Florida, France, and the Francophone World, an international conference on 20-21 February, 2014 [fr]

Florida State University’s Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution organize a two-day conference focusing on the place of French and Francophone culture in the Sunshine State.
Darrin McMahon of the Department of History at FSU gives you an introduction of this international conference called “La Floride française: Florida, France, and the Francophone World”.

The colloquium, involving scholars on both sides of the Atlantic, will be open to the public on February 21 and 22, 2014.

Darrin McMahon answers our questions just a few days before the opening of the conference.


  • e-Toile Mr. McMahon, we thank you warmly for answering our questions. First of all, could you introduce yourself and give us some details about the two institutes organizing the event?

JPEGDarrin McMahon: It is a pleasure to speak to you about what my fellow co-organizers have planned, which is I think is going to be a really wonderful event.

I am the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State and an expert on 18th –century France and the French Revolution. The Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution is devoted to furthering the study of both.

The Institute funds an extensive graduate program for MA and PhD students, helps maintain an impressive collection of books and manuscripts, and in general promote interest in France and French history in the exciting revolutionary era.

The main sponsor of the conference, however, is the Winthrop-King Institute for French and Francophone studies, also at Florida State University. The Institute’s Director (and my fellow organizer of this conference) is Dr. Martin Munro, who is a specialist in Francophone literature of the Caribbean, particularly Haiti.

The Institute is a marvelous institution, which through a very generous endowment, is able to fund a wide variety of activities—student scholarship, conferences, readings, and educational activities— promoting the study and appreciation of France and the Francophone world.

Our third fellow organizer is François Dupuigrenet-Desroussilles, Professor of Religion at Florida State.
FSU is extremely fortunate to have Professor Dupuigrenet-Desroussilles , who was formerly the curator of rare books at the Bibliothèque Nationale in France (1978-1995) and also the director of the French national school for librarians, ENSSIB (1995-2005).

François is an expert on the history of the book, and among many other contributions, he is helping to curate an exhibition at the conference on rare French maps and travel books about Florida from the 16th to the 19th century.

This exhibition is a joint effort between the Strozier Library Special Collections and La Rose des Vents, a renowned dealer in antique maps from North Redington Beach.

  • The colloquium is part of the continuing celebration of the 450th anniversary of French heritage in Florida, which started in May 2012 to commemorate Jean Ribault’s landing on the First Coast. Could you explain to our readers why Tallahassee is also a marker in the history binding France and Florida?

- Darrin McMahon: Not only is Tallahassee home to Florida State, with its extensive interest in French history and culture, but it is also a French “lieu de mémoire” (place of memory) in its own right.

The Marquis de Lafayette, the great man who played a significant role in both the American and French Revolutions, was granted land here (the section of the city is now called appropriately “French Town”), in recognition of his service and devotion to the American revolutionary cause.

Not only that, but Prince Achille Murat lived in Tallahassee and is buried here with his wife Catherine Daingerfield Willis, the great grand-niece of George Washington.
Prince Achille was the son of Joachim Murat, a leading general of Napoleon, a Marshal of France, and for a period, the monarch of the Kingdom of Naples.

So you see, there is plenty of French history in Tallahassee. I should also say that the city is proud to host a chapter of the Alliance Française, which enjoys a thriving and active membership.

  • eToile : Since 2014 marks the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the French colony of Fort Caroline, the first conference will be dedicated to the French presence in Florida from this historical milestone to the Lafayette’s heritage. The following lectures cover more broadly the cultural theme of the colloquium. Could you give us a preview of the different aspects of the French and Francophone legacy in the region?

- Darrin McMahon: The main period of direct French presence was in the 16th century, when the French explored the coastline of Florida and established the first European fortification in the New World at Fort Caroline somewhere in the vicinity of Jacksonville in 1564.

Although France subsequently lost the fort in a decisive battle to the Spanish, so changing profoundly the subsequent history of the region and indeed of the United States, the French and Francophone connection to Florida did not disappear.

Traffic with the neighboring French colonies in Louisiana and what is now Mobile, Alabama, as well as the Caribbean, maintained ties in the 17th century, and in the 18th century, North Florida and the city of St. Augustine were home to a great deal of French revolutionary intrigue.
It was also the place of residence of Georges Biassou, one of the principal leaders of the slave uprising in St. Domingue/Haiti in 1791 that eventually ended French rule there (Biassou is buried in St. Augustine and his house still stands).

In the 19th century, Florida was a source of fascination for many French, including the great writers Chateaubriand and Jules Verne, who used the state as imaginative settings for their novels.

And this continues into 20th and 21st-century Florida, which continue to draw French and Francophone holidaymakers, Quebecois snowbirds, and many others. I should also add that the vibrant Haitian population in Miami and throughout the state, and the growing number of Francophone Africans in Tampa and Orlando, help ensure that French is spoken by more people in Florida than in any other state in the United States.

  • e-Toile: Four speakers including Franck Lestringant University of Paris-Sorbonne will be involved; could you introduce them to our readers?

- Darrin McMahon: We are very fortunate to be hosting three pre-eminent scholars and a highly acclaimed journalist of the French involvement in Florida to delivery our plenary lectures and keynote addresses.
You mentioned Professor Lestringant, the greatest living scholar of the French involvement in Florida in the 16th century.

He is the author of over fifty books dedicated to the French Religious Wars, to Alfred de Musset and Andre Gide, but mostly to the Great Discoveries and to geographic literature and cartography in the Renaissance.

We also will have keynote addresses by Jane Landers, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and the author of a number of works on Africans in the Atlantic World, the most recent being the award-winning Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, Mass., 2010); Michael Wintroub, Associate Professor of Rhetoric at UC Berkeley, who is the author of the highly regarded A Savage Mirror: Power, Identity and Knowledge (Stanford, 1996), which deals with the French fascination with Florida and the New World in the early modern period; and finally the highly acclaimed journalist TD Allman, who has written extensively on Florida and whose work has appeared in such varied publications as the New Yorker, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, and Le Monde.

He will speak about his recent award-winning book Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013).

In addition to these keynote address, the conference will host scholars and contributors from France, Canada, Haiti, Latin America, and the United States, who will be speaking on a great variety of subjects in connection to the French and Francophone presence and interest in Florida from the 16th century to the present day.

There will also be a lecture on the search for the original site of Fort Caroline, a banquet featuring a menu based on 16th-century French fare, an exhibition of rare French maps and drawings of Florida, and a great many other exiting events.

The conference is open to the public, and we hope some of your readers will want to attend.

The program and more information about the conference may be found here:

Article published Feb. 10, 2014.

Last modified on 13/02/2014

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