Colloque international pour les 30 ans du CENA du 4 au 6 juin

International conference organized for the thirtieth anniversary of the Centre d’Études Nord-Américaines (Center for North American Studies), in partnership between EHESS and Fondation Singer-Polignac:

June 4, 2014: Amphithéâtre François Furet, EHESS, 105 bd. Raspail, 75006 PARIS
June 5-6, 2014: Fondation Singer-Polignac, 43 av. Georges Mandel, 75116 PARIS


In 1980, François Furet established the first visiting chair in North American studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in partnership with the French-American Foundation. Yet, it was not until 1984 and the election of Jean Heffer as permanent full professor that the Center for North American Studies (CENA) came into being. Despite pioneering efforts in some English departments and the creation of the first university chair in North American history at the Sorbonne in 1967, there was significant disparity between the importance of the USA in the contemporary world and the weakness of North American studies in France. Over the last thirty years and under the supervision of Jean Heffer and François Weil, the CENA has become one of the leading institutions for North American scholarship in France and Europe. Its professors, researchers, and graduate students wish to mark this 30-year anniversary with an international conference that both takes stock of past research and look into new heuristic and interdisciplinary approaches in history, anthropology, sociology, geography, and political science. The goal is to further promote North American studies, which have remained marginal in the French academic world, and to participate in transatlantic dialogue with scholars of the United States and Canada.

The conference will be divided into five thematic sessions. The speakers’ papers will be pre-circulated, and after being presented, will be commented upon by a discussant. Three keynote lectures will also be given. The conference will be audio-video recorded. It will be held in English.

Pre-registration is required for attendance by May 26. To pre-register, please write to, and specify the dates when you will attend the conference.

Retrouvez l’intégralité du colloque sur Canal-U




Wednesday 4 June, EHESS

09:00–09:30 AM: Registration

09:30–11:00 AM: Official Opening

11:00 – 12:00 AM: Keynote Lecture by François Weil,EHESS, Recteur de l’Académie de Paris, Chancelier des Universités:“North American Studies in Transnational Perspective”

12:00 AM–02:00 PM: Cocktail

02:00 – 05:00 PM: International Perspectives on North American Studies

North American studies have so far been marginal in France, especially when compared to the massive body of literature produced every year in the United States. This reality prompted the members of the CENA to reflect on the very object of their research, whether in the collective book Chantiers d’histoire américaine (1994), the AMNOR project on the history of North American studies in France, or, more recently the European undertaking Historians Across Borders (2014). Looking back on thirty years of research, two evolutions seem obvious. CENA members have mostly focused their research on the US. This raises the question of the relative weight of the histories and historiographies of the US and Canada. What place does the category “North America” hold in our research? Can we look across and beyond national boundaries to better account for its continental dimension? Moreover, while North-American studies scholars in France used to collaborate mostly with their American or Canadian counterparts, they are now in close dialogue with other European researchers working on similar topics. How will this affect the field of North-American studies in Europe? How is the North American history produced in Europe different from the literature coming from other continents?

 Jacques Portes, Catherine Desbarats, Allan Greer, Pekka Hämäläinen, Bertrand Van Ruymbeke, Isabelle Richet Udry, Maurizio Vaudagna, Greg Robinson, Paul Schor.

Thursday 5 June, Fondation Singer-Polignac

 09:30–10:00: Registration

 10:00 AM-01:00 PM: Disciplinary Boundaries

Among the centers dedicated to area studies at the EHESS, the CENA is both strongly attached to a disciplinary approach between history and anthropology, and to a research tradition that claims the unity of the social sciences. Difficulties arise from the highly uneven development of North American history and anthropology combined with the relative lack of interest coming from other disciplines. What is the status of the field for researchers who work on the United States? An object of research, an analytical framework, a case study? In what way is our perception of the North American field shaped by our discipline? Do our specific methodologies influence our perspective? Is our approach affected by the fact that we work on a society that is close to our own? Beyond the increasing injunction for interdisciplinarity as the sole source of innovation, in what ways can we actually cross disciplines in our daily research practices? How does the lack of sociologists and political scientists within our research center impact our perspective on North American studies?

Marie Mauzé, Loïc Wacquant, Anne Raulin, Sébastien Chauvin, Christian Topalov, William J. Novak, Nicolas Martin-Breteau, Daniel Sabbagh.

 02:00–05:00 PM: Counting and Analyzing: North American Studies as Social Science

At a time when the narrative form of history writing and the cultural turn are far from losing their power of attraction on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, what place should be granted to quantitative and longitudinal studies? Should we still favor an approach based on comparisons, generalizations and modelizations? The CENA was founded by an economic historian both close to the Annales School and a staunch advocate of cliometrics. The Center has remained committed to ever more diversified and innovative disciplinary and methodological research directions. In this framework, are these epistemological and methodological choices leading us toward a different history of North America, and new analyses of the relationships between individuals and society on one hand, and between the various spheres of politics, the economy, the social, and the cultural, on the other?

Jean Heffer, Colleen Dunlavy, Alexia Blin, Pierre Gervais, Alice Kessler-Harris, Denis Lacorne, Olivier Zunz, Vincent Michelot, François Cusset.

05:00-06:00 PM: Keynote Lecture by Jean Heffer, EHESS:“From Analytic Narratives to Cliometric Models”


Friday 6 June, Fondation Singer-Polignac

09:15–09:30 AM: Registration

09:30-12:30 AM: North American Space and Scales

The analysis of space and attention to scales have been characteristic of many works done at the CENA, drawing inspiration both from the long French tradition of bringing history and geography together, and the historical geography school in the United States. At the time of a much-talked about spatial turn, the inclusion of the CENA into the Mondes Américains research unit, which puts together five research centers covering all the Americas, prompts us to rethink the configuration of North America at the hemispheric, Atlantic, and imperial scales. Can they help reshape historical narratives long told within the national frames of Canada and the United States? How do our scales of analysis shape our understanding of space as it was historically experienced? Do those various intermediate scales help us rethink local history at a time of global history?

Annick Lempérière, Yann Philippe, Aurélien Gillier, Nicolas Barreyre, Tangi Villerbu, Renaud Le Goix, Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, Manuel Covo, and Romy Sánchez, Alexandre Dubé, Jean-Frédéric Schaub.

01:30-04:30 PM: North American Fields

As his research interests have evolved, Jean Heffer has constantly explored new places, such as the port of New York, the Pacific Ocean as an “American lake”, and Lincoln County, Missouri. Following his lead, the CENA’s members have worked on a variety of North American territories over the years. In particular, they have focused on major urban centers, such as New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, or on cross-border areas in the North-East, the Midwest and the Great Lakes, Louisiana and the Caribbean, and the West Coast and the Pacific. Such scholarly agendas have emerged for complex reasons, which this conference seeks to address. Since the exploration of new fields stems not from a desire to fill in historical gaps but rather from new interpretative frameworks, this session will also analyze the relationships between local and regional history on the one hand and national and continental history on the other. How does the choice of place we study affect the role we play in the debates over the dominant paradigms that govern North American history? In what way do we alter the narratives of national or continental history by writing from distinct territories or regions considered peripheral in North America? Is it possible to write a polycentric history that takes into account the variety of actors and places from which changes occurred?

Annick Foucrier, Daniel Carpenter, Romain Huret, Andrew J. Diamond, Thomas Sugrue, Emmanuel Désveaux, Emmanuelle Perez, Raymond J. DeMallie, Gilles Havard, Richard White.

04:30-05:30 PM: Keynote Lecture by Nancy F. Cott, Harvard University:“Where is Gender in North American Studies?”


The program is available on line at: or at

For more information:


The conference is sponsored by: EHESS, Fondation Singer-Polignac, CENA, Mondes Américains-UMR 8168 (CNRS/EHESS), Région Île-de-France, LabEx TEPSIS, United States Embassy, Franco-American Commission, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Institut des Amériques, Programmes Scientifiques de la FMSH.


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