Saturday, September 23, 2006

Busman's holiday

After a solid chunk of time devoted to French sociology, I decided to take a break and read about the apparently ginormous disparity between the number of French scholars studying America and American scholars studying France. David Bell notes:

Of the roughly 100 French universities and graduate centers in the humanities, fewer than ten presently employ any historians of the United States at all. The principal French center for North American history, CENA, currently has 46 members and associates, of whom less than a third hold full-time faculty appointments. By contrast, the North American Society for French Historical Studies has 886 members, of whom the large majority hold full-time faculty appointments teaching the history of France.

Lama?

Now, part of this could well come from the fact that French history goes further back than U.S. history. Part may come from the fact that digging into Parisian archives can involve breaks to get flan and Petit Bateau t-shirts, whereas breaks from looking at archives in rural America might mean the occasional trip to get a corn dog at Sonic or visit a megachurch. Another factor could be that many in the U.S. see ourselves as hyphenated-Americans, and thus become interested in studying the first part of the hyphenated identities held by so many of us. A French grandparent might lead an American to become obsessed with French history and scarf-arrangement, whereas an American grandparent might have no particular impact on the interests of a French person. And finally, America is just more familiar to the rest of the world than any other country in particular is to Americans, such that a French person with an interest in America can park himself in front of some Seinfeld or Friends episodes and take a trip to the GAP, whereas an American with an interest in France might be forced to do something as radical as, say, open a book, take a class, and so forth, to get some sense of the other country.

1 comment:

Petey said...

"a French person with an interest in America can park himself in front of some Seinfeld or Friends episodes and take a trip to the GAP, whereas an American with an interest in France might be forced to do something as radical as, say, open a book, take a class, and so forth, to get some sense of the other country."

Meh.

It's perfectly easy for an American with an interest in France to do nothing more ambitious than to eat a big plate of moules frites and watch a Catherine Breillat movie.