Director's Report: On Becoming Modern in London and Paris
Lesley H. Walker, Indiana University South Bend
South Bend, London, and Paris
May 8 to June 14, 2006
The London/Paris program, designed and taught by Professors Joe Chaney
and Lesley Walker, ran for the first time this summer. Students spent
three weeks in South Bend preparing for the trip; and then they spent
ten days in London and ten days in Paris, exploring, reflecting on, and
enjoying these two great cities. With the exception of a few missteps,
the program was quite successful.
Seven students participated in the program: six women and one man.
The students who participated in the program were juniors and seniors
between the ages of 21 and 28 at IU South Bend. They had a variety of
different majors: there were two English majors while the others were
in business, sociology, history, political science, and art history.
None of the students had ever traveled outside of the US; only one had
been to a major city such as New York or Los Angeles; all of them had
spent some time in Chicago. They had all studied a foreign language—Spanish
and German—but only one had two years of college-level French.
They were all very good students with 3.0 and above grade-point averages.
Joe and I held three informational meetings with the students in late
March and April. We began with a discussion of the logistics of the program:
securing passports, student identification cards, how to deal with money (ATM,
credit cards, or traveler's checks), travel dates, and various modes
of transportation (airplane, subway, and buses). We spent time familiarizing
students with the maps of London and Paris. Built into the students'
schedule were three days off; we urged them to think about whether they intended
to travel outside of London or Paris and, if so, where would they like
to go. We thus spent time helping students think about planning an additional
excursion that they would take on their own. In the end, however, no
one expressed strong interest in traveling very far afield. As it turned
out, they used this time off very profitably, visiting sites in London
and Paris that the course didn't cover; or they returned to a favorite
museum for further exploration. We also described the housing arrangements—hotel
and hostel—and explained that they would purchase their own food
at grocery stores, restaurants, or cafeterias.
Once we had worked through these logistical questions, we turned to
a discussion of the course. We distributed the syllabus which described
the course in a fair amount of detail. It includes the books that we
read, the written assignments before departure, and a daily schedule
of our time in London and Paris. On the syllabus, we also included
my two cell phone numbers—one for London and the other for Paris—so
that both university and the students' families would be able to contact
us in an emergency. They were also given addresses, phone numbers, and
websites for their hotel in London and the hostel in Paris.
University policy also requires that the students traveling abroad attend
a Judicial Affairs orientation meeting run by the director of that office.
At that time, the students received emergency phone and contact numbers
from the Director of International Programs and the Director of Judicial
Finally, at each meeting, we discussed how to safely navigate these
two huge cities since we would be traveling on foot and on public transportation.
As a rule, we asked the students to travel in pairs when they were not
with the group. If, for whatever reason, they chose to venture out on
their own, we asked them to let either me or Joe know. We also devoted
time to thinking about cultural differences: what was appropriate and
inappropriate behavior in each city. In this spirit, I gave mini-lessons
in French. When we left all of the students could utter standard greetings,
order in a restaurant, and buy a postcard, subway tickets, or a museum
In the course evaluations, students seemed generally satisfied with
the orientation. They found the French lesson to be especially useful.
The course was entitled "On Becoming Modern in London and Paris." We
covered the time period from the Great London Fire in 1666 to the modern
redesign and urbanization of Paris by Haussmann in the 1850s and 1860s.
This period witnessed the rise of modern sensibilities, institutions,
and practices which were given expression in literature, architecture,
the beaux-arts, theater, and newspapers. In terms of the broadest academic
goals, we intended to move beyond comparative literature to focus on
issues of comparative culture. The experiential nature of the course
lent itself to this type of approach.
During our three week preparation period in South Bend, we focused on
the history and literary, cultural and artistic movements of this period.
We met from 5 to 8 pm, three times a week—May 8 to 23. The students
typically read about 50 to 75 pages per class, wrote two short essays on a specific theme,
and took two essay tests on the historical material that we covered. Class time was devoted to discussions of the readings and
short lectures, often accompanied by PowerPoint presentations, by me.
They also had to decide on an oral presentation topic that interested
them and that they wanted to pursue while abroad. They were instructed
to gather materials for their presentations before leaving.
Once in Europe, the abstract discussion of absolute monarchy in France
was given flesh as we walked through the halls of Versailles; my PowerPoint
presentation about the difference between and English and French garden
was made palpable as the students viewed the forests of Hampton Court
and later compared them to the meticulously tailored gardens of Louis
XIV's court; and the reality of the hoop skirt came to life as students
tried them on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In essence,
we physically retraced the intellectual work done in South Bend on foot,
in boats and on subway rides: from the royal palaces of London and Paris
to the urbanized cities that would later emerge, the students quite literally
experienced the process of modernization.
Each day, we visited at least one cultural site. Before setting off, however, the students
were given one or two questions to reflect upon. They were to record
these reflections in their journals. After each visit, we spent 60 to
90 minutes discussing what they had written and experienced. The students
took this activity extremely seriously; and we thus had a series of very
good discussions. At the Victoria and Albert museum, for instance, they
were asked to reflect on how English history was "staged" by
the museum. They were to select one type of object to demonstrate their
thesis. A sampling of their choices included: chairs, frames, and ceramics.
The students had a journal entry for each site visited.
In addition to their journals and our discussions, each student did
a 15 to 30 minute oral presentation in either London or Paris that was
specifically related to a place in one of the two cities. Their chosen
topics were: Haunted London, Dickens's London, and the Bank of London;
in Paris three chose historical figures—Madame Roland, a French
Revolutionary whose was guillotined; Madame Coudray, a midwife; and the
painter Jacques-Louis David—and another did a presentation on the
invention of the guillotine. By and large, their presentations were excellent:
they were thoughtful, well-researched, and nicely presented. In London,
for instance, one student conducted a guided tour of the Dickens Museum;
in Paris, another described, on the steps of the Grand Trianon, 18th-century
midwifery practices. She informed the group that Louis XV gave Madame
Coudray a pension for having singlehandedly improved obstetric practices
We also attended two plays while in London and Paris. In London, we
saw Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre. The
theatre itself, and the perspective of the play, served as a starting
point for the contrast between a pre-Enlightenment worldview and the
predominant scientific perspective of the later centuries. In Paris,
we saw two one-act plays by Molière at the Comédie Française.
Again, the students were given a few questions to reflect on and answer
in their journals; we discussed their entries the following day.
The journals were not graded per se. As a final short paper, however,
the students were asked to re-read their journal entries and select items
that demonstrated well the courses themes. More specifically, they were
instructed to choose six entries that exemplified how London and Paris
became modern. For each century covered—17th, 18th, and 19th—they
were asked to select a representative item for London and one for Paris
and describe in what way these objects were exemplary. These short papers
were due a week after our return.
Housing and Meal Arrangements
In London, we stayed at a hotel, the Vandon House, owned by a college
in Iowa. It was centrally located, a five minute walk from Buckingham
Palace. The women students shared two triple rooms with an en-suite bathroom;
the one male student had a single with the bath down the hall. Additionally,
the hotel also had a nice, roomy lounge where we were able to hold our
discussion sessions. There was also a bank of computers that the students
could use for internet access. In terms of location and affordability
($76 a night) we could not have done better in London. The Vandon House
provided breakfast; at lunchtime, we were usually out on an excursion
and students purchased lunch at the museum cafeteria; they were generally
on their own for dinner.
In Paris, we stayed at the Centre International de Séjour à Paris, a
municipally run center for students—French and International—visiting
Paris. The CISP was located in the 13 arrondissement, one block from
a convenient métro stop. The housing, while significantly cheaper
than in London ($41 a night), was more spartan. The female students were
two to a room and the male student had a single. Each room had its own
tiny, modular bathroom; the rooms were more "dorm-like" than
those in London. The CISP provided breakfast and inexpensive lunches
and dinners. However, after eating at the cafeteria a couple of times,
most students opted to eat elsewhere. They quickly figured out where
to get sandwiches, crêpes, pizza and Chinese food (we were close
to Chinatown) inexpensively. A couple of the students expressed dissatisfaction
with the modest but cheap accommodations in Paris. They would have preferred
spending a few hundred dollars more for fancier, more centrally located,
Student Health and Safety
We had no major problems with either health or safety. A couple of students
experienced stomach/intestinal ailments—no doubt due to jetlag
and change of diet. One student had a camera stolen while having a meal
in a busy restaurant in the Latin Quarter in Paris. Another female student
was verbally harassed once in Paris.
Specific Suggestions for Future Directors
Whereas our course was originally designed to be led by two professors—one
with expertise in Early-modern England and the other with expertise in
Early-modern France—due to cost considerations, I became the sole
teacher, responsible for the entire class. However, because Joe Chaney
was already in Europe, he agreed to meet us in London and participate
in the London portion of the course. If we hadn't been so flexible regarding
leadership arrangements, the course would have been canceled; the seven
students who participated would have never had this incredible experience;
and our extensive planning and grant money would have all been for naught.
I do, however, want to recommend in the strongest terms that this
course, conceived to compare London and Paris, needs both professors
to teach it and accompany the students while abroad. I make this
recommendation for intellectual and practical reasons. Clearly, dual
academic expertise is needed when comparing these two great cities
and their cultural production. Additionally, due to the nature of
the course—that is, almost every day is devoted to a site visit,
followed by discussion—our presence as instructors is paramount.
In other words, students are not going to a school or attending lectures;
they are instead visiting museums or historical sites and working
on sets of questions that we discuss later in the day. In essence,
we're teaching the course every day. Thus, if a student gets sick
or there's a problem, the course would grind to a halt with only
one instructor. Thankfully, this did not happen when we were in Paris;
indeed, everything went very smoothly. But it doesn't take much
imagination to envision things going less well; and, in that event,
it would be imperative to have two teachers present.
The students, on the other hand, were quite satisfied with the low number
of students participating in the program. They greatly appreciated
the personalized instruction that a small group course offers. But
low-enrollment courses are expensive. With regard to budget, I would
recommend that the second instructor's expenses be built into the
student cost; that cost would only increase by two to three hundred
Joe and I team-taught a pre-course in the spring semester of 2006
that was meant to prepare the students academically for the summer
course. Unfortunately, only one student enrolled in the spring course
actually went on the summer trip. After some discussion, we feel
that it would be better to not link a spring course with the summer
study abroad class. Instead, we would add an additional week of academic
preparation in South Bend and make the final project more substantial,
and thus, the course would be six credits instead of three. Given
the number of contact hours and the amount of writing—in journals
and papers—that they eventually produced, such a change strikes
me as desirable.
We need to do a better job of recruiting. While we did visit classes
and distribute pamphlets, do a website, and have several informational
meetings, we still had a hard time getting the word out. We have
done some strategizing about what to do next time: those ideas include
targeting departments—especially in the humanities and the
arts—to promote this opportunity in the fall before the programs
runs. With the assistance of the new Director of International Programs,
I hope that we can also do some off-campus recruiting.
My last recommendation would be to explore alternative housing in
Paris. If we could find a place a bit less spartan, better located,
for not too much more money, I think the student experience of Paris
would be enhanced.
Future of the Program
Joe and I would like to run the program for a second time in summer
2008. With the adjustments suggested approved and with the firm support
of our new director of International Programs, we believe that this summer
course could be very successful. We don't envision it ever enrolling
large numbers of students; indeed, between 8 and 12 students strikes
us as ideal, given the challenges of navigating these two great cities
on foot. This is a small program whose success should be measured in
terms of the quality of instruction, the dedication of a small group
of students and the inimitable experience of discovering new places far