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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.

Program Participants

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.

Pre-departure Orientation

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 Affairs.

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 pass.

In the course evaluations, students seemed generally satisfied with the orientation. They found the French lesson to be especially useful.

Academic Program

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 in France.

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, digs.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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 dollars.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 from home.

Published @ RC

August 2008

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