By Danny LaChance
To master the French language, Tobin Jones (Ph.D. '69) went, as many do, to France. There's nothing quite like immersion in a language, after all, to turn disjointed vocabulary words into eloquent speech. But to master French culture, to grasp its contours and layers--for that, Tobin Jones went to Minneapolis.
Finding France in Minneapolis might seem peculiar, but for Jones, it makes perfect sense. The formal education he had received in Tours, France, during a postbaccalaureate year abroad had made him a proficient speaker, but it hadn't left him with much of a sense of context. "I had no sense of a historical or intellectual approach to the study of France," he recalls. The traditional style of instruction he encountered in France might have been a part of it. "There was an expectation that you would learn whatever the professor said and not do much thinking for yourself," he says.
That all changed when Jones returned from France and enrolled in the University's graduate program in French. His first assignment? A teaching assistantship in Professor Armand Renaud's undergraduate course on French civilization. "I was terrified," Jones says, laughing. "He had such an encyclopedic knowledge of French civilization." But terror was soon replaced by inspiration, as Renaud launched him into a lifelong career as a scholar of French literature and culture.
"It was a formative experience. The program was a connecting point, a springboard for everything that followed," Jones says of his years as a graduate student at Minnesota. And what followed was a productive four-decade career at the University of Chicago and Colorado State University. In 1999, he retired from a career spent researching and teaching the French novel since 1700; literary theory and criticism; and symbolist, post-symbolist, and contemporary poetry.
Jones likens the work of the scholar to that of the conservationist. Both take pains to preserve what they find on literary and geographic landscapes. "There's a commitment to perpetuation," he says. "You're fostering the possibilities for others to learn and to grow and to nurture."
But conservation efforts need support to succeed, he knows. To sustain the work of cultural preservation, Jones and his wife, Susan, recently donated to the fellowship fund set up in honor of the man whose love of French civilization awed Jones all those years ago. Once it's fully endowed, the Armand Renaud Fellowship fund will support the educational pursuits of graduate students of French.
Jones was looking for a way, he says, to thank the program that became a turning point in his life. "One of the ways to express that gratitude," he says, "is to donate and encourage future growth."