Over Under Paris

Maya Castro of FIU at Centre Pompidou
Maya Castro of FIU at Centre Pompidou (Photo: JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)


John William Bailly ■ baillyj@fiu.edu ■ 305.348.4100 ■ Office Hours by appointment

The Métro de Paris has 14 major lines, with 300 different stations. Inaugurated in 1900, it transports 4.5 million passengers a day, for an annual total of 1.5 billion. The lines form a spider web design that spiral out from Châtelet – Les Halles, the largest underground station in the world.

The demographics of the Métro are arguably its most compelling aspect. Parisians and visitors of all classes, nationalities, ethnicities, religions, races, incomes, educational levels, ages, and gender ride the Métro. It is perhaps one of the most integrated environments in the world. That being true, it also reveals deep divides. Every line and every station has its own unique identity.

This project will offer students a uniquely structured exploration of Paris. Over Under Paris is an interdisciplinary investigation of the people, neighborhoods, government, culture and history of the French capital. While providing certain required guidelines, the project is structured in an open manner that enables student participants to emphasize their respective disciplinary interests.

It is the students’ mission to investigate, discover and document Paris by way of the Métro as it navigates over and under Paris.

Students will form groups of 3 to 4 students. Each group will be assigned one Parisian Métro ligne. Over the course of the class’ month stay in Paris, student groups must explore and document their respective ligne.

The Honors College is interdisciplinary in nature and welcomes new approaches to course projects. The form of the investigations and reflections on the Métro can and should be varied: writing (both fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry), photography, video, and visual art. Students should gather information and impressions in the manner they wish. The nature of these can also be varied, as each student forms a unique perspective. The final product, however, must be submitted digitally. The work of each group must have the ability to merge with the others into one final class presentation.

If making a film, existing images may be appropriated, but they must be altered in some manner. For example, the work must be heavily edited heavily or distorted in some manner. Actors, editors and/or other film crew may be recruited, under the condition that the student retain the role of director. The film must be the student’s ideas and he/she must oversee every aspect of it, but responsibilities must be delegated.

Films and slideshows must be uploaded onto the internet, on Facebook or Youtube (free). Please make sure to test your upload prior to attending class.

These following factors will be considered in determining the project grade.

Familiarity with subject
The nature of the connection between student and subject
The broader context of the student’s reflection (Can others relate to the points made in the project)
Originality of content
Originality of form

Métro de Paris
Ligne 1: La Défense ↔ Château de Vincennes
Ligne 2: Porte Dauphine ↔ Nation
Ligne 4: Porte de Clignancourt ↔ Porte d’Orléans
Ligne 6: Charles de Gaulle ↔ Étoile to Nation
Ligne 7: La Courneuve ↔ 8 Mai 1945 to Mairie d’Ivry or Villejuif — Louis Aragon
Ligne 12: Porte de la Chapelle ↔ Mairie d’Issy

The following are suggested questions participants may ask. The inquiry should include, but not be limited, to these. Research should focus specifically on the participants’ respective ligne.

Where is the ligne de Métro?
What is the architecture of the ligne?
Do station designs change based on what is above ground?
Who rides the ligne?
When do people ride the ligne?
Do different categories of people ride at different times? What are these changes and why do you think they occur?
Which are the most active stations? Why?
Are there conflicts on the Métro? If so, what are the natures of these? If not, why not?
How do the stations differ from one to the other?
How do people pay for the Métro? Do they pay?
What is the general mood of the Métro? Does this change in different parts of the ligne? How do people interact with one another?
Some people do not ride the Métro, but are still in the stations. Why? What are they doing?
What are the responsibilities of the Contrôleurs? What is their experience?
There are musicians throughout the Métro de Paris. What is their experience?
What is your experience?

Machonis, Peter A., ed. Shatter the Glassy Stare: Implementing Experiential Learning in Higher Education. Birmingham, AL: NCHC, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9796659-2-9

“As an experiential-learning method, CAT makes students step outside their conventional classroom paradigms, and at no time is it easier to do this than when they are experiencing an alienation from what they know. Outside their ordinary habits of thought, the students respond to the call to figure things out for themselves, using the tools of mapping, listening, and observing.” – Joy Ochs

Excerpt from Shatter the Glassy Stare

Strategies: Mapping, Observing, Listening, Reflecting

City as Text™ methodology is based on the concept of active or experiential learning. Participants are split up into small groups with an assigned area of the city/place to explore. They report back for a general discussion at the end of their walkabout and exchange their insights with others who have explored other areas of the same city. The idea is that the sum of everyone’s experience is a better view than just one person or one group doing the same exercise.

There are four basic strategies used in these exercises: mapping, observing, listening, and reflecting.

Mapping: You will want to be able to construct, during and after your explorations, the primary kinds of buildings, points of interest, centers of activity, and transportation routes (by foot, vehicle, or other means). You will want to look for patterns of housing, “traffic” flow, and social activity that may not be apparent on any traditional “map.” Where do people go, how do they get there, and what do they do when they get there?

Observing: You will want to look carefully for the unexpected as well as the expected, for the familiar as well as the new. You will want to notice details of architecture, landscaping, social gathering, clothing, possessions, decoration, signage, and advertising.

Listening: You will want to talk to as many people as you can and to find out from them what matters to them in their daily lives, what they need, what they enjoy, what bothers them, what they appreciate. Strike up conversations everywhere you go. Ask about such matters as: how expensive it is to live there (dropping by a real estate agency could be enlightening), where to find a cheap meal (or a good one or an expensive one), what the local politics are (try to find a local newspaper), what the history of the place is, what the population is like (age, race, class, profession, etc.), what people do to have a good time. In other words, imagine that you are moving to that location and try to find out everything you would need to learn to survive there.

Reflecting: Throughout your explorations, keep in mind that the people you meet, the buildings in which they live and work, the forms of their recreation, their modes of transportation—everything that they are and do—are important components of the environment. They are part of an ecological niche. You want to discover their particular roles in this ecology: how they use it, contribute to it, damage or improve it, and change it. You want to discover not only how, but why they do what they do. Don’t settle for easy answers. Don’t assume you know the answers without doing serious research. Like all good researchers, make sure you are conscious of your own biases and that you investigate them as thoroughly as you investigate the culture you are studying.

Although the subject is specific to Italy study abroad, Stephanie Sepulveda’s Grand Tour Redux project is a model of what a successful project should be. Stephanie’s reflections are personal yet universal and do not shy away from the big ideas and tough questions. Her scope is also interdisciplinary in nature. Review her project here Stephanie Sepulveda’s Grand Tour Redux