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French Department Hosts International Meeting of Scholars|
By Deborah A. Benedetti
In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French officer, was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devils Island. Throughout the trial, he maintained his innocence. When information proving his innocence came to light in 1898, but did not result in his exoneration, one of his supporters, Émile Zola, published an open letterJAccuse!to the president of the French republic. Dreyfus was later pardoned and eventually exonerated. These events became known as the Dreyfus Affair.|
One hundred years later, Penn States Department of French used the Dreyfus Affair as the catalyst for an international conference: the 24th annual meeting of the 19th-Century French Studies Colloquium, titled JAccuse ! Offensive Moves, Defensive Modes. Two hundred and thirty historians, art historians and literary scholars from the United States, France, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, the United Kingdom and other countries gathered at Penn State last fall to examine the many forms of accusational and defensive issues that marked the French 19th century.
Colloquium topics covered literary, cultural, political, scientific and artistic phenomena in 19th-century France, including journalism, caricature, propaganda, womens rights, anti-Semitism, gender transgression, trials, abolitionism, public demonstrations, and artistic and poetic engagement.
We started planning the colloquium in 1995, Dr. Kathryn M. Grossman, professor of French at Penn State and chair of the local Planning Committee, explained. As scholars exploring the history and literature of 19th-century France, we wanted to focus the conference on polemics. We used Emile Zolas famous manifesto of 1898 protesting the wrongful conviction of Dreyfus by the French establishment, as well as the centenary of the death of symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme as our guiding events for the conference.
The Penn State Planning Committee included Department of French faculty members Dr. Michael E. Lane, lecturer in French; Dr. Bénédicte Monicat, associate professor of French and womens studies; and Dr. Willa Z. Silverman, associate professor of French.
Planning Committee members all specialize in 19th-century French studies. Grossmans research and scholarship centers on Romanticism and the French novel, including the works of Victor Hugo and other utopian, visionary and poetic prose fiction. Monicats scholarly interests include travel narratives, French and Francophone women writers, childrens literature and literary and feminist theory. Silverman focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of Third Republic France, the Dreyfus Affair, anti-Semitism and the history of the book. Lane, who earned his Ph.D. from Penn State in 1998, focuses on French poetics and gender theory.
Having several faculty members in the same department who specialize in 19th-century France is rare, Grossman said. Because of our shared scholarly interests, we developed a highly productive relationship that drew on a widespread professional network. This was invaluable in planning the colloquium.
To carry out their strategy for the conference, Penn States French scholars organized sessions around themes, instead of authors, to enhance opportunities for cross-disciplinary discussion. The committee also used information technology to design the colloquium and to communicate with presenters and participants.
The colloquium earned warm praise from participants, as these comments illustrate:
In addition to scholarly presentations, the colloquium featured an exhibit of satirical prints by Honoré Daumier at the Palmer Museum of Art; a display of an original edition of Emile Zolas JAccuse! (1898) and other related works by the Rare Books Room of Penn States University Libraries; and a performance of 19th-century French poetry set to music by French composers Debussy, Duparc and Faur and performed by singer Norman Spivey, associate professor of music at Penn State, and pianist Marylène Dosse, professor of music at Penn State.
The 24th annual meeting of the 19th-Century French Studies Colloquium received support from the French Embassy and the following Penn State units: the College of the Liberal Arts, the College of Arts and Architecture, the College of Communications, the Commonwealth College, Penn State Abington, Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley, Penn State Worthington Scranton, the Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies, 11 Penn State departments, and Penn State Outreach and Cooperative Extension.