Report! Enviro-Medical Approaches to Modern Francophone Culture

Thanks to the support of the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the University of London (@IMLR_News), the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France (@asmcf), the British Society for Literature and Science (@TheBSLS), and the Centre for Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol (@UoBrisCEH), we were able to hold a workshop for early career researchers working on French and Francophone contexts (day one), followed by a widening participation event for teachers and A-Level students (day two).  Day one involved the speakers and four participants, which proved to be advantageous for focussed discussion of the papers as work-in-progress for a forthcoming special issue edited by Daniel Finch-Race, which will be the primary academic publication from the event. On day two, four workshops were delivered to nine teachers and A-Level learners: close readings of literary texts (session one) and films (session three) bracketed parallel workshops on translation (session two).

Day one began with a panel on nineteenth-century French texts. James Illingworth approached George Sand’s volcanic imagery as an instance of eco-feminism avant la lettre. Sarah Jones considered Emile Zola’s interest in madness and hysteria. Arthur Rose returned to Zola’s Germinal as a source text for thinking about coal use in the Anthropocene. After a short break, Keir Waddington delivered an excellent keynote on trends in French environmental historiography as part of an argument that sought to recover the role of topography in thinking about environmental health. After lunch, there were two presentations on twentieth-century francophone writing. Joe Ford’s close reading of key passages in Albert Camus’ L’Étranger showed how the narrative plays with subject positions to problematize the protagonist’s agency. Holly Langstaff reflected on the animal presence that persists across Maurice Blanchot’s oeuvre, particularly his ‘mouche importune’. In the final session, Frances Hemsley considered how contemporary Rwandan testimonial writing demonstrates the entwinement of insect-eradication campaigns with the forced displacement of groups during the late colonial period. Kasia Mika introduced us to the ‘cholera chronotope’ as a mode for considering time and place in activist documentaries about UN peacekeepers introducing cholera into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

On day two, Langstaff, Illingworth, Ford, Rose and Finch-Race delivered four one-hour workshops on how the environmental humanities and medical humanities can be used in teaching A-Level French. The close-knit audience was exceptional: each of the ECRs delivering the workshop commented upon the engagement of the teachers and learners. At the end of the day, the audience’s feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with several people referring to how the sessions provided the means and motivation to develop their work.

Arthur Rose