Ten years ago I raised the possibility with Howard Brown of co-editing a bulletin on H-France that would discuss novels and films dealing with the French past. We both use them in our teaching and believe that they are excellent tools for discussion, even when they are not masterpieces. These imaginative works help us visualize the past and leap beyond our disciplinary confines. H-France liked the idea, and we began this journey in December 2010. After Howard took on heavy responsibilities at Binghamton University, I continued on my own, although, assisted, as of this year, by a fifteen-member advisory board that suggests reviewers and items for review.
While mainstream reviews of films and novels sometimes tackle the historical reliability of a work, FFSF’s mission is to add a pedagogical component: asking whether these materials would be useful in the classroom. We do so knowing that any fictionalized version of the past has its limitations; but then, so too do the strict rules of historical scholarship. A lively imagination is as necessary to an analysis of the past as it is to a passion for history. We see historical fiction as a way to aid our students’ imagination, a means to transport them to a distant time and place that they often have difficulty envisioning. Fiction and film can make that journey easier.
If we make the travel metaphor literal, we realize that many of us do not get to France as often, or for as long, as we would like, especially given rising costs and reduced institutional support. As a result we are probably individually and collectively less aware of the existence (or reissue) of a good number of works. Although each of us can access this information online–if we have the time and know where to look–we believe that a communal, professional discussion of the items in question will be distinctive, stimulating and helpful.
The bulletin therefore serves to keep its readers abreast of new fiction and film and of works that might have been “missed” and deserve a second look. Classics in the classroom are revisited with a fresh eye, as our reviewers assess them in light of recent scholarship. The contributors are scholars of France chosen for their expertise in a particular period or theme. We have had great luck recruiting them and hope that you will enjoy their reviews as much as we have. Feel free to share your own impression of the films and novels, your experience teaching them, or to suggest alternatives.
Liana Vardi, University at Buffalo, SUNY