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French Literature, from the United States to the Centre for Medieval Studies (CESCM) in Poitiers, France

JUIN 16, 2017 | VANESSA ERNST-MAILLET Trans. By Jodie Miller

For a month, we hosted Anne-Hélène Miller, Assistant Professor in Medieval French Literature at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, invited by Martin Aurell. She spoke to us about her stay.

Anne-Hélène, what is your impression after a month at the CESCM?

Excellent. First of all, the setting is truly exceptional. For a medievalist like me working on the end of the Middle Ages, it’s wonderful to be in a center that specializes in my period of research!

I received a very kind welcome. From the time I arrived, I was immediately at ease and felt as though I was part of the centre. Everything was well organized and the people very professional and available, even in this busy period of preparation for the Semaines d’études médiévales 2017 (Medieval Studies Summer School 2017).  

Why did you decide to visit our centre?

I was acquainted with the CESCM due to its international reputation and also because it is unique in France, but I had never come here. I had met Martin Aurell when I was a student at the University of Washington where he was invited by my thesis director. We got back in touch recently and realized that we could have joint cooperation projects. At the University of Tennessee we have an Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, The Marco Institute, and we have many similarities with the CESCM. We are part of the university and the professors are associated with departments depending on their respective disciplines, all while participating in an interdisciplinary curriculum within the institute. Our institute also organizes its own activities and scientific events. We received Professor Martin Aurell as a Lindsay Young Distinguished Visiting Senior Scholar in Medieval Studies in March and I am now a Visiting Research Professor at the centre.

What is the area of research you work in that gave you the desire to come to Poitiers?

I study the French and Occitan areas of research at the end of the Middle Ages through an interdisciplinary approach (literature, sociolinguistics, history, art and theology). My research focuses in particular on Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, Nicole Oresme, Eustache Deschamps, and the Roman de la Rose. I am currently president of the International Machaut Society and I am part of the executive committee for the Medieval French Language, Literature and Culture forum of the Modern Language Association of America. Therefore, I am a specialist of Medieval French Literature in my department and at my institute in Tennessee. It is essential for me to forge links with researchers in France and to stay up to date with the status of research.

Moreover, I am currently finishing a book that revisits the transition between the transnational dimension of the French language starting in the 12th century and the realization of the role of language in the construction of a “national” identity from the 14th century onwards. These two aspects are too often considered separately in the history of the French language and approaches in France and in Anglo-Saxon countries sometimes differ. Therefore, I try to explore them by creating links between a variety of texts and well-known as well as lesser-known authors. Within the framework of my book that focuses mainly on the literary status of the French language at the turn of the 14th century in France, I had the opportunity to present the project on the 31st of May at an informal conference. On this occasion, I spoke about Jean Froissart and Philippe de Mézières.

What is the outcome of this visit?

During my stay, I had the opportunity to participate in the multilingual translations project based on a text, “The Three Dead Kings,” organized by the literature professors of the centre, which allowed me to familiarize myself with their reflections: I appreciated this collaborative work between professors and advanced students. These were great experiences that inspired me for the future. At the same time, I had the chance to participate in the doctoral day on the 17th of May. I was impressed by the large range and quality of research subjects of the students in the centre.

I met M. Jean-Marie Pincemin, the Program Officer of international research at the University of Poitiers to talk about a potential partnership and exchange between our universities for doctoral students and professors, from a work and research perspective, with the advantage of perfecting their cultural and linguistic knowledge. The director of the Marco Institute, Professor Jay Rubenstein came from Paris specifically to Poitiers to meet Professor Aurell and Professor Palazzo – Dean of the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – and to talk about this proposal.

Overall, this visit was very successful and I met some wonderful people.

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