West Virginia women praised at International Conference - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

West Virginia women praised at International Conference

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Rev. Dr. Patricia A. Jarvis and Joan C. Browning, Marshall University Rev. Dr. Patricia A. Jarvis and Joan C. Browning, Marshall University
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CHARLESTON, WV.   The Rev. Dr. Patricia A. Jarvis of Charleston and Joan C. Browning of Greenbrier County "were in many ways the very incarnation of our topic," Said Professor Anne Stefani, organizer of the recent conference, "(Hi)stories of American Women:  Writings and Rewritings" at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail.

The conference, organized by the research team "Anglo-Saxon Cultures" (University of Toulouse-Le Mirail), was a multidisciplinary conference which discussed the representations of women and their evolution in American society and culture since the late 19th century. The main goal of the conference was to shed light on the circulation of such representations in American culture around a selection of key topics, such as myth and myth-making, interpretation and reinterpretation, definition and redefinition, historiography, echoes, cycles, and repetitions, memory, memoir, and (auto)biography.

The program listed one panel as Joan Browning (Marshall University, WV, USA) and Patricia Jarvis (United Methodist Church, USA): "Standing on Holy Ground. Filming the Sacred in the Everyday."  They talked about the making of a biographical film on Patricia, of which Joan was executive producer.  The film was commissioned by the Lewisburg United Methodist Church as a celebration of Jarvis' life and ministry upon her retirement.

"Filmmaker B. J. Gudmundsson helped me choose elements of the film that demonstrated the many roles that a woman Methodist pastor plays in the life of her congregation, community, and world," Browning said.  "We were able to "show" excerpts from Standing on Holy Ground as well as tell about it."

"Patricia joked that she was my "show and tell" for the conference," Browning said.  "In fact, Patricia was not only the ‘star' of the film, she was quite the star with the European scholars and students," Browning said. 

"The students and faculty were beyond gracious to us," Jarvis said.  "They made us feel warmly welcome and very much appreciated."

 "These scholars and students know quite a bit about the United States, and were curious to know more," Jarvis said.  "And Joan was nearly regarded as a living legend, with her experiences as one of the American civil rights movement Freedom Riders  deeply inspiring."

The original conference invitation was to Browning and Connie Curry of Atlanta, two of the writers in the collection, Curry, Browning, et. al., Deep In Our Hearts:  Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (University of Georgia Press, 2000).  Professor Stefani had discovered the papers of Curry and Browning in Emory University's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book library while searching for southern white women reformers in the segregation and desegregation eras.  They are among the many southern white women who are featured in Stefani's upcoming book.  When Curry was unable to travel, Browning presented the program alone.

"Back in 1996 when we got together to talk about writing about our times in the 1960s freedom struggle, we hired a videographer to film some of our discussions," Browning said.  "Showing clips from that film allowed Connie Curry and Casey Hayden, organizer of the writing group, to speak for themselves in Toulouse.  And then I talked about my experience in the writing project."

"Joan offered a moving testimony on her personal experience of the Movement," Professor Stefani said.  "She also presented a powerful reflection on the interaction between memory and history lying at the core of historical interpretation."

The West Virginians also talked with two classes of students who were studying American segregation and religion.  "France is a highly secular culture so we were not sure just how to talk about religion," Jarvis said.  "I was surprised to see how interested they were in the intersection of Joan's and my faith journey with our involvement in justice issues." 

More than 1.2 million people live in the metropolitan Toulouse area.  The world-renowned University of Toulouse is one of the oldest in Europe (founded in 1229) and, with more than 119,000 students, is the third-largest university campus of France after Paris and Lyon. 

"By sharing their life stories with us while providing insightful comment in the debates, our two guests turned what could have been an ordinary scholarly event into an extraordinary experience," Professor Stefani said.  "Beyond their formal presentations, their presence was valuable all through the conference as it allowed our scholars to interact with them on many topics."

Copies of Standing on Holy Ground and Deep in Our Hearts have been added to the U. S. Consulate-Toulouse's lending library of materials about the United States.

The U.S. State Department funded the travel and participation of the Rev. Dr. Jarvis and Ms. Browning at the conference.  Representing the State Department at the conference were Rachel Schneller, U.S. Toulouse Consul  and public affairs assistant, Aurelie Delaissez-Forstall.  They attended a dinner in the West Virginians' honor.  They also attended part of the conference where Browning talked about the writing of Deep in Our Hearts.   

"Part of the mission of the State Department is to ensure American voices and experiences are heard and appreciated abroad," says  Schneller.  "It was an honor to represent the U.S. at a conference in France on American women in literature and history."

Consul Rachel Schneller joined the U.S. diplomatic service in 2001 and has served abroad in Macedonia, Guinea, and Iraq.  She received her M.A. in International Relations and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001.  She speaks fluent French.

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