In a department of French language, teaching French history seems to be obvious. Yet, departments of French language in Asia only recently turned to the teaching of history, favouring literature. History would be too much politically engaged or controversial as a subject, i. e. a daring, risky attitude, whoever is the teacher.
As I graduated from a doctorate in history in a French university, most of the professors kept telling us that we had great chances to end up in teaching. The most surprising is that we had no pedagogy course, therefore none of us was prepared well enough for teaching French history, not to say teaching it to foreign students. Here appears the challenge of creating an entertaining method of teaching, that would be helpful to Taiwanese students and profitable to debates on social affairs in Taiwan, without lapsing into French patriotic opinions, and taking in account that the audience is not made up of French native speakers. Since eight years ago, this annual course of French history open to fourth-year degree students suffered fundamental changes, so as to evolve from French history course given to French students, into a French history course given to Taiwanese students. Which are the changes and aims of this course? First of all, as the knowledge of many events is pointless for Taiwanese students, every single century is being analyzed not in the same way as in French schools, but in order to make them aware of the major historical events which influenced present French society. Thus, the course frame abides by a weekly-topic structure, whose topics give the students the opportunity of better apprehending French culture and identity.
Then, history means investigating past events in order to comprehend present situations and foresee future phenomena. This course seeks to help Taiwanese students abandon clichés, to give them some clues about France as a whole and its realities, its splendour and its dark side. Every historical event studied in this course is an opportunity to exchange views on French society. We will examine French secularism, not in the light of politics, but in the light of history, which can then lead to a discussion about the issue of Islam in France and about the attack on Charlie Hebdo, accused of blaspheming Prophet Muhammad.
Finally, defining French society by studying its history also opens up the way to an intercultural debate on somehow touchy issues, such as colonization: how can this topic be introduced? In that kind of cases, the discerning analysis of an historian may be the right attitude to avoid an emotional approach of the facts. Moreover, studying European history might be the first step toward solely Asian issues. Through the analysis of past roots, history has the power to discuss future and give hope to young citizens who are about to become the new elite of society.