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In the Family Way: Birth, Sex and Death in Seventeenth-Century French Culture

Module Code: FR245
Module Name: In the Family Way: Birth, Sex and Death in Seventeenth-Century French Culture
Module Credits: 15
This page is intended to give you a feel for the module, its content and the way it is taught. We will be looking at:
  • One of the earliest published midwifery texts, whose influence rapidly spread across Europe and is still referred to on midwifery training courses today (Louise Bourgeois, Instruction à ma fille; Récit véritable)
  • Perrault's fairy tales: texts that have come to be associated with childhood across Europe - 'La belle au bois dormant; Cendrillon; Le Petit Chapéron rouge; Le Chat botté, and so on...' (Histoires et contes du temps passés)
  • French tragic drama: Racine and Corneille: together the Shakespeare of their day (Athalie, Rodogune)
  • Letter writing and the mechanics of family communication (Mme de Sévigné, Lettres)
For detailed information about the module, please click on FAMILY WAY OVERVIEW.

Why the family?

When we think about the family and its associations, we're brought to consider a vast range of ideas that touch on a number of disciplines: politics, religion, sociology, anthropology, gender, art, history, biology (to name but a few).

Why birth, sex, and death in seventeenth-century France?

In my research on interpersonal relations and social codes in the early modern period, the challenge and the excitement has been to 'get inside' another culture and to analyse how it wrestles with these universal human experiences. What images, symbols and metaphors are used? How do ideas about gender and social status inform perceptions of family roles and duties? How were children viewed in early modern France?

From our 21st-century perspectives, we bring a number of our own questions, critical approaches and pre-suppositions to the table: ideas about human psychology, medicine, gender, inherited characteristics and so on. The module will examine both 17th century perceptions and our own, including

  • seventeenth-century theories and fantasies about the relationship of the human person to his / her environment, and about the role of blood ties.
  • reflections on the human life cycle and family life:
    • medical questions (childbirth, the issue of abortion);
    • anxieties over power at the level of family and state (sibling and generational rivalry, the role of gender);
    • fantasies of the journey from innocence to sexual maturity (fairy tales and the unconscious).

Teaching and learning on the module

This module takes an innovative approach to teaching and learning in the following ways:

  • 'Flipped classroom': you will listen to a recording of the lecture before the class, giving us more time in our 2 hour seminar session for in-depth discussion, student-led presentations and mini-research projects and the opportunity to consult online resources.
  • Student as researcher: this module was one of the first to be linked with a central library 'student as researcher' project which is on-going. In the module we will:
    • collaborate (via a module wiki) on the building of the module bibliography, with help from the library
    • collaborate on the building of a glossary of key terms and ideas
    • receive dedicated training on searching and bibliographic tools (representing a step up from first-year presentations on research)
    • receive dedicated training on presentational tools such as prezi
    • run a student-led mini-conference at the end of the module, as a revision tool to prepare for the examination.

For a student's eye view of the teaching and learning on the module, take a look at this video:

Assessment Method:

50% - Assessed work (one essay of between 2,000 and 2,500 words in length; OR one essay of between 1,000 and 1,250 words AND one commentary of between 1,000 to 1,250 words)
50% - Formal examination