The Frenchman Fighting Forward, by Carol Hunter

If you did a quick internet search of Alfred Mercier, you may come across an American French writer responsible for such works as L’Habitation Saint-Ybars and Le Fou de Palerme.

However, if you care to dig a little deeper, another Alfred Mercier, a former lecturer of French language and literature at the University of Glasgow, has his own intriguing story. Mercier lectured at the University from 1895 to 1898 and although his career here was short-lived, he was a forward thinker and pushed for change.

In 1897, he started his demands to change language teaching. He wished to start an additional class for those struggling with university French after school. There was clearly a need because more than 60% of the candidates for the French prelim exam failed that year. Furthermore, he wanted to give students a more rounded view of French and France, letting them learn about la vie quotidienne as well as language and grammar.

And Mercier didn’t stop there. In 1898, he once again wrote to the University Court demanding changes. This time he wished that his classes weren’t organised according to gender, but rather by ability. Of course at this time, women and men were educated separately and the Court didn’t take too kindly too his request. They wouldn’t allow this change and moreover, they asked Mercier to stop his extra classes in case it favoured some students over others.

The disapproval of the University was too much of a frustration for Mercier and he resigned in October 1898, to take up a Philosophy post at the University of St. Andrews. Yet despite his departure, Mercier has not been forgotten. The French department today appears to symbolise Mercier’s wishes, with many additional classes as well as obligatory culture classes.

Therefore, the ambitions of a man in the 19th century have very much came true today.

References – Archive Material

University Court Minutes 1894-1895 (C1/1/2), 1895-1896 (C1/1/3), 1896-1897 (C1/1/4), 1897-1898 (C1/1/5), 1898-1899 (C1/1/6)

Blogathon entry contributed by Carol Hunter.

If YOU would like to enter our Blogathon competition and have the chance of winning £200 pounds, see here for details!



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  1. The German Class of 1890 | The University of Glasgow's International Story Blog
  2. French Connections in the University of Glasgow – University of Glasgow Library

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