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In transit: the arts of migration

In transit: the arts of migration


2017 Project submitted by Duke University | Embassy of France support: $ 5000

Project coordinator: Helen Solterer

Summary of the Project

This new interdisciplinary project of our Center is being launched, first, as a Duke collaboration with the Nasher Museum, the Franklin Humanities Institute Social Practice Lab, and our main teaching department of Romance Studies. It revolves around the visual and literary arts and politics of migration in major regions of the world where French is one lingua franca: Europe, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and West Africa.

Following the migrant crisis of 2015, reported in the French and English language press, we have observed student and faculty engagement in the issue growing powerfully.  This commitment is now intensifying as a consequence of the nationalistic era we are entering.  On Duke’s campus, the increasingly diverse profile of Francophones, from Azerbaijan, Monaco, Togo, to those students who attended lycées in Singapore, New York, Vancouver means that our entire student body has a greater curiosity about the challenge of migration on a global scale.  In fact, they represent it.  Among our faculty as well, other units such as the Kenan Ethics Institute, and the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, have put programs in place to address the questions of migrants, moving from the global South into Europe, and arriving in numbers in the U.S., even in our own Durham North Carolina.

The Center is responding to the vital cultural and political importance of migration by pursuing this project in an unusual way:  In Transit explores the long-neglected early modern history of migration in France.  To gauge the contemporary situation fully requires drilling down deeply, not only into the colonial era, or the modern movements of other Europeans, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, and Russian, but the earlier formative periods, from the first migrant workers in Paris, the pre-modern Bretons, the French in England, as in Mediterranean port cities. We have chosen to study this poorly understood history through visual culture and fiction for two reasons.  For our students, first of all, it is a major medium; they ask to study and investigate the spectrum of arts in the French-speaking world.  And secondly, the collections of our Museum and Rare Book Library represent a significant resource, a base for courses and research that can be strengthened and enhanced working with partners in France and Europe.

In Transit will thus develop initially as a series of rotating undergraduate seminars, in French, and in a European and global framework.  The first co-taught between French and Museum faculty establishes the groundwork for the goal of a small, international exhibition at the Nasher Museum scheduled for autumn 2018.   Students will have the opportunity to work on all the preparatory steps of organizing such an exhibition, with colleagues at Duke, in conjunction with our partners at the Université de Paris-Diderot.  They will also be involved in a series of activities with Francophone critics, fiction writers, and artists.  By building the student’s own international work into the project at each level, we intend to initiate them into the conceptual and practical aspects of researching the arts of migration, linking them directly with communities of other students and colleagues in France and Europe.