The Piette Program provides 10 students with the opportunity to spend two weeks in June traveling back in time to study the history, art, culture and language of France.
Starting in Paris, the group will visit sites such as Versailles and The Lourve before traveling on to the D-Day beaches of Normandy, the 16th-century Chenonceau castle, the medieval town of Sarlat, the 12-century Commarque castle, and ultimately to the Paleolithic caves of Mas d’Azil. Along the way they will visit museums, galleries, and a variety of other historical sites. They’ll participate in scavenger hunts, linguistic activities, and even an archaeological dig.
Each student will be responsible for completing a research project that will be presented during the fall term at a campus-wide event hosted by the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. During their travels, however, they will be sharing their thoughts about their experiences here on this blog. We hope you enjoy what they have to say, and we invite you to comment and engage with them in discussion. The June 2014 trip is the inaugural trip of The Piette Program, and we look forward to continuing it for many years.
Origins of the Program
The idea for this interdisciplinary program first took root back in July 2011 when former Peabody Director Malinda Blustain and French Instructor Claire Gallou traveled to the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale in St-Germain-en-Laye to repatriate some artifacts that had been in the Peabody’s possession since the early 1900s. Those artifacts included several Piette Pebbles.
The Piette Pebbles that the Peabody had were part of a larger collection of about 1,400 stones first discovered by archaeologist Edouard Piette in 1887 in the caves of Mas d’Azil. These smooth stones are marked with dabs of red paint and are believed to have been created more than 10,000 years ago by prehistoric man as the earliest form of symbolic communication. Exactly what the stones were meant to communicate is not yet known.
The Peabody first learned of the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale’s interest in the stones in 2009. Although a language barrier made initial communication difficult, Gallou’s French classes helped translate and write subsequent correspondence between the two museums, correspondence that eventually led to the repatriation of the artifacts. Once that connection was made and the repatriation completed, the desire to create some kind of ongoing learning experience was born.
Working with history instructor Nile Blunt and current Peabody director Ryan Wheeler, Claire Gallou has turned that desire into a reality with the launch of The Piette Program. The goal of the program is to make 30,000 years of human history tangible to its student participants and to the campus community at large, which will benefit from the program’s research, connections and presentations. It will create long-term cognitive anchors in the students by linking textbook learning to the real world. It will prepare them for global citizenship by immersing them in the lessons of the past and demonstrating the connection between language and culture.
There is no specific French level requirement to participate in the program, but students must be willing to learn some language and have a strong interest in at least one of the featured disciplines of the program: French, history, art history, prehistory, and archaeology.