Writing the Nation in France, the British Isles, and the Thirteen Colonies in the 17th and 18th c.: Post-Graduate Study Days
Université de Caen Normandie, France, 21-22 October 2021
Deadline for proposals: 31 May 2021
Post-Graduate Study Days 2021 organized by the SEAA17-18 (Société d’étude du XVIIe siècle, and the Société Française d’Étude du XVIIIe siècle
Advisory Board : Meriel Cordier (Université Clermont Auvergne), Alix Desnain (Université Clermont Auvergne), Marie-Gabrielle Lallemand (Université de Caen-Normandie), Juliette Misset (Université de Strasbourg), Mickaël Popelard (Université de Caen-Normandie), et Alain Sandrier (Université de Caen-Normandie)
These post-graduate study days will focus on the idea of writing the nation during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France, the British Isles, and the Thirteen Colonies, with particular attention paid to the ways in which an individual can participate in the construction of a national, and therefore collective, identity. Seeing as France and Great Britain— followed by Europe and North America— have traditionally defined themselves in opposition to one another, their understanding of the concept of nation is particularly complex in that it is rooted in a dialogue between identity and alterity, singularity and plurality. How then was this national feeling able to develop, given the political, social, and religious context of the early modern period, marked as it was by dissent and the coexistence of various “imagined communities” (Anderson 1983)?
The aim of these study days is therefore to establish links between the rise of a national consciousness and national writing. As early as the end of the twelfth century, the word “nacion” in Old French referred to a people united by a common origin, language, and culture (CNTRL 1b), and this term can be found in English texts as early as the fourteenth century, thanks to Anglo-Norman influence. The cases of England (and later Great Britain), its American colonies, and France are thus particularly complex due to the plurality of ethnic origins and foundational myths that challenge the very possibility for each country to forge its own identity. While the place and function of “national literature” in our societies is heavily debated today, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the emergence of a body of works which gradually constructed a sense of collective identity through the appropriation or reappropriation of literary forms and genres. For writers of that period, writing was a way of reinventing the relation to territorial space, even as there was cultural porosity between the countries.
Nonetheless, identification to the nation was thought, felt, and represented in myriad ways. According to Richard Helgerson (1992), a common identity stems from a common language; similarly, the construction of the nation hinges on and coincides with the construction of the figure of the writer. How then might the dynamics of rivalry and emulation between burgeoning national identities foster the emergence of a collective consciousness? Is it possible to reconcile such a plurality of texts (chronicles, poetry, drama, essays…) with unity, given that unity might be seen as inherent to the concept of nation? How can individuals identify with the nation, or, conversely, distance themselves from it? And what role do religious and political conflicts—notably the English and American revolutions—play in the affirmation and writing of the feeling of national affiliation?
Contributions may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:
- The inclusion or exclusion of communities or individuals in texts; the relationship to foreign lands (which includes the cases of Ireland and Scotland for England, but also the specific status of the Thirteen Colonies);
- The dialectic of identity and alterity; the tension between what is conceived of as the “centre” and what is posited as part of the “margins” or “periphery,” on the Continent, in the British Isles (“Celtic fringes” vs. “Home Counties,” political and cultural crises arising out of the two Acts of Union, etc.), and in the Thirteen Colonies; the reversibility of points of view and dialectical construction of identities;
- The reappropriation of continental literary forms and genres; the tensions between continental, English, and/or specifically “colonial” traditions; aristocratic poetry and popular theatre;
- The search for links with a mythical past; the nation as sacred;
- Insularity and borders; the relationship between individuals and territory; the relation between real and imagined territories;
- Belligerent tendencies and “political literature”; national feeling and imperialist inclination; political and polemical texts and texts of national emancipation;
- The role of travel writing in the emergence of the nation;
- The emergence of a nation divided between the motherland and the colonies, between the Old World and the New World.
Abstracts (300-500 words) in English or in French, along with a short biographical note, should be sent to Meriel Cordier (firstname.lastname@example.org), Alix Desnain (email@example.com) and Mickaël Popelard (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 31 May 2021. Notification will be sent by mid-June 2021.