Call for Papers | Revolutionary Speeches, Speeches about Revolutions

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on July 4, 2022

From the Call for Papers:

Revolutionary Speeches, Speeches about Revolutions: A Comparative Study of Revolutionary Eloquence in France and in the United States
Paris Nanterre University, 16–17 March 2023

Organized by Hélène Parent and Augustin Habran

Proposals due by 31 October 2022

“The eulogy for this American hero should be delivered by the most eloquent mouths,” Fontanes affirmed in the funeral oration he gave for George Washington in the temple of Mars on February 9, 1800. The revolutionary American hero and first president of the United States, who died in December 1799, was frequently used as a reference by the orators of the French Revolution from all political camps as a tool for various rhetorical strategies. Indeed, as they looked for founding myths and heroes that would suit the new nation, that was not founded from scratch, French revolutionaries kept convoking models from other times and spaces. The example of Washington perfectly illustrates this outstanding circulation of references. He was first celebrated in the United States as a modern Cincinnatus; and this myth was then reclaimed by French orators who had themselves been educated to classical culture.

It is this dynamic circulation of references and rhetorical and political models between these two spaces (the United States and France) at the time of their respective revolutions that this symposium aims at studying. We will focus more particularly on the representations and the founding myths that allowed for the emergence and definition of concepts including the nation, the political figure (as an ideal orator) and the people in political speeches. Furthermore, the way these two revolutionary events also became myths, symbols or models shall be analyzed through the study of their representations in literature and art more generally (painting, theater, cinema, etc.) from the time they occurred until today. As far as the American Revolution is concerned, we shall focus on the period spanning from the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the ‘Revolution of 1800’, Thomas Jefferson’s election, that provided the ongoing debate over the very nature of federalism in the early republic with a temporary solution. Regarding the French Revolution, we shall consider the period spanning from the General Estates of 1789 to the suppression of the Tribunat, last deliberative assembly of the Empire, in 1807.

The study of these partly concurrent periods of democratic establishment will be carried out through the prism of the notion of eloquence, being defined here both as whatever has to do with the political speech per se (deliberative eloquence, parliamentary notably) and as the spaces where the latter circulates by means of imitation, repercussion or parody of the rhetorical forms and codes of the oratory genre: newspapers, essays, pamphlets, founding documents, etc.

The committee invites proposals that may address—but not limited to—the following questions:

1. The imaginary figures, symbols and models convoked in political speeches, laws, essays or newspapers of the French and American revolutions may be studied. Particular attention shall be paid to proposals allowing for a comparative perspective that will highlight the circulation of references between the two spaces (how the French Revolution reappropriates specific symbols of the American Revolution for instance) or potential similarities in the apprehension of symbols or models in both spaces. Besides the content, the question of style may also be addressed: What language(s), what style(s), what stylistic device(s) are used to express these imaginaries? What vision(s) of the ideal orator (and of the “political figure”) emerge(s) with the birth of these modern democracies? What is a representative of the people? How is this figure theorized and represented (and therefore, how is the “people” theorized and represented)? All these questions shall be addressed in the light of a striking paradox: How can one affirm inventing something new (a nation, a political regime) while using models and symbols from the past? How were those models adapted and transformed?

2. The question of the multiplicity of eloquence should also be tackled: in contrast with the parliamentary eloquence developed in dominant political spheres, where, how and through which figures does popular and minority eloquence emerge? (the eloquence of the people versus that of the elites; the eloquence of women, of African Americans, of Native Americans, etc.)

3. Ex post representations of public speaking in its plurality and of its diverse practitioners may also be studied: how are the great figures of both revolutionary periods (the Founding Fathers in the United States, the orators of the French Revolution, the figures of popular/minority eloquence, etc.) themselves turned into models or deterrents through their later (positive or negative) representations in literature and art until today? How do revolutions become new myths through the narratives developed around them? Here again, the comparative perspective will be favored.

Proposals in French or English (about 300 words) with a short bio should be sent before 31 October 2022 to Hélène Parent (hparent1404@gmail.com) and Augustin Habran (augustin.habran@gmail.com). Communications may be delivered in both French and English during the symposium.

Organizing Committee
Hélène Parent (Ph.D. in French Literature, CSLF, Paris Nanterre University) and Augustin Habran (Associate Professor of American History, REMELICE, University of Orléans)

Discours des révolutions, discours sur les révolutions: Une étude comparée de l’éloquence révolutionnaire aux États-Unis et en France

Held at Paris Nanterre University, on Thursday, 16 and Friday 17, March 2023, this symposium is part of the Dire / montrer l’éloquence, 1750–1850 project (University Paris Lumière – Paris Nanterre / Paris 8, 2021–2023).

[1] Louis de Fontanes, Éloge funèbre de Washington, prononcé dans le temple de Mars le 20 pluviôse an 8 [9 février 1800], Paris, Henri Agasse et Dupont, an VIII, p. 13.

[2] Voir par exemple Denis Lacorne, « Mémoire et amnésie : les fondateurs de la république américaine, Montesquieu et le modèle politique romain », in Revue française de science politique, N° 42-3, p. 363-374, ou encore Garry Wills, Cincinnatus : George Washington and the Enlightenment, New York, Doubleday, 1984.

[3] Voir Hélène Parent, Modernes Cicéron. La romanité des orateurs d’assemblée de la Révolution française et de l’Empire (1789-1807), thèse de doctorat soutenue à l’Université Paris Nanterre le 12 octobre 2020, 704 p.

[4] Par exemple, la Déclaration d’Indépendance, les constitutions, le Code civil, les journaux révolutionnaires, les Federalist Papers, etc.

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