Why France?: American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination

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9780801475702: Why France?: American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination

France has long attracted the attention of many of America's most accomplished historians. The field of French history has been vastly influential in American thought, both within the academy and beyond, regardless of France's standing among U.S. political and cultural elites. Even though other countries, from Britain to China, may have had a greater impact on American history, none has exerted quite the same hold on the American historical imagination, particularly in the post-1945 era.

To gain a fresh perspective on this passionate relationship, Laura Lee Downs and Stéphane Gerson commissioned a diverse array of historians to write autobiographical essays in which they explore their intellectual, political, and personal engagements with France and its past. In addition to the essays, Why France? includes a lengthy introduction by the editors and an afterword by one of France's most distinguished historians, Roger Chartier. Taken together, these essays provide a rich and thought-provoking portrait of France, the Franco-American relationship, and a half-century of American intellectual life, viewed through the lens of the best scholarship on France.

Contributors: Ken Alder, Northwestern University; John W. Baldwin, The Johns Hopkins University; Edward Berenson, New York University; Herrick Chapman, New York University; Roger Chartier, Ècole des Hautes Ètudes en Sciences Sociales; Clare Haru Crowston, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Barbara Diefendorf, Boston University; Laura Lee Downs, Ècole des Hautes Ètudes en Sciences Sociales; Stéphane Gerson, New York University; Jan Goldstein, The University of Chicago; Lynn Hunt, UCLA; Steven Kaplan, Cornell University; Thomas Kselman, Notre Dame University; Herman Lebovics, SUNY Stony Brook; Robert Paxton, Columbia University; Todd Shepard, The Johns Hopkins University; Leonard V. Smith, Oberlin College; Gabrielle Spiegel, The Johns Hopkins University; Tyler Stovall, University of California, Berkeley

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From the Back Cover:

"This eminently readable book is a must-read for all teachers of French civilization."--Tom Conner, French Review

"Why France? is a mirror of intelligence in which France may see itself reflected."--Jean-Frederic Schaub, Rue89

"France, eternal and changing, is examined without concessions, especially in its relationship with the U.S. A beautiful, two-way history lesson."--Laurent Theis, Le Point

"An entertaining and thought-provoking series of meditations . . . The tales from the archive become new ways to understand how individual scholarship is shaped by and can in turn shape intellectual trends."--Jeffrey Jackson, Modern and Contemporary France

"These lively, funny, insightful essays, caught between the objective approach of historical reality and a fuzzier, unstable sentimental perspective, make up a photo album of postwar France."--Rogert Maggiori, Liberation

"These historians are not afraid to open up and reveal their sensibility, even their sensuality. They express the richness of their historical vocation and the gains of a self-discovery that is made possible or intensified by distance and alterity. Their confidences, sometimes colored by tenderness, express candidly an attachment to France that changes form across time."--Alain Corbin, Le Monde

"This book lies at the intersection of different genres: intellectual autobiography, the mirror which one culture provides to another (as in Montesquieu's Persian Letters), and transnational analysis of the historical profession and the academic field. . . . This book probes key questions about the nation's continued validity as an analytical frame, the historical craft, and new forms of intellectual exchange."--Marion Fontaine, L'Homme

"This foray behind the scenes of History, this tableau of the postwar period and French-American relations should not be missed."--Les Echos

"Sixteen American historians, some old, some young, tell us here why they chose to become historians of France and what that country means to them--from their first scary encounters with the French language, archives, and bureaucrats to their enduring connections with French scholars, friends, and the French countryside. Chance, family life, teachers, and politics--both American and French--are all part of the story. Entertaining, frank, and informal, these essays show us historians at work and France in a new light."--Natalie Zemon Davis, University of Toronto, author of The Return of Martin Guerre and The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France

"Why France? is good fun indeed, and can be savored like a fine wine. There are lots of chuckles along the way, as American historians of France recount their fascinations and frustrations, their first encounters with France and things French, how they came to study the country, and how their research topics intersect with identity and politics in America of the last few decades. Why France? is an upbeat paean to France, from its street demonstrations to its clothes and sensuality."--Nancy L. Green, author of Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York

"This is a wonderful book! Great fun to read, profoundly moving at times, these intensely personal histories show intellectual reflection at its best-thoughtful, attentive to the larger issues yet mindful of the drama, even trauma, of encountering a culture that intrigues and disconcerts in equal measure. France is not only the subject that these scholars investigate but also part of the women and men that they have become."--Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Columbia University, author of Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine

"Why France? is a fascinating, thought-provoking analysis of the combination of factors-ranging through the intellectual vitality of the French people, their rich and sumptuous culture, their democratic aspirations, and their sheer savoir vivre-which seduced sixteen North American historians to commit their lives to studying the French past. One gets the sense that above their individual intentions, they were, to cite Fernand Braudel, as much acted on as actors in their own destinies. France chose them as its critical friends, as much as vice versa. Why France? offers a vibrant and humane example of transnational solidarity and opens onto some of the most pressing of contemporary issues of identity."--Colin Jones, Queen Mary, University of London, author of The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon and Paris: Biography of the City

About the Author:

Laura Lee Downs is Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. She is the author of Manufacturing Inequality: Gender Divisions in the French and British Metalworking Industries, also from Cornell, Childhood in the Promised Land: Working Class Movements and the Colonies de Vacances in France, and Writing Gender History.
Stéphane Gerson is Associate Professor of French and French Studies at New York University. He is the author of The Pride of Place: Local Memories and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century France, also from Cornell.
Roger Chartier is a member of the Collège de France, Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author of many books, including The Order of Books and Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations.

Caroline Winterer is Associate Professor of History at Stanford University. She is the author of The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910.

Laura Lee Downs is Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. She is the author of Manufacturing Inequality: Gender Divisions in the French and British Metalworking Industries, also from Cornell, Childhood in the Promised Land: Working Class Movements and the Colonies de Vacances in France, and Writing Gender History.

Stéphane Gerson is Associate Professor of French and French Studies at New York University. He is the author of The Pride of Place: Local Memories and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century France, also from Cornell.

Roger Chartier is a member of the Collège de France, Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author of many books, including The Order of Books and Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations.

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