April 20, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2003

York, Holly
Department of French and Italian


Project Summary

With only modest knowledge but great concern for environmental issues, I was intrigued by the Piedmont Project, which offered the possibility of incorporating such important questions into courses across the disciplines. In looking at the fields represented by previous participants, I noted that languages and literature were indeed represented, and I wanted to know how my colleagues had succeeded in making the environment a relevant topic in our discipline by applying a humanities perspective. At the same time I valued the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of colleagues from disciplines more closely related to environmental study.

In developing a unit on environmental awareness for my French for Business course where differing cross-cultural points of view form an important focus, I began with the observation of a historical contrast between the European awareness of limited space and resources and the American feeling of wide open spaces, constantly expanding new frontiers, and unlimited resources. There is a lexical reflection of this contrast in French, which defines the space around one’s dwelling as “jardin” or “cour”, either a cultivated area of plantings an outdoor “room” formed by the walls of buildings. There is no French equivalent for “yard”, a generic term for land around the house which may or may not include a garden of flowers or tomatoes.

The garden is a strong theme in French literature, which gives me a chance to sneak some literary readings into this business course by way of introduction to our unit on “les enterprises vertes.” A nicely accessible piece appears in Saint Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. One of the planets the Little Prince visits as he tries to learn how best to care for his own is that of le businessman, an extraordinary creature who spends all his time looking at the stars, not to admire them or wonder or care about them, but to count them, for no other reason than to lock his accounts in a vault and possess them. The Little Prince continues on his journey, reflecting that adults (Americans?) don’t really know very much. This will be an engaging lead-in to the student-presented case studies on green businesses in France.

The unit will take two weeks, but by placing it at the beginning of the semester, I hope to establish a theme that will recur in our discussions. Because this is an intermediate language course, small and large group discussions and student presentations account for much of our class time, and much discussion is student-generated. I have built in time to go outside and how we use that time will be determined as the course progresses.

For the future I envision developing this type of unit for other courses I teach: freshman seminars, French film and intermediate grammar (which is surprisingly open to the introduction of many subjects!). Representations of nature in literature and other forms of culture will be the approach I am most comfortable with, although as time goes on I hope to branch out a bit and acquire some cultural anthropology tools to add a new layer to my base.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: York_2003.pdf (159.6 KB)

Bookmark and Share