Contemporary French Civilization

Laurence Wylie and the French civilizing mission

Contemporary French Civilization (2016), 41, (3-4), 397–407.

Abstract

What might the study of French in the United States have to do with the French civilizing mission? Why has the choice of French by American students been so gendered? What is, and what has been, the social significance of French studies in the United States? In this essay, I propose to sketch out a partial answer to such questions by placing Laurence Wylie’s work along a more extended continuum stretching back to 1894, when the Alliance Française started its first school for foreigners in Paris, followed in 1919 by the Sorbonne’s renowned Cours de civilisation française. Wylie’s work, like our own, is a part of this historical continuum and, as I will argue here, understanding the deeper structures upon which this work rests can help us make informed choices about the scholarship and teaching of French studies today.

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Horne, Janet