The diary of an old student 2006-2007 (#2)

When I retired in Oct. 2005, I decided to start a new life (see my resume) and part of this life would be to study History at the Sorbonne. After a first (and very happy) year, this is the diary of my second year iback to school.

Philippe Rochefort

 Back to school : first decisions    The "mémoire"
  • In October 2006, I started my "Maitrise" in History. This is the fourth year and it is called "Master" or "M1" (see chart). After the Licence, the choice is between 9 departments :
    • History of Antiquity
    • Medieval Worlds
    • Civilization of Modern Times
    • The Contemporary World
    • History of Cultural and Religious Facts
    • Power, States and Politics
    • Historical Anthropology
    • Cultural Areas : Europe and the World
    • Issues, Conflicts, International Systems in Modern and Contemporary Times (Pr.Georges-Henri Soutou) : this was my choice. It includes 6 options :
      • Diplomacy and international relations
      • History of Communication and major networks (Pr. Pascal Griset) : my choice
      • The building of Europe
      • History of colonization and decolonization
      • Innovation and international economic relations
  • The main objective of the year is to write a "mémoire" (dissertation), under the supervision of a "directeur de recherches" (Pr.Griset in my case). It has to be submitted in June and represents 150 to 200 pages (+ annexes).
  • In addition to the mémoire, there is :
    • A weekly seminar with the "directeur de recherche"
    • Methodology : two courses a week (historiography and historical techniques)
    • Case studies : two seminars a week : in my case, one on the history of large corporations and organizations and one which consists in attending meetings of historical associations
    • A course in another field : I chose "colonization/decolonization"
    • Language (English !)
  • We are around 20 students with the same "directeur de recherches" and there is a friendly relation between us (with a common blog), in spite of the disastrous material conditions of the Sorbonne. The students are very friendly and helpful to their old classmate.
  • No money, please ! Today July 11, 2007, I receive an internship contract from a resaerch center to help financially the two students involved in the project for which I am writing my "memoire" (300 Euros/month). This money is badly needed by my memoire-mate but not by me (and I would be the oldest intern in France). I have to arrange with my "directeur de recherche" how to use this money for another purpose in the same project.
  • The subject of my "mémoire" is "The History of Regional Planning" (Aménagement du Territoire) in France between 1969 and 1992, as seen through the archives of the Conseil National des Economies Régionales (CNER), an organization which was instrumental in the 1960s and which does not know that it is dead by now. I work with a very smart and nice student, Johanna, who covers the period 1952-1969.
  • It is interesting to observe that, now at the end of January, the total time devoted to my dissertation by the teaching staff shows a great confidence in my capacity to do it all by myself : one minute in the corridor with the professor and a luncheon with his assistant.
  • Today, May 26, 2007, I have 115 pages of my "mémoire" already written and my professor never saw them (and never asked for them) ! When will he discover them ? I'll have to keep them as a mystery, but one day, they'll have to be disclosed. I hope he'll like them.... Today, as I am currently finishing the exams for Semester 2, I still do not have my grades for Semester 1 (somebody apparently lost one of them).
  • Early July : the mémoire is taking shape ! It is due for August 31 with 150-200 pages + annexes 150 pages. The "soutenance" (presentation to the professor) will take place Octobre 2 (I still do not have the grades of the first semester last year!).
  • October 2 : I formerly present my mémoire and I get a (very good) grade : 19 (on a scale of 20). I am delighted ! The question now is : "What am I going to do this year?" : considering a PhD or not ? If yes, I have one year to find a subject that turns me on for the next four years, if no, what's next ?


Courses, grades and exams

  • The weekly seminar is interesting and Pr.Griset shows that he is indeed a very good professor (see his resume) by providing the students with excellent information, orientation, advice and very clear explanations of the most complex phenomenons.
  • Mid-year exams took place in January ; they are much more informal than last year's. They include :
    • Colonization (written, 2 hours) : a subject with two questions : "what did Europeans know about the geography of Africa in 1887" and "the conquest of Madagascar". No problem. (grade = 16)
    • Historical techniques (written, one hour): a subject (in a choice of six) about "statistical techniques in history". No problem.

 A French school year...

  • Vacations, vacations, vacations.... The French academic year is very short ! It starts October 2 and ends somewhere in June : let's take June 23, i.e. 38 weeks. Out of these 38 weeks, no professor with a weekly course can get more than 25 courses a year, taking into account :
    • 5 lost for vacations : (Christmas 2, February 1 and Spring 2)
    • 5 lost for exam weeks and "grading weeks" : 2 in January, 3 in June
    • 3 lost for various holidays, mostly in November and May
  • The President of the university recently mentionned in an article the drop-out rate at the Sorbonne : 73% the first year, 47% the second year, 42% the third year. This is the price of the myth of "No selection" but just mentionj the word "selection" and 85% of the students go on strike.
  • To protect French students from the temptation of working too hard, the library of the Sorbonne is closed one out of the two weeks of Easter. To know more about vacations in France, click here.
  • Happy Americans ! There are many (hundreds?) American students at the Sorbonne, from the best US universities, for a semester in France. A long-time admirer of American universities, I wonder how they can survive in such a Third World ordeal but, actually, they do love it. I keep asking them and I'm happy and proud to report that the answer is always the same : they love the courses (they're right), the building, the Quartier Latin, life in Paris, everything (even the French)!
  • Happy professors ! One of our courses ("History and television") starts early in the morning, at bat 8 a.m. and the professor does not like this schedule : she arrives around 8:15 with her coffee mug, grumbling about the schedule. Last time I left at 8:30, with many students, but she arrived 10 minutes later. I explained the students that this would be unthinkable in an American university, but they did not believe me...
  • More to come on next page : my new school year (M2 in the French cursus, which is the fifth year)....
    • Historiography : 3 reading reports on the history of economic development
    • Corporate history : a 20-page+ report on "how a large corporation keeps its archives and historical records" ; I chose SCET, a company I worked for 25 years ago (see my resume) : it was really fun to go back as a student and interview the CEO and my distant successor !
    • English : one-hour Q&A with questions on both grammar (all these terrible rules on past tense and articles) and the American Revolution. No problem. (grade = 15,25)
    • Final results for mid-year exams (published only late September!!!) : 16,917 (on 20). OK!
  • I'm happy too with my grades for Semester 2 : 18,333 (on 20).
  • The meetings with historical associations are a lot of fun. These are associations such as History of Economy and Finance, History of Telecommunication, etc... Pr.Griset is their scientific adviser and he brings along his students. There are two groups : the group of old buzzards, talking about the great things they did in the 1960s (the French nuclear program, the renovation of telecoms, etc..), the group of young sparrows, who can't believe they can even move, and, in between, a sparrow-buzzard : me!
  • For many of the students of my class, trying to pass the CAPES or agrégation exams are THE critical issue of this year and next : these exams give you the access ticket to become a teacher (and a civil servant by the same token) and get both a salary and a job for life. They are very competitive and the number of people admitted is fixed (I have to check the figures) : for History is may be something like 200 or 300 (when the number of candidates is several thousands). The "concours" takes place in April and some of my fellow students will try this year with the hope to pass it next year.
  • I just read a funny book (in French), by an American woman who decided to resume her studies after having lived 20 years in France by preparing a competitive examination, the "Agrégation d'Anglais", at Paris4 - Sorbonne. She encountered the same kind of situation, amazement and shock I did (Laurel Zuckermann, Sorbonne confidential, Fayard, 2007)
To related pages : to my last year's diary and next year's, to my resume, to my Franco-American site and the page on education in France, etc...

To top of the page

Back to home page

  • More on Franco-American inter-cultural differences : visit, my site to (try to) explain France and the French to Americans...
  • More information on Harriet Welty's books (upcoming events, booksignings, press releases, lectures, etc..)

 To email me

 If you like this site, please bookmark it or create a link !

 Visit my intercultural Franco-American website