENS was founded in 1794 and has produced scores of prominent writers and philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida; social scientists, including Michel Foucault and Claude Lévi-Strauss; and hard scientists including Louis Pasteur, all the French holders of the Fields Medal in mathematics, and several Nobel laureates in physics.

"The ENS-Cornell conference is an opportunity to confront methods and viewpoints in the humanities," said Laurent Ferri, acting director of French studies and adjunct professor of comparative literature. "It is important for Cornell to nourish a tradition of hospitality and dialogue with scholars who work in different contexts and under different constraints, and yet are equally committed to an ideal of scholarship that excludes parochialism and the delusions of self-sufficiency."

The setting is also appropriate, he noted. Cornell's first president, Andrew D. White, "had a deep love and interest for all things French," Ferri said. In the 1860s, White was the first to teach systematic courses on both French and German recent history at an American university -- courses based in part on documents from his private collection, which are available in Kroch Library.

The conference will feature five sessions, each with two 45-minute presentations by Cornell and ENS faculty, followed by general discussion. Topics will range from "Being Historical in Literary Studies" by Cornell professor of English and comparative literature Jonathan Culler, to "Reflections on Social History in General and Food Crises in Particular, Then and Now" by Cornell professor of history Steven Kaplan, who led the initiative to partner Cornell and ENS.

Cornell presenters will include Culler, the chair of Romance studies at Cornell; Dominick LaCapra, professor of history and comparative literature; Camille Robcis, assistant professor of history; and Laurent Dubreuil, a "normalien" (alumnus of ENS), associate professor of Romance studies and comparative literature, director of French studies (2007-10) and a current Appel Fellow.

ENS participants are Antoine Lilti, Nadeije Laneyrie-Dagen, François Menant, Gilles Pécout and Laurent Pinon. Moderators at the sessions will be Terry Turner, anthropology; Tim Murray, English (and director of the Society for the Humanities); Diane Rubenstein, government; John Weiss, history; and Phil Lewis, Romance studies.

"Given the contrasted personalities of the participants, one can expect more than a few divergences and productive disagreements, not necessarily along national lines," Ferri said.

The French Studies Program at Cornell was established with support from the College of Arts and Sciences and from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, designating Cornell as a "Centre Interdisciplinaire." The program serves as a resource center for teachers of French in upstate New York and offers an academic concentration in French studies to Cornell students from all colleges.

For more information on the conference, see http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu/french_studies/calendar/index.asp?id=10069.