Thursday, December 30, 2021

L3 Classroom test, feedback part four

Points about content

The main problem so far : not enough examples. We looked at quite a lot of British artists, so it is reasonable to expect you to mention five artists. Were they in some way elitist? Did they try not to be?

It is a rather bad idea to use French or American examples. It gives the impression you do not know any British ones. If you mention Picasso and almost no British painters, this is not good.

Re reading

Rereading your work carefully is essential. Basic mistakes ( *the reds books/ *he work hard / *it has being etc etc) lose a huge number of points in any exam. Examiners never say to themselves "oh, the poor student has made a slip of the pen".

Language points

Critic/ criticism / critique

A critic is either a person whose job is to write about films, art or literature for a wide audience 'the Guardian has a film critic working for them), or it is just a person who has a negative opinion about the subject in question. Johnson’s critics disagree with his management of the pandemic.

A criticism is a negative opinion about a work or accomplishment.

A critique is a structured intellectual analysis.

"Indirect questions"

A lot of students are still writing sentences like "I will explain what is elitism" or "Artists show what does the public want". If you do not see the problem, check your grammar book urgently.


In English we don’t write centuries in Roman numerals

Twentieth century or 20th century

Twenty first century or 21st century. We never write XXth century etc.


 is an uncountable noun. Some knowledge. Never *knowledges


Be careful with this expression. In Britain, it is usually used to speak of teachers, doctors, managers, that kind of person. Bus drivers, supermarket cashiers, hairdressers etc are usually called "working-class". In the United States, the term is used somewhat differently, and "middle-class" is often used where the British would say "working-class".


"Economical" means "cheap". Gas heating can be more economical than electric heating. 

"Economic" means "of or pertaining to the economy". We speak of an economic crisis, an economic downturn, a government's economic policy, and so on.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

BBC: theory, some key concepts

 I am fairly sure that I did not manage to get round to speaking of this in the BBC classes I gave you at Rouen. In any case, here is part one of two videos on theoretical concepts, to help understand broadcasting more precisely, and thus better understand what the BBC did for us and to us.

You will find it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gLXw3HHq_U

There will be a part two next week. 

L3 British popular culture since 1945 Classroom test feedback (Part three)

Because you have an exam in January, which will also consist of an essay on quite a wide question, I am giving you feedback about particular aspects of essay writing which always cause problems.

Today’s post is about the structure of your  essay, and to some extent about the introduction.

I will be using examples both from answers to the morning group question,

[How have British artists and artistic institutions tried to make sure that visual art speaks to a wider section of the population ?

Answer the question giving a number of examples of approaches by British artists or artistic programmes or institutions.]

And from answers to the  afternoon group question

[Must visual art be elitist? Discuss, giving a number of examples from the history of artists and artistic institutions and programmes in Britain.]


As you know, French university practice is to make sure you have a clear structure, which you announce at the end of the introduction. 

“Firstly I will explore X [...] Then I will examine Y  [...] Finally, I will look at Z and try to answer the question why [...] 

In Britain and other anglophone countries practice is a little more flexible. The structure is not generally announced at the beginning in this way. But there is always a structure. 

Having a tight structure should help to avoid the following errors:

  1. Including information which is not linked to the question

For example, we looked in class at definitions of culture by different thinkers going back to the 19th century, but you may only include one of these quotations in your essay if you show the link to elitism and attempts to overcome elitism. Winston Churchill lost the 1945 elections, which were won by those who promised a strong welfare state, but there is no obvious link  between this fact and the accessibility of visual art. It is off topic.

  1. Simply listing information, rather than showing the links between different facts or different opinions.

Your structure must not announce that it will be answering another question instead. There are different structures possible for the present essay: speaking first of artists, then of institutions, is one possibility. Speaking first of tendencies towards elitism and then of attempts to limit elitism is another possibility. Since attitudes to elitism have changed over time (today, elitism is generally considered to be in some way a problem: this was not th3 case a hundred years ago), it is also possible to write this essay with a chronological structure.

The following is a fairly good idea (although we must hope that the student does not only speak of artists but also of institutions).

First, we will look at the types of visual art which may still be elitist, and secondly, about the types which might not be.

However, the following examples are problematic:

First we would like to analyze why visual art is a major part of our culture.

Firstly, we will define popular and high culture.

I will first deal with Shakespeare’s work

Here I have been warning against going off topic and speaking too widely about Art or British history in general. There is also a danger of being too narrow. If the theme is elitism, attempts by artists and institutions to avoid elitism ( by painting ordinary people’s lives or by painting in the streets or by making museums free etc) are very much part of the question. And, towards the end of your essay, you may widen the perspective. Elitism we generally see as a negative phenomenon, but one might think it can be necessary in order to encourage virtuosity and a high level of artistic quality. It is very difficult indeed to obtain a place to study at the Royal Academy of Art ( I think they accept less than twenty students a year : https://www.royalacademy.org.uk ). However, if the Royal Academy announced that they were now accepting everyone who wanted to come, even if they have no training, as long as they enjoy painting, this would be very controversial: a lot of people might think that some elitism is necessary.

Language point:

Do not use contractions (don’t, shouldn’t, won’t etc.) in written university work. Do you know what written form you do not use in university work? It is contractions! Contractions are very useful, but not in written university work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Classroom test feedback. L3 popular culture. Part two (part one was a few weeks back; part three will come soon).


Classroom test feedback. L3 popular culture. Part two (part one was a few weeks back)

 Sorry about the delay.

To help you prepare for your January exam, here are some comments on your classroom test: strong points and weak points from different students.

 In this post I take examples from the afternoon group, who were asked:

 Must visual art be elitist? Discuss, giving a number of examples from the history of artists and artistic institutions and programmes in Britain.

This question is broadly similar to the question dealt with by the morning group.

 If I use a quote from your work to explain what not to do, please do not take it personally!


Today’s post is only going to talk about the first sentence! The first sentence is always important because it gives the initial impression. You may begin with a quote if you then show the link with the question. A general reformulation of the question is fine:

 J Artists, governments and other interested parties have much discussed how to make sure that art is widely accessible.

 [Note that the reformulation adds something : it announces that what artists do and what governments do will be part of the discussion]

 Or you may begin with a question, which reformulates the question.

 J Is visual art only for the highly educated élite ?

 [Note that the reformulation adds something : it reminds us that it is more an educated elite than a moneyed elite who are most in contact with visual art.]

 Your first sentence may be general, but not too general. So the following are not good.

  • Through the centuries and over the whole world, art has been constantly developing.
  • Visual art is one of the most common forms of art in today’ society.
  •  Art has questioned and developed from the moment it appeared to nowadays.
  • Over the years, culture and art have developed in Britain.


Absolutely avoid expressions such as “since the beginning of humanity”. This was five million years ago, and we do not know very much about it. Similarly, be extremely careful not to say that any social phenomenon “has always existed”. [It has not]


The first sentence should not, either, be too specific ( although too general is worse).

  • The Second World War brought a number of major changes to Western societies.


The question given, “Must visual art be elitist?” was chosen so as to allow you to show that you can evaluate and weigh up arguments and facts. You should not be surprised, then, to find that the answer is not simple. If your answer says, in essence, “Yes, all visual art is always and everywhere inevitably elitist,” then you have given an over-simple answer, which is not good. Similarly, if you answer “Art belongs to everyone and everyone”. So, do not use a first sentence which solves the problem before you have discussed it, like these do:

  • Visual art is, basically, meant to be seen and understood by everyone.
  • Visual art has always been something more or less elitist in history.


[Both of these sentences express mistaken ideas. Some artists are pleased, and think it is important, to produce work which can only be understood by an informed minority. Also, art throughout history and indeed prehistory, is extremely varied. Were cave paintings elitist? ]


Your job is to analyse and explore: what aspects of visual art in Britain might be considered elitist, what artists and institutions have done about this, whether it was successful or not, and so on. Your personal or moral opinion is very much secondary: you are to evaluate the different arguments rather than to polemicize. If you wish to give your personal opinion, you may do so *at the end* of the essay. Therefore, this first sentence is problematic:

  • Visual art should not be elitist.


Similarly, avoid words such as “unfortunately”. Your job is not really to be happy or sad here.


Do be careful, too, with the register of language. It should not be too informal. Errors of register are not as serious as errors of grammar or content, but even so, care should be taken. These first sentences are too informal, for example:

  • What an open question!
  • When it comes to art, people tend to say that it is not for them.

Two language points 


Register: should not too informal.



Do not use contractions in university work. In university work, there is one thing you should not use: contractions. Contractions are not used in university work.


The word “evolution” in English is generally used for extremely slow change.

J The evolution of mammals over the last twelve million years.

J The evolution of the British parliamentary system since the fifteenth century.

Shorter term changes are best expressed with a verb like “to develop”.

J The development of contemporary art since the Second World War.


Today I have only spoken of the first sentence, but I am sure you understand the importance of the approach.

In a few days there will be another post – probably about the structure or about the introduction. The important thing is not to follow very rigid rules about the structure, it is that that you need a structure and an introduction which allow you to discuss the question in a balanced and sufficiently sophisticated manner.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Underground and mainstream. Publication

 You will find here the new issue of the French Journal of British Studies, which I jointly edited.

The theme is “Aspects of underground and mainstream in British and Irish cultural production since 1979.



Monday, December 13, 2021

MEEF M1 Inclusion and diversity ( last classes)

On Thursday is our last class. (NB Elle sera en salle F511) I will bring us right up to date with the history of racism and antiracism in the UK.

You will find here two of the previous classes in Mp3 format



And here is the entire powerpoint on inclusion/diversity/migration (170 odd slides)


The question inclusion/diversity is not however restricted to questions of racism. I have not had the time to look at the very long and complex history of changes in the position of women. You will find however a useful timeline of events before 1928 here 

Otherwise, you will find on my YouTube channel many classes, most of which I gave last year as videos under lockdown. They include my classes on diversity and inclusion, which are not at all identical to this year's, but which broadly cover the same ground.


Sunday, December 12, 2021

M1 seminar First World War : historiography and commemoration

You will find here the recording of our last class on commemoration


You will find here the accompanying slides


Here is Jay Winter talking about commemoration



Otherwise, if it helps you to revise, you will find on my YouTube channel the video classes I gave on this subject last year, during the lockdown. They are not identical to this year’s, but cover roughly similar ground.


Thème agrégation/M2 Pfister - suggested translation

     Note that this translation will only remain on the blog for a couple of weeks.

If you are a visitor to this blog and you want to see the original passage we were translating from, you will find it here  http://www.jcmullen.fr/0921themebooklet.pdf 

 On that particular day, unusually[1], she had not come out in the middle of the gaggle[2] of other schoolgirls. She had been held up[3] by a fellow pupil[4] who wanted to copy out[5] her notes on their last history[6] lesson,[7] which had been on the Chaco War. She was[8] always careful to take neat and detailed notes in history lessons, knowing how much her father set store by this particular subject. Did he not[9] pride himself on[10] being an expert in military history? She and the other girl had argued.[11] She had been annoyed by her classmate’s[12] gloating patriotic  comments. She had not been able to stand the scorn shown for the Bolivians who, if the girl was to be believed,[13] were[14] nothing but a bunch of degenerate Indians.[15] (…). She did not really know why, but she had wanted to bring the other girl down a peg or two.[16] It might have been[17] because she had detected in her comments an echo of the things she had so often heard at the family dinner table, where she had to[18] stay silent unless asked a direct question. So she had taken her revenge: in a rather awkward[19] way, she could see that.[20]

As time was moving on, they had brought their argument to a close and had decided to catch up with the others. By the time they had passed beneath the archway and stepped out onto the pavement, the street was almost empty. The pupils had scattered, heady with the first scent of freedom. It was then that she had noticed the elderly[21] woman, dressed all in black, in the fashion of poor women from the countryside. The woman was on the lookout for somebody. She must have been a servant come to meet one of the pupils.  When she saw them come out, she had smiled, as if relieved.

“Do you know her?” she had asked her companion.

Her classmate had looked at the old woman and shaken her head.[22]

“She’s often there, you know,” she had added, “she always stands in the same place, underneath the big Palo Borracho tree. She’s always on her own, to one side. She watches us come out as if she were waiting for somebody and then she leaves. It’s strange that she should have stayed today.”

Thierry Pfister,  Le pont de l’Âme (2009)


[1] Be careful, neither structures with « she used to » nor structures with « she was used to » are possible here. NB “Contrary to” is almost always used to contrast reality with impressions. “Contrary to popular muyth, English food is the best in the world”, “Contrary to what had been supposed, Mr. Simpson had a good knowledge of French literature”. That is to say “contrary to” is not generally used to compare two realities. A detailed look at “contrary to” in the British National Corpus is worthwhile. It can be compared to “in contrast to” and “in contrast with”. Possible translations include “unlike most days” “in contrast with most days”.

[2] « Bunch » is rather too slangy. « Throng » no doubt sounds like they are more numerous than a « grappe ». « cluster » is not bad.

[3] « Delayed » is possible.

[4] Or « a classmate ». They are too young to be students. A good time to revise the short and probably closed vocabulary set of mates : classmate, workmate, shipmate, playmate, roommate, bunkmate, flatmate, soulmate, cellmate, teammate, housemate, schoolmate

[5] Phrasal verbs ending with « out »  often (but not alwaysà give an idea of completeness. « To help you memorize, you should write out the poem several times ». « Did you manage to sort the problem out ? ». « I will print out my dissertation tomorrow ». « The concert tickets may be sold out ».

[6] No capital letter needed for school subjects, except for languages.

[7] A couple of students tried ‘latest’. This seems logical, but sounds strange. ‘Latest’ usually  means most recent. It is often used to discuss news. For instance:–   “Here is the latest news from China.” ‘Last’ of course can mean the final element in a finished series. (Shakespeare’s last play) However we also do use ‘last’ to speak about time (last month, last week, last birthday) and ‘last’ is what is needed here.


[8] Most of the verbs in French are in the plusqueparfait, and it is clear we are being given a background description of the events leading up to some major new situation. There are three verbs here which are in the present in French. I think the best translation into English is the preterite, since they seem to me to describe actions in a period which is now over, rather than actions which continue right up to the present day. As you know the

[9] Naturally, no contraction.

[10] I liked « did he not brag about being »

[11] This translation makes sure there is no ambiguity. Several students tried « she had argued with her », which is clumsy.

[12] Not « comrade » which is reserved for use among communists, trade unionists etc.

[13] « To hear her » is also good.

[14] A translation with « would » is a very serious mistake here.

[15] My impression is that, in a South American context, no other word is possible here.

[16] Or « to shut her up », or « cut her down to size ».

[17] It would be a pity not to use a modal. « May have been » is slightly different but possible too.

[18] Someone tried « she was not to speak ». This is not correct, because it suggests a formally planned (non-) activity, rather than a forbidden activity. « The president of the university is to meet Prince Charles when he is in Normandy next month. They are not to  have dinner together, but will share coffee and biscuits in the afternoon. » « She was supposed to » is not bad at all. « She was meant to » is fine, but not quite as good.

[19] « Muddled » is good.

[20] « She admitted » was good.

[21]  This is more polite than « old ».

[22] Note that « to shake one’s head » is equivalent to « dire non de la tête ». No addition (like « negatively » is needed.