Planting Seeds for Lasting Cooperation: Graduate Students and the FBF

A key priority of the France-Berkeley Fund is to support the involvement of early-career scholars in international collaborations. While past Spotlights have primarily featured faculty grantees, in this edition we highlight the graduate students and postdocs who played an integral part in a recent project.


April 01, 2020
The "Decentered Disciplines" project team
The "Decentered Disciplines" project team

In 2017, professors Ian Duncan (Berkeley English) and Nathalie Vanfasse (Laboratoire LERMA, Université Aix-Marseille) embarked on their FBF collaboration “Form Across the Literature and the Sciences in Victorian Britain.” Like many projects, theirs was not simply a two-way exchange between the principal coordinators but a multifaceted collaboration, involving a diverse group of graduate students and postdocs. The team worked extensively to create an interdisciplinary blog that has since gained much traction, while allowing junior scholars to advance their research in an international setting.

While each of the students took part at completely different stages in their research, their encounters and exchanges proved extremely productive for all involved. LERMA student Kévin Cristin, who explores connections between science and literature in the works of R.L. Stevenson, joined the team just as he was commencing his doctoral program. The whole process was extremely influential; it really guided me and helped me form the idea I’d be working on," he explained. On the Berkeley side, English PhD student Abigail Struhl echoed that “working with people using the same archive of texts helped me develop what approach I wanted to take” in her research on 18th and 19th century novels.

Crucial to the project were the two conferences it generated, at Berkeley in May 2018 and at Aix-Marseille the following year. Katherine Hobbs, now a third-year doctoral candidate in Berkeley’s English department who specializes in 19th century gender and sexuality studies, emphasized how instructive it was to learn applied skills from fellow graduate students’ work-in-progress and receive feedback from peers in another country and institution. “Having different models and seeing what people in the same department in another country are doing with the same kinds of texts was eye-opening”, added Struhl. Vanfasse also noted that “it was wonderful to pick up from where we left off in the first workshop, to continue our interaction and see everyone grow.”

Indeed, this FBF collaboration has had a far-reaching impact. Not only did the conferences foster strong links between faculty colleagues and students across the Aix-Marseille and Berkeley campuses. The project’s most meaningful outcome has undoubtedly been the student-led academic blog, Decentered Disciplines, which remains active today. The blog was originally piloted by LERMA researcher Anaïs Martin, who studies the linguistic links between song and literature. Officially referenced as an open-source scientific publication by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, it focuses on English and Anglophone studies in a transnational context and includes book reviews, works-in-progress, pre-circulated papers, and more. The blog has become a useful resource for scholars on both sides of the Atlantic to interact and share their work in the true spirit of the FBF, sparking new connections across international and disciplinary boundaries.

Check it out here: