The University of Tours is honored to host the 60th S.A.E.S. Congress inviting its members, Anglicists from around the world, to explore renewed and renewable horizons towards a Renaissance of all Renaissances, a Rebirth or all Rebirths, an ultimate Renewal. The Renaissance can be seen as an environmentalist repositioning, in which man transforms what generous or cruel Mother nature offers him. To be reborn is, yesterday as today, to change perspective, and to approach the relation the individual has to the surrounding environment differently.
In the wake of the 12th century Renaissance and of the long Middle Ages, which saw the rise of the individual, maintained or reinvigorated ancient sources and traditions, witnessed wide-ranging upheavals in the perception of space and the environment, of the political and economic systems, and of theological thinking, Renaissance England saw important developments in the political, economic, social, religious and intellectual fields. Geoffrey Elton (Reform and Reformation, 1977) speaks of a revolution in administration, a greater centralization of government, and of course a strengthened power and authority of the monarchy. The main religion of the population changed from Catholicism to moderate Protestantism. The economy changed as well: while John Hales or William Harrison moaned over the devastation caused by the progressive enclosure of commons in the countryside, the stories of Raleigh’s maritime explorations amazed Elizabeth I. Trade with foreign countries was on the rise. And English merchants exported their wool to the Netherlands, Hamburg, then in the 17th century, to India and the Levant. Around 1560 the New Draperies in the south of England allowed mass production and cheaper fabrics were shipped around the world. Rapid inflation inspired contemporary authors such as Sir Thomas Smith (A Discourse of the Commonwealth of this Realm of England) or Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice) who denounced individualism and the excesses linked to the lure of profit. Scientific knowledge and the educational system considerably improved, leading to a Golden Age of science and literature under Elizabeth I, but also a renewed vision of the world. This is the age of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, and also Spenser, Donne. Science, history, rhetoric, but also education made people morally better, according to Thomas Overbury or Thomas Elyot.
The word (re)birth could also apply to the Victorian era; for François Crouzet and Michael Postan, the end of wars with France allowed a renewed trade with the continent and strong economic growth. However, this distant period is familiar to us because it has in short paved the way to the world as we know it. It is an era of significant, even revolutionary advances in the fields of industry, communications (transport, press), science and technology, and ideas. Emerging democracy in which modern parties organized political and institutional life, or burgeoning religious reform movements date to this period. It also established an emerging workers’ movement, more and more organized despite multiple obstacles and challenges, such as the Peterloo Massacre, the bicentenary of which will be commemorated in Manchester in 2019. Literature and the arts find an echo in these changes, celebrating the advances of the era, its promises, or on the contrary denouncing its ugliness or inhumanity.
To evoke the concept of Renaissance is also to question the very idea of original birth and the vagueness that surrounds it. We will necessarily have to consider the ideological dimension of such a term in the context of historiography. The word rebirth has been questioned since the 1970s, if we consider the debates opposing historians when a fixed chronological framework should be defined, whether it has been created by contemporary scholars or afterwards; Vasari used precisely this word in 1550 to describe what he perceived as an artistic and epistemological renewal. Later, Matthiessen defined an « American Renaissance » in 1941. Not only does rebirth imply a renewal after a dark period (marked by barbarism and opposition to enlightenment or the spread of knowledge), but its success in the 19th century in France, where the term was used by famous historians, including Michelet – drew attention to the political dimension of a lexicon which could enhance the choices of the reigning king (Louis XVIII used the charismatic figures of the enlightened kings in an attempt to establish his legitimacy).
Whether it is taken over or used to describe humanist principles, rebirth may a induce a thinking which is less a teleological one than a migratory one.
We find this when we think of an emerging American Nation in search of its own idiom and the first stories of this young Republic, with its generic hybridity reflecting European borrowings.
Or we find this when we think of the novels, short stories, poems or essays constituting this « American Renaissance » with its palimpsestic feature enhancing the ability of the culture to be reborn, thanks to migration and transplantation.
The United States is the place of all « rebirths », if we consider the names given to the voices of the minorities, from the « Harlem Renaissance » – heir to writer and historian W.E.B. Dubois, who, between the two world wars, eventually gave visibility to the Black Protest, to the « Native-American Renaissance », coined in 1983 by the literary critic Kenneth Lincoln, who saw in it, for the most part, the transcription of stories inherited from the oral tradition.
In contrast to this conception of rebirth as the emergence of voices that had hitherto been kept silent and as a player in the visibility of minority communities, we may question whether certain forms of rebirth are not more a matter of people clinging to identity amid a background of idealization (The Irish Renaissance).
Are we the witnesses of the eternal return (and recourse) to mythography of the stories of the origins of the world at different periods in history? Is a Phoenix a cultural constant figure throughout the history and in all parts of the world?
In the field of culture and politics, we should question what can revive, or restore, alternative modes of governance and government within our reach in the countries of the former British Colonial Empire.
The Obama era led to the belief that a « post-modern » and post-racial period was emerging; the divisions that led to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States seemed outdated, as if they had been erased. With Donald Trump being elected as President, some adverse signs have reappeared and further deepened the newly reborn divisions: proofs are the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville that harkened back to Ku Klux Klan parades and the lynching scenes in the Deep South in the early 20th century. Anti-Semitism and racism were also revived in the ashes of political correctness to invade the public space. In Europe, the beginnings of the European Union, the creation of the euro zone and the Schengen area appeared to be the end of all divisions. However, this is not the case: the vote on the Brexit and its consequences prove that the power – or the will – for reunification in Europe has been overestimated. The former most populist, protectionist and nationalist trends are also reborn.
This S.A.E.S. Congress could be an opportunity to review the situation on enclaves, small protest or parallel groups, populist formations, industrial or secret societies, networks (companionship or unusual other networks), the role and functioning of corporations still at work in the (post-) industrial fabric of our trading societies, and structures (political, social, associative…) which resist globalization and its consequences.
In the field of linguistics, we can have a diachronic reasoning, both in the field of syntax and lexicon or phonology: however, the theme does not simply cover how former forms and structures reappeared or emerged, but also how certain geographical or stylistic varieties remained unchanged over time, or how they are reused for various dialectical purposes.
As far as translation is considered, the renaissance is linked, even initiated, by the development of new technologies, particularly with neural translation, and invites a re-foundation of theories and training.
In the field of didactics, ‘rebirth’ could be considered both in the fields of training university students and future teachers.
For example, we can consider to what extent information and communication technologies have helped redefine the paradigms underlying the way teaching is done, the way English is taught in universities.
It will also be possible to discuss developments – institutional and/or related to the field of research – that have resulted in a regeneration of learning methods and methodologies used to teach English to different school audiences, from kindergartens nursery school to university.
As for English for Specific purposes (ESP), the proposed theme may help trigger its own rebirth. Indeed, ASP, and specialty languages in general, have largely forged their autonomous identity by moving away from the traditional fields of language study, such as literature, civilization and linguistics. By aiming at professional and technical domains, ESP and Languages for Specific Purposes have often focused on the rapid marketability of learners, synchrony and immediate skills, while forgetting their culture, diachrony and deep roots in the socio and historical humus from which they emerge. Conversely, the ESP’s current events show a renewed interest in diachrony, professional cultures and the multiple links between specialized varieties of English, literature and civilization. It is thus quite naturally that Ronsard, Rabelais, Montaigne, and many other Renaissance thinkers from more distant horizons, can inspire us in the Touraine territories in order to infuse us with very contemporary and universal themes.