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Since 1925 UCLA has honored its most distinguished scholars by selecting them to deliver this special annual lecture. By honoring them in this way, members of the academic community have an opportunity to appreciate these scholars' achievements in a way they may not have otherwise had.

Francoise Lionnet
114th Faculty Research Lecture

Perilous Crossings: Shipwrecks, Migrations and the Global Pursuit of Hope

Françoise Lionnet,
Director, African Studies Center; Professor, French & Francophone Studies, Comparative Literature and Gender Studies
April 15, 2013


Françoise Lionnet begins UCLA’s 114th Faculty Research Lecture by talking about a shipwreck.

And not just any shipwreck. This one, which occurred in 1744, captured the collective imagination of 18th-century French painters and writers, who romanticized the unfortunate event on canvas and in fiction.  Lionnet uses the subject of shipwrecks to introduce a topic that is as relevant today as it was then — people’s willingness to leave home in search of a better life.

It’s a subject that is very familiar to Lionnet, a distinguished scholar of French, Francophone, and comparative literary and cultural studies, who also serves as the director of UCLA’s African Studies Center. She’ll talk about the thousands of migrants who continue to leave northern and western Africa in hopes of reaching the shores of European nations, particularly Spain and Italy.

"We’re in the era of supersonic travel, so why talk about shipwrecks?" she said. "In fact, many people still try to use small, wooden boats to travel long distances at sea, and do so at their own peril. Thousands of people — and only about 10 percent of them make it alive."

She’ll also discuss issues of colonialism and gender — how women on ships functioned as interesting, symbolic images — before moving on to more contemporary times, even touching on the Titanic and what playwright George Bernard Shaw had to say about the mammoth ship.

Her work in the fields of feminist literature, postcolonial studies, autobiography, and African, African American, Caribbean and Mascarene Island studies made her an ideal choice to become director of UCLA’s African Studies Center in 2011 — the first woman to hold the position in the center’s 54-year history.
"We used to talk about boat people in this country right after the Vietnam War, when we had the Vietnamese boat people. And there was a time when we heard about the Haitian boat people, who were trying to leave Haiti to get to the shores of Florida. We don’t hear much about this anymore," Lionnet remarked.

"But in the Mediterranean, and in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean, this is a phenomenon that is still enormous."

From Wendy Soderburg, UCLA Today

This event is part of an ongoing series of live events and lectures broadcast over the Web produced by the UCLA Office of Instructional Development. Webcast provided by UCLA Instructional Media Production, a division of the Office of Instructional Development (OID).