American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination
Publication Year: 2006
France has long attracted the attention of many of America's most accomplished historians. The field of French history has been vastly influential in American thought, both within the academy and beyond, regardless of France's standing among U.S. political and cultural elites. Even though other countries, from Britain to China, may have had a greater impact on American history, none has exerted quite the same hold on the American historical imagination, particularly in the post-1945 era.
To gain a fresh perspective on this passionate relationship, Laura Lee Downs and Stéphane Gerson commissioned a diverse array of historians to write autobiographical essays in which they explore their intellectual, political, and personal engagements with France and its past. In addition to the essays, Why France? includes a lengthy introduction by the editors and an afterword by one of France's most distinguished historians, Roger Chartier. Taken together, these essays provide a rich and thought-provoking portrait of France, the Franco-American relationship, and a half-century of American intellectual life, viewed through the lens of the best scholarship on France.
Published by: Cornell University Press
Download PDF (386.2 KB)
Title Page, Copyright
Download PDF (64.1 KB)
Download PDF (60.5 KB)
Download PDF (112.8 KB)
Why France? Answers will come, but first the question. It forced itself uponus in the spring of 2004, in Paris. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, the lead-ing association of American historians of France was holding its annual meet-ing on the banks of the Seine—far from the college towns in which it usuallyconvenes. Hundreds of American historians descended on the French capital....
chapter 1W A Medievalist and Francophile Despite Himself
Download PDF (103.9 KB)
On October 1, 1953, a twenty-four-year-old Fulbright student disembarkedfrom the French liner Flandre at Le Havre in Normandy. Of the thirty-oddfellow Fulbrights on board, no one could have been less prepared for the fu-ture. He was a teetotaler and nonsmoker who did not know how to pronouncethe French word for the ticket he held in his hand. Like the 70,000 young...
chapter 2n A Mid-Atlantic Identity
Download PDF (74.5 KB)
A smallish town in the Virginia Appalachians might seem impossibly remotefrom France. Even so, France was actively present in my home town in the1930s and 1940s. Lexington is a college town. Two professors of French werefrequent dinner guests of my parents. My piano teacher and church choir di-rector, another frequent dinner guest, had studied in Nadia Boulanger’s fa-...
chapter 34 Tough Love for France
Download PDF (101.8 KB)
All of my historical work (and much of my life) has been dedicated to refus-ing, disassembling, and attacking laws and rules. Questioning the idols of au-thority has not made my personal life or my professional one easy. But it hasbenefited my history writing by adding the passion of engagement to the schol-arly work. When, in my late twenties, I had become emotionally and intellec-...
chapter 4! Fantasy Meets Reality:A Midwesterner Goes to Paris
Download PDF (75.4 KB)
F. Scott Fitzgerald opened the door to France for me when I was sixteen. Sincehe had grown up only a few blocks away from our house in St. Paul, Min-nesota, curiosity prompted me to read Tender is the Night, set on the FrenchRiviera. One novel quickly led to another and yet another, and soon I had de-voured all of Fitzgerald, then all of Hemingway, Stein, and the rest of the “lost...
chapter 5D Défense d’afficher . . .
Download PDF (109.9 KB)
France had no place in my Brooklyn childhood, which was drenched inschmaltz rather than sauce béarnaise and framed by deeply ambivalent mem-ories of another Europe from which my grandparents and parents had fled inthe wake of World War I. France was one of numerous exotic encounters Ihad in my first year at Princeton in 1959. I took a “Renaissance-to-Revolution”...
chapter 6Z France for Belgium
Download PDF (70.8 KB)
It is my profound conviction that what we do as historians is to write, in highlydisplaced, usually unconscious, but nonetheless determined ways, our inner,personal obsessions. At least this holds true for the historical work that we feelwe have to do, as opposed to the manifold professional obligations undertakenas part of the normal course of a career. In my case, the governing inner agenda...
chapter 7N Why Paris?
Download PDF (73.0 KB)
My Dutch grandmother explained my fascination with French history as theproduct of the small drop of French blood flowing in my veins from the se-duction of one of my Dutch foremothers by a French soldier during the warsof the Revolution. She waited until I was in my mid-twenties to tell me this,presumably so as not to shock me, because at the same time she warned me not...
chapter 8t Catholic Connections, Jewish Relations,French Religion
Download PDF (76.2 KB)
I can imagine many explanations as to why I ended up studying the reli-gious history of modern France. From a professional perspective, the shrine of Lourdes was a topic ripe for the picking in the 1970s, a way to combine con-cerns for social movements in the nineteenth century with the growing real-ization of the power of religion as a mobilizing force. I have no doubt that...
chapter 9o Europe without Personal Angst
Download PDF (98.4 KB)
I never set out to become a historian of France. Even after I decided to go tograduate school in history, I had no intention of devoting my energies to theHexagon. In fact, even after I had spent over a year doing dissertation researchin Paris in 1973–1974, I still thought of myself as a modern European intel-lectual historian whose first project happened to be about France but whose...
chapter 10p France, a Political Romance
Download PDF (102.2 KB)
I wish I could say that I had nothing but deep intellectual motivations forstudying France, but the truth is: there was this girl. She was a young woman,of course, a brilliant fellow Princeton undergraduate who became my wife andlater my ex. She spoke beautiful French and knew French history, writing asenior thesis on the nationalism of Maurice Barrès. I had never learned or even...
chapter 11 Choosing History, Discovering France
Download PDF (73.6 KB)
Just what possessed me to give Robespierre’s final speech before his appoint-ment with the guillotine in my high school’s annual oratorical contest I can-not say for sure. “The defenders of liberty will be but outlaws so long as a hordeof knaves shall rule!”—lines like these first uttered by a man with a checkeredreputation were hardly calculated to win over the faculty jury, much less my...
chapter 12a An African American in Paris
Download PDF (101.4 KB)
...“Welcome to graduate school! So, what do you plan to write your dis-“Well, I don’t know, something to do with modern European history.”“That’s a very broad field. What country in Europe do you plan toSo occurred the rather inarticulate birth of a French historian. The above pas-sage more or less recapitulates my first meeting with my graduate advisor,...
chapter 13X Writing at the Margins
Download PDF (75.0 KB)
The French army archives at the Château de Vincennes, where I did most ofthe research for my doctoral dissertation, was the most agreeable place I haveever worked. They were much less frequented in the mid-1980s than today,still less frequently by researchers not working on genealogy or Napoleon. Itwas easy for me to become a curiosity for the staff, which comprised a few civil-...
chapter 14) It’s Not About France
Download PDF (100.0 KB)
I never had the Latin for the judging. . . . I managed to get throughthe mining exams [though]. They’re not very rigorous; they only askyou one question. They say “Who are you?” and I got seventy-five per-Stick a pin into the geographic center of France and it will poke through nearBruère-Allichamps, some forty-five kilometers south of the cathedral town of...
chapter 15D Pilgrim’s Progress:From Suburban Canada to Paris
Download PDF (97.0 KB)
Why France? The short answer is Blame Canada. Or, more precisely, blameMadame Boucher, my second-grade French teacher, and her ingenious re-ward system: a paper ticket for each correct answer; a gold star in exchangefor five tickets. “Bonjour, Madame,” “Puis-je vous aider?” “Je voudrais unepomme.” Greeting customers, shopping for wax apples and bananas; my affin-...
chapter 16P Between Douai and the U.S.A
Download PDF (75.3 KB)
It was during my first flight across the Atlantic that I abandoned all allegianceto the Republican Party. It was 1985, and I was on the way to spend my junioryear of high school as an exchange student in France. The trip from suburbanRochester, New York, had already been eventful, starting at the airport withan early morning sighting of the rap group the Fat Boys, then my first ever...
Download PDF (52.8 KB)
The question that Laura Lee Downs and Stéphane Gerson put to the sixteenAmerican and Canadian historians who contributed to this volume was a ter-ribly simple one: “Why France?” Nothing could be easier, it might seem, thanto explain how a foreign country became the focal point of a scholar’s researchand thus a place to visit often and in which to reside for extended periods of...
Download PDF (75.6 KB)
Download PDF (66.9 KB)
Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2006