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The École Normale Supérieure in Paris

The École Normale Supérieure exchange scheme


Yasmine Richardson is the Merton exchange student at the École Normale Supérieure in 2013-4. She is working with the Équipe Proust and consulting manuscript sources including Proust’s "cahiers" (notebooks).  2013 was the centenary of the publication of the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu.

Arthur Defrance is this year's ENS Visiting Student; here he describes his experiences at Merton:

"The year I have spent at Merton College is undoubtedly one of the most enriching and valuable experiences I have had at university. The environment at Merton lends itself perfectly to study, research and communication. The Mertonian community is so closely knit that it enables students to exchange viewpoints with other students from totally different backgrounds and specialities, so that everyone can really benefit from the experience and the knowledge of others.

"Although Japanese Studies, which are my major, are not well represented at Merton, the atmosphere at the College enabled me to have rich discussions with students specialising in Literature, Mathematics, Sinology, and Archaeology. I must also add that the rich and intense social life of Merton makes it all the more simple and casual to get acquainted with people and to create links and a feeling of solidarity with the other members of the College.

"The position of Visiting Student at Merton carries the right to attend almost any lecture at the University of Oxford, which enables you to choose the classes that exactly suit your needs and interest. At the Oriental Institute I attended the lectures on Japanese Linguistics, Ancient and Classical Japanese by Professor Frellesvig and Dr Horn, certainly among the most interesting and stimulating ones on the subject I have ever listened to, providing the students with both a very solid knowledge of the field and an insight into the most recent research topics. I must add that I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do some voluntary work on one of the research projects conducted by Professor Frellesvig and the Centre for Japanese Linguistics, which also helped me get a clearer insight into the state of research in this field.

"Finally, I would say that being given access to the University's libraries was a great privilege, which helped me a great deal in my own research. Being able to consult books at the Bodleian Library, the Oriental Institute Library, the Nissan Institute Library and the Library of the Centre for Chinese Studies has been of great help to carry out my research, which needed very specific sources; needless to say I always found whatever I needed in one or other of those libraries.

"To summarise, I would say that the position of Visiting Student at Merton offers a very large range of opportunities for students of all fields and that the environment at the College and the University create an intellectually challenging atmosphere, where the wellbeing of the students and the insertion into a community are at the same time very central."

Jason Allen at the ENS

Jason Allen was the Merton exchange student at ENS last year — here's his account of his time in Paris:

"I am currently pursuing the DPhil in Medieval & Modern Languages. My thesis is on modernist aesthetics in the theatre of the English- and French-speaking Caribbean during the 20th century. In January 2012 I was selected by the College as its participant in the École Normale Supérieure-Merton graduate student exchange and so was able to spend almost an entire year at the ENS.

"The ENS is an intellectually rich and vibrant environment for the Humanities. It has a very strong literary tradition and a firm place in the history of twentieth century literary theory and criticism. As a student of literature, I felt privileged to be studying and doing research at an institution whose alumni include Jean-Paul Sartre and Aimé Césaire and whose illustrious list of faculty features such leading personalities as Samuel Beckett, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. The ENS continues to attract illustrious intellectuals from all over the world (both permanent and visiting faculty), many of whom carry out research of an exciting cross-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary nature. The “normaliens” (students of the ENS) are trained to have an expansive knowledge base; therefore, interest in domains other than one’s own is strongly encouraged and so is interdisciplinary research. I attended a number of seminars not closely related to my area of research, including ones on French symbolist poetry. The seminars in French Literature and in Theatre Studies are some of the most thought-provoking and stimulating ones that I have followed to date.

"The seminars I attended on African and diasporic theatres at the Musée du Quai Branly and on theatre criticism and theory at Université Paris III and at the ENS have enhanced the quality of my thesis; in fact, I can say with confidence that the quality of my thesis will have been far better for my having stayed at the ENS for a year.

"In Paris I was also able to access many resources which I could not have had in Oxford: rare journals and publications containing articles on and reviews of French Caribbean theatre from as early as the 1950s, video recordings of productions of plays involved my study (some of which are no longer staged), anecdotes and first-hand accounts from actors who played in some of these productions (Aimé Césaire’s plays mainly) and who knew or know the authors and directors closely (Aimé Césaire, Édouard Glissant, Jean-Marie Serreau). The first hand narratives and and rare materials that I have obtained in Paris have therefore been of tremendous value to me."

About the scheme

The Merton/ENS exchange scheme, which includes free accommodation, is open to all first- and second-year DPhil students, and is intended to facilitate a student to use Paris libraries and archives and attend seminars and other events relevant to their subject. In return, we accept a visiting student from the ENS. The scheme has been running since 1995, and previous participants' programmes of study have included modern languages, modern history, law, music and computer science.

Image: Lunette above the entrance to the ENS, photo by Ordifana75, used under CC-BY-SA 3.0 license