Homeward Bound

We are about to apply for German citizenship. We have been living in Berlin for over 10 years now, we both have decent (in my case) to more than honorable (in my husband’s case) positions in the German academic system, our children were born in Berlin. We somehow turned to half Germans.

Beyond the political aspect (it will be a relief to vote here at last), this lead me to some thinking concerning my academic identity. Have I really turned into a German scholar? Would I be able to return to France and get a position there? Does it even make sense to consider one’s academic achievements according to the country they are bound to?

Regarding these questions that I keep asking myself then and again, it is a great intellectual incentive to take part in the realization of the Scholar Guide “Frankreich für Historiker” by Pierre Monnet, Mareike König and Falk Breitschneider. We met last Monday in Paris to discuss which topics should come into which chapters, which elements should not be forgotten, how to harmonize the different as well as the recurring aspects. Not only was I almost the only one among the authors who was not a historian (always weird, but I have gotten used to it), but many of the others were Germans with a French personal history rather than French with a German personal history like myself. Having elected Germany rather than France, it was an unexpected experience to meet so many people who had chosen (as much as you get to actually choose where you academic destiny takes you) France over Germany. All these things I hate about France – the hideous cities with their grey 1920s and 1960s houses and buildings, the narrow sidewalks, the way people are always in a hurry or worry about their looks – might, after all, not necessarily poison one’s life. You might even think Berlin is just way too cold and dark in the winter, people too unflexible, the German academic system too hierarchical and uncertain.

All in all, this is even what the Scholar Guide “Frankreich für Historiker” is about. It intends to explain to German Historians how to decipher the specific French codes, just as the first Guide “Faire de l’histoire en Allemagne” did for German Historians. In the new guide, I am in charge of one chapter on how to start publishing (first papers, dissertation), as well as (this one together with Franziska Heimburger) one chapter on the French scholarly language. This connects to what I talked about in an earlier post (probably my most popular one :-). This chapter will have to provide, if not for a universally valid answer, at least for some  leads on how to appropriate oneself the French way of writing scholarly texts. Obviously, it will deal with the way French scholarly texts somehow always, always have three main parts. It is true that I have been trained to do so for over ten years – until I would be able to do so without even thinking there might be another way to deal with the given topic -. It is exactly when you are not even aware you are doing it that it turns difficult to explain how you get to that point. Writing this chapter will be an interesting experience in terms of deconstructing my own way of thinking. I also intend to write about repetitions and adverbs. These two are to be manipulated quite differently in French and in German. In fact, I have been in deep adjective and adverb deprivation since I have started to write mainly in German – I can’t even seem to be able to make up for it in English. All of my French texts are, compared to the German and the English ones, some kind of waltz, not only in their structure, but within the sentences themselves.

I wonder if writing about this will get me closer to my French roots or, on the contrary, repulse me more, while I am on a larger scale trying to touch base with France again. One of the reasons to this is that I don’t really know what Digital Humanities look like in France. I hope to get to learn more about it during the Frankoromanistentag in Leipzig in September, where I will be giving a paper in the section “Revolution der Medien – Evolution in der Literaturwissenschaft?“. Having received the preliminary section’s program yesterday, I can only say I am really looking forward to it.

Well, of course I hope to be able to enrich my knowledge of French DH in the future. After all, this is the only place where you get the really yummy croissants.