Last month, Professor Charles Forsdick delivered the prestigious Garnet Rees Memorial Lecture at the University of Hull. Endowed in honour of the former professor of French at the University, the annual lecture has now been extended to allow a range of scholars from across Modern Languages to explore the latest developments in their field.
Professor Forsdick first engaged with the work of Garnet Rees as a PhD student at Lancaster in the 1990s working on the author Victor Segalen, when he read Rees’s still definitive 1940 book on the French poet and critic Remy de Gourmont. The focus of his recent lecture was, however, a very different one, drawing on his contribution to the AHRC-funded project Transnationalizing Modern Languages and exploring questions of slavery commemoration in France and the French-speaking world.
Professor Forsdick addressed the persistence of slavery in contemporary French politics, and focused on recent controversies surrounding the publication of L’Histoire mondiale de la France. The aim of the lecture was to show how the French memorialization of slavery is often reduced to a national frame – but that debates about reparations and memory inevitably entail more complex transnational considerations. He concluded with a study of museums and memorials commemorating slavery in contemporary France, constrasting for instance Fabrice Hyber’s ‘Le Cri, l’écrit’, unveiled in the Jardin de Luxembourg by President Jacques Chirac in May 2007, with the ambitious Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery inaugurated in Nantes in 2011. The lecture was hosted by WISE, the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation.