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Robert Zaretsky


  • Originally published 07/19/2013

    Robert Zaretsky: Why the French Love a Parade

    Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, in Texas....[Bastille Day] was the Age of Reason’s Woodstock — even with the presence of the National Guard, the citizen militia born in the creative chaos of 1789. Sporting their blue, white and red cockades, Guard detachments from across France came to affirm their region’s attachment to the Revolution. For the French nation in 1790, the Guard was no less the authentic representative of the popular will than, say, Jimi Hendrix (wearing red, white and blue) riffing on the Star-Spangled Banner was the authentic expression of Woodstock Nation.While the Guard’s role in the festival partly explains the military’s presence in today’s parade, there’s another source. With the advent of Napoleonic and Restoration France, July 14 became the date whose historical significance dared not be spoken. It was the fledging Third Republic, born in the rubble of defeat left by the Franco-Prussian War, which resurrected the parade in 1880.

  • Originally published 05/28/2013

    Robert Zaretsky: France, Algeria and the Ties That Bind

    Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, in Texas....From the moment [Algerian president Abdelaziz] Bouteflika arrived in Paris nearly a month ago after suffering a minor stroke, Algerians have suffered a news blackout. The Algerian government has treated the event rather like its military operation during the hostage crisis at a gas facility in the Sahara earlier this year: with intense secrecy and overwhelming force.Two newspapers were censured last week for reporting that Bouteflika’s health was worsening, while the government, under the eye of the president’s brother Said Bouteflika, insists all is well. Predictably, his blandly reassuring words have persuaded most Algerians that little is well, either with Bouteflika’s condition or Algeria’s future.

  • Originally published 05/13/2013

    Robert Zaretsky: What’s at Stake With Grade Inflation?

    Robert Zaretsky, a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, is the author of Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (Cornell University Press, 2010). His next book, A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning, will be published this fall by Harvard University Press.Truth, we’re told, is the first casualty of war. But as I hunker in my office bunker, the dull thud of history term papers landing on my desk, columns of sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden students trudging past the door, I’m convinced that truth is also the first casualty of undergraduate paper writing. It is not only the historical truths trampled in the mangled and muddied papers written by my students. More insidiously, a deeper truth also suffers. Only tatters remain of the contract, implicit but immemorial, that teachers will grade student papers fairly and honestly. This shared conviction, that the students’ level of writing can be raised only if the teacher levels with them, now seems a historical artifact....