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French Studies

In French we have two cultural modules: The Story of Modern France (SMF) and Cultural Landmarks (CL). SMF is a core module for many of you. Some of you will either be able to choose CL either in addition to SMF, or as an alternative to it.

The activities we've created below have links with these modules. Our intention here is not to set required pre-arrival work, but to encourage you to build a picture of France's cultural context in advance of arrival, and to undertake some reading, thinking and research activities that will get you asking the kind of questions we'll be asking in seminars and through our online resources.

So, please dip in and enjoy:

Research: Making History

Activities on the 1789 Revolution and the Second World War.

In French, histoire means both ‘history’ and ‘story’. In our modules, we explore the complex and fascinating connections between the two. What are the key ideas, leaders, developments and challenges that have shaped French history?

Reading: Interpreting images

In the Story of Modern France in particular, we think about how the French nation has portrayed itself over time, and the tools it uses to do this. Have a go at reading some more recent images relating to French and British identity, used in a recent Eurostar advertising campaign:

Building Bridges, Making Connections: The '#BetterCloser' Eurostar advertisement series

Critiquing: encountering key thinkers

Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592) was a new kind of thinker who came to prominence during the French Wars of Religion. His Essais were influencial across Europe, and many of their themes strike us as remarkably modern. We will look at Montaigne's essay 'On Cannibals' in SMF (written in response to French colonial projects in the New World), but Montaigne's ideas are worth considering in a broader sense. They are nicely summarised in these Guardian posts:

Reading: using stories to think about sex and gender roles

Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron (1559) has a group of 5 men and 5 women stranded in a kind of lockdown: away from the court on a pilgrimage, floods prevent them getting home. So they tell each other stories – supposedly true stories – not only to pass the time, but to learn more about themselves and the world they inhabit. They use the time away from the social world of the court to reflect on human behaviour, particularly gender roles and sexual (im)morality.

See Telling Stories to Pass the Time for more activities

Listening: Abd Al Malik: laïcité, Islam and France

Rapper and cultural commentator Abd Al Malik is like a Renaissance man: first known as a rap/slam artist, he has also written poetry, novels, essays and film scripts, and mounted an exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay. Here's a clip of Malik's autobiographical film, Qu'Allah bénisse la France

and here's another of Malik responding to the Paris terror attacks in 2015:

Have a look at this worksheet to find out more about Malik's music, socio-political beliefs and ideas about art and society: Abd Al Malik: where music and politics meet

Listening: exploring language and storytelling

Central to both our modules is the desire to unpack the stories that French and francophone societies tell about themselves over time. The La Marche de l'histoire podcast on the FranceInter radio station offers excellent reflections on all kinds of subjects that will come up as you study French and francophone culture.

Why not start with a subject that is familiar to most of you (not least through Disney remakes): Fairy Tales: and you can explore further topics from there.


Illustration pour le conte Barbe Bleue de Charles Perrault - gravure de Gustave Doré - XIXème siècle © AFP / Costa / Leemage