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Thinking differently about Québec

February 28, 2011

Rich Watts (far right), French and Italian Studies, organized the visit by Marshall. From right, Albert Sbragia, Chair, French and Italian Studies; Bob Marshall; and Marcia Ostashewski, Canada-US Fulbright Visiting Chair.

by Rich Watts

Academics are nomads of sorts, and academic departments typically too fixed and confining a home for us. I arrived at the University of Washington in Fall 2009, having spent the previous 11 years at Tulane University in New Orleans as faculty in French Studies but with affiliations in several interdisciplinary programs. As pleased as I am to have landed in a vibrant department of French and Italian Studies at the UW, it has been equally gratifying to be invited into other intellectual homes on campus, and one of the most lively and welcoming has been the Canadian Studies Center.

My research in francophone postcolonial studies (cf. Packaging Post/Coloniality: The Manufacture of Literary Identity in the Francophone World, 2005) has tended not to focus on French-speaking Canada, but my undergraduate courses and graduate seminars address the challenge that Québec and other francophone regions in Canada pose to dominant ways of thinking about global “francophonia.” At once wholly removed from the French colonial sphere and yet resolutely postcolonial (in its relation to Canadian and U.S. “anglophonia”), Québec dramatically alters our expectations of the cultural alignments that a francophone space can maintain with France and, for that matter, with other francophone countries.

It was with a view to getting scholars in and beyond French Studies to think differently about Québec that I obtained support from the Canadian Studies Center for the visit of Prof. William Marshall of the University of Stirling, Scotland. Marshall’s earlier scholarship on Québec (cf. Quebec National Cinema, 2001) sought to understand the province’s cinema on its own local or “national” terms. His most recent work, The French Atlantic: Travels in Culture and History (2010) casts Québec in a more global frame.

On January 13, 2011, he presented work from this recent project at the UW, focusing on how films such as Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe and novels such as Maria Chapdelaine trouble the presumed filiation of Québec to France, signaling instead its role as a culturally autonomous but connected site in “a decentered French Atlantic.” Many thanks to Canadian Studies for sponsoring a stimulating talk that led to a spirited discussion among scholars and students from a broad range of fields.

Richard Watts is Associate Professor of French in the Division of French and Italian Studies. He has research and teaching interests in the literature and cinema of the francophone world and is currently at work on a project that examines the rhetoric of environmental change in contemporary cultural texts.

This project was supported, in part, by funding from the Center’s Title VI grant, US Department of Education, Office of International Education Programs Service.