In London and Paris today, it’s impossible to walk even a block without hearing a dozen languages spoken. It’s equally difficult to wander through most neighborhoods without smelling the ethnic spices, simmering curries, and savory pho that have stretched to new limits what can be called “British” or “French” food. But if these and other realities of globalization are embraced well enough in London and Paris, it’s equally clear that virulent flavors of nationalism and bigotry loom menacingly over the UK and Europe.
That’s why Brexit gained the ground it did in 2016, and it’s why voters today in many sectors of the UK are prepared to blame immigrants and refugees for what seems to be ailing the country. It’s also why the French government has had such a difficult time finding anyone willing to name the hateful villagers who have recently desecrated so many Jewish cemeteries in provincial France.
To understand the scope of identity politics, our course will explore hallowed shrines to faith–like Southwark Cathedral in London and St. Eustache Cathedral in Paris–as we interrogate, too, the pilfered bounty of Empire that comprises the collections of the British Museum and the Louvre. Some days we’ll walk the verdant gardens of our classroom cities–marveling at how Kensington Gardens and the Jardin Luxenbourg seem to do with green space what ideas about civilization utterly failed to do most anywhere else–while other days we’ll venture into the great consumer meccas of our cities. And wander among their elaborate power displays of food, clothes and jewelry.
Hence High-Tea in London might be a classroom experience worth our time. Or watching part of a cricket match in an iconic Westminster pub. Or having Moroccan tea in the heart of the Latin Quarter, within the secret garden of the imposing Mosque of Paris. But the darker histories of bigotry and violence that have been part and parcel of British and French identity will be explored, too. Where and why did the IRA wreak terrorist havoc in London during the long era of the Irish “troubles” and what about Jihad in the city today? Similarly what was the French reaction to the Nazi occupation and World War II where the city’s Jews were concerned? And what of the 2015 Jihadist attacks in Paris?
Our course will be an analysis of urban geography and its attendant layers of culture, myth, power and media.