|Singerman's Retirement Leaves Legacy in French and Film Studies
May 11, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Alan Singerman excitedly navigated to the “Film and Media Concentration” page on the Davidson College Web site, and clicked on “Student Work.”
“Isn’t that fantastic!” he exulted as a lively, forty-five second animated film entitled “In a Hurry,” created by Dwight Swift ’08, played on the screen. “Now we’ll be able to let everyone see the great work our students do!” Singerman said with a founder’s pride.
He advocated for and helped create Davidson’s film and media studies program, and has coordinated it since it became an official academic concentration in 2005.
|Singerman's career as a French professor was launched by an adventurous undergraduate experience abroad.|
The excitement of increasing interest in film studies, and the promise of strong growth in student video production at Davidson, is part of what leads Singerman to feel some ambivalence about his impending retirement from twenty-five years on the faculty.
“I’ve experienced growing pleasure over the years in seeing my colleagues regularly, and in my contact with students in and out of classroom. The idea of having that come to an abrupt halt is daunting,” he admitted.
Recently more than forty students tried to enroll in the “Introduction to Film and Media Studies” course, and four seniors this year will graduate with the concentration. In addition to creating an online home for student films, the college has recently hired a videographer to help teach students the techniques of video shooting and editing.
In a broader sense, Singerman regrets leaving the academic institution that has nurtured, trusted, and encouraged him in pursuing not only film studies but all of his academic dreams. “I had dreamed, as graduate students are wont to do, that I would have a career at a large university and would become an eminent scholar in eighteenth-century French literature and criticism,” he explained. “I adjusted my focus to come to Davidson, and ultimately it was the best decision I ever made.”
Singerman, who retires this semester as the Richardson Professor of French, was headed down a narrow academic road for a dozen years at the University of Maine, developing his research on the eighteenth-century novel and, in particular, on the works of the French Benedictine monk Abbé Prévost.
One of his departmental colleagues in Maine, Charles Dockery, took a position at Davidson in 1974. Dockery alerted Singerman later of another opening at Davidson, and in 1980 Singerman ended up here also. At Davidson he has not only taught classes in French language, literature, and contemporary society, but has pursued interests in semiotics, French cinema, and general film studies. “I think at a large university I would’ve been an eighteenth-century specialist for the rest of my life,” he conceded.
Instead, he was able to develop his extracurricular love of cinema into a legitimate scholarly enterprise that he shares with students in the classroom. During a stint directing Davidson’s Montpellier program from 1983 to 1985, Singerman completed a Master’s degree in film studies at the University of Montpellier. That degree involved his creation of a seventeen-minute film, The Departure, about the trauma of an older couple’s separation. “Seventeen minutes doesn’t sound like much, but it took me all year, and I barely finished in time,” Singerman said. “It really increased my admiration for professional filmmakers. You begin to understand how talented they are.”
Subsequently, he began to study film adaptations of many of the eighteenth-century novels he had been teaching, and he began writing about them for scholarly journals. Singerman soon found himself one of the leading film scholars among members of the Society for Eighteenth-Century French Studies, and he developed a new course for students in French cinema at Davidson.
However, he was never able to find a suitable textbook in French for the course, so he decided to write one himself. It was eventually published in 2004 as Apprentissage du cinéma français. Livre de l’étudiant, and was the first of its genre for undergraduates. It has now also been published in English as French Cinema. The Student's Book.
He is thankful to Davidson for facilitating his new line of inquiry, saying, “Davidson encourages faculty members to develop themselves as a resource for students, to evolve rather than specializing in one area forever. I’ve always loved that about the place.”
His own evolution as a Francophile began in the early 1960s as an adventurous undergraduate at Ohio University. The idea of a year in Europe sounded good to Singerman and a friend, so they enrolled in a French literature and civilization program for foreign students at the Sorbonne.
It was a tense time in France, which was trying to extricate itself from war in Algeria, and Singerman was enthralled by the political drama. After one semester of study in Paris, he set out to see more of the world. Relying on his wits and enterprise, he roamed Europe and the Middle East on a shoestring, hitchhiking, living in youth hostels, working at a hotel on the Gulf of Aquaba, and thoroughly enjoying his self-reliant cultural encounters.
He spent an additional year studying and traveling in France and Germany after graduating from Ohio University, then enrolled at Indiana University in 1965 for graduate studies in French literature. He joined the faculty at the University of Maine in Orono in 1968. That led to opportunities for further experience in France, where he directed the University of Maine program in Pau, France, before being appointed Resident Director of the Council on International Educational Exchange’s undergraduate study program in Rennes.
During his three years there, he met his French-born spouse, Veronique, whom he married in 1978.
Looking back at his career, Singerman marvels at the opportunities he has enjoyed. “When you really love a subject and get paid to live it and communicate it to students, you’re just lucky,” he said. Davidson has afforded him generous opportunities to return to France again and again. He was resident director of Davidson’s study abroad program in France four times, and was instrumental in the program’s relocation from Montpellier to Tours in 1995.
The relationships that he has developed with study abroad students, and with students writing theses in the department, have been gratifying. “Those ongoing experiences are among the richest I’ve had here,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated students who make the effort to get to know you outside the classroom.”
He has contributed to his field not only as a scholar, publishing a half-dozen books and dozens of papers and articles, but in other ways as well. In 1992 he created of a weeklong summer institute on Davidson’s campus for high school teachers of French from across the state, and has directed it eight times over the following fourteen years. The German department has since followed suit with a similar program. Singerman said, “The participants seem to love the immersion experience in language, culture, and literature. It appears to reenergize them and renew their enthusiasm for their subject. The evaluations at the end are inevitably heart-warming and encourage us to do it all over again each time.”
|Portrait of a young French professor.|
He has also held leadership positions for the past fifteen years in the state chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French, including service as vice-president and president from 2001-2005. He said that his work with the institute and the professional association have been gratifying. “They’ve allowed me to help support the K-12 French teachers who work in the trenches throughout the state during a period when many French positions have been lost at that level,” he commented.
He has also long been eager to investigate how new technologies can be used for teaching foreign languages. He wrote a successful $50,000 grant proposal to the Mellon Foundation, and co-authored another for $250,000 to what is now the Rockefeller Foundation, for foreign language faculty development in information technologies. He organized workshops and funding of the grant activities, such as new course development, travel to meetings, and summer research activities related to technology.
The development of new interests has not dampened Singerman’s enthusiasm for his original line of inquiry into Abbé Prévost. One of the high points in his career occurred in 1993 when he was selected as one of eight international scholars to present work on the subject to a conference of the International French Studies Association held in the famed Collège de France, one of the most revered institutions of higher learning in Paris.
It was founded in 1530, and its professors are chosen among the foremost researchers of the day for being at the top of their field. Singerman stood before some of the foremost eighteenth-century French writers and critics in the world, including many whom he had read as a student, and delivered a paper concerning the Abbé Prévost’s novel Story of a Fair Greek. Singerman discussed largely unrecognized irony in the novel that informed the themes in interesting ways. “To have participated in that was one of most exciting things I’ve done as a scholar,” he said.
Retirement will provide him with more time to continue revisiting the French film classics he loves, such as Breathless, Hiroshima Mon Amour, The 400 Blows, and Grand Illusion. “Every time I see them I enjoy them,” he said. “I always see something I didn’t see before. That’s the characteristic of a masterpiece. The film becomes richer for you with each viewing. I don’t think you can be a film professor unless you believe certain films are worth watching over and over again.”
He’s also working on a critical English translation of Prévost’s Story of a Fair Greek, and might contribute some more articles to professional journals.
As an avid sportsman, Singerman will also spend a lot of time outdoors. He enjoys cycling with Veronique, playing tennis with faculty friends, and refereeing US Tennis Association juniors tennis tournaments and collegiate matches in the area. He has also served as an official at collegiate track meets held here. He even dreams of reviving his interest in fencing to avenge one of his life’s greatest disappointments — losing the Maine state championship by a single touch.
As he retires, Singerman would like to believe that he has served academia to the best of his potential. He is grateful that he leaves his teaching career with a full plate of possibilities and plans—many of which have been accumulated through his fruitful association with Davidson College.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. # # #
Posted By: Paige Herman