François Furstenberg and Dennis Stroughmatt "When the United States Spoke French"


The Kinder Forum hosted the first hybrid event in its ongoing campus speaker series on Thursday, November 6, 2014. Before a  capacity audience of more than 80 students, faculty, and community members, fiddler and folklorist Dennis Stroughmatt joined John Hopkins University Associate Professor of History François Furstenberg for a discussion of the French influence on early American history and culture.

François Furstenberg: “When the United States Spoke French”

Professor Furstenberg provided an overview of his most recent book, When the United States Spoke French, which focuses on the experience abroad of five French aristocrats who fled to the U.S. in the years following the 1789 onset of the Revolution in France. After settling in Philadelphia in the early 1790s, the subjects of his book–including Talleyrand and Moreau–found themselves at the center of some of the city’s (and the nation’s) most elite social networks. Though often overlooked in the study of U.S. history, the place that these and other such emigres held in late-eighteenth century American society allowed them to play a formative role in the nation’s cultural, economic and political development. Prof. Furstenberg noted, for example, how their participation in land speculation in what was then the American hinterland introduced flows of capital from Europe to the continental interior that were integral to the rise of industrial and civic life along the Mississippi River. The story that his book tells is, however, as much about re-thinking our approach to early American history as it is about “five refugees who shaped a nation.” In pursuing connections between the United States and nations other than Great Britain, we quickly discover, Prof. Furstenberg pointed out in concluding his talk, how events such as the French and Haitian Revolutions significantly transformed the course of the United States’ historical narrative.

The afternoon following, Prof. Furstenberg signed copies of his new book at Yellow Dog Bookshop, which sold out their supply.

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François Furstenberg is an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. A native of Boston and Washington, D.C., he taught history for ten years at Université de Montréal before returning to the United States, where he teaches and writes on a range of fields in early American history and the Atlantic world. He is the author of In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation and When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation, both published by Penguin Press.

Further information:

Dennis Stroughmatt: Musician and Folklorist

Prior to Prof. Furstenberg’s lecture, Mr. Stroughmatt, a 2014 Missouri Humanities Award recipient, recalled (and performed) his own experience of French culture in the Midwest. As an undergraduate at Southeast Missouri State University, Stroughmatt sought out the small, but incredibly vibrant, French-speaking communities in towns such as Old Mines, Missouri, and Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, and it was in these communities that he learned the region’s “paw-paw French” dialect as well as the unique Creole fiddle style that made its way south from Quebec and north from New Orleans before finding a home on the banks of the Upper Mississippi River, near St. Louis.

The morning following the event, Mr. Stroughmatt continued his concert/discussion for MU Prof. Jeff Pasley’s “History of Missouri” class.

Winner of the 2014 Missouri Humanities Award for Exemplary Community Achievement.

Co-sponsored by the University of Missouri Department of Romance Languages.

Video of Prof. Furstenberg’s lecture and Mr. Stroughmatt’s performance can be found here and here.