This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Trip abroad charts life’s course

New UB faculty member Amy Graves hopes to convince more students to travel overseas

Published: April 7, 2005

Reporter Contributor

Never let it be said that a degree in romance languages won't take you places. Just ask Assistant Professor Amy C. Graves.

The newest member of UB's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures once helped plan a $1 million wedding for two American hedge fund executives, held on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. The bride wore Dior. Donna Summer entertained.


A degree in romance languages took Amy Graves to a million-dollar wedding at the Palace of Versailles in France, as well as to a faculty position in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature.

The whole adventure started when the bride, who had numerous French relatives, hired Graves to do a side-by-side English/French translation of her wedding Mass booklet. Soon after, the bride dramatically expanded Graves' responsibilities to choosing flowers, ordering table linens, assisting with dinner menus, juggling bills and countless other details of the mega-ceremony.

"I was a nervous wreck, but the wedding was phenomenal," laughs Graves, who has been traveling to Europe regularly since her parents first sent her abroad after her high school graduation. That first trip earned her college credit at Georgetown University, where she obtained her B.A. in French and business in 1992.

"Some people get a car or a pearl necklace for graduation," Graves says. "I got a trip." That trip helped chart the course of her life, and she hopes as a new faculty member at UB to help more students realize the transforming power of travel abroad and to connect them with the vast intellectual smorgasbord of opportunities that are available.

"You have to show students that it's both financially feasible and intellectually indispensable," Graves says. "The university wants to double the number of its students going abroad. The administration is very clear-sighted on this. I think it's particularly wise."

Graves enjoys teaching and particularly likes the students at UB. "These kids, you spend an extra hour with them and you get it back tenfold," she says. "You change a life. You can push college students harder—you push them, and they push back. I love the idea that everything I say is not going to be accepted at face value."

Graves, who comes to UB from the University of Chicago, recently presented a colloquium at the Sorbonne, and will present at the University of Chicago's Paris Center this spring. She has served as manuscript editor, research and media assistant, and currently as managing editor of Montaigne Studies, an interdisciplinary journal published annually by the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago.

Last fall, Graves secured her first book contract with the Droz publishing house in Geneva, Switzerland—a press specializing in the Renaissance and Reformation. The book stems from her thesis manuscript on the transformation of political and religious broadsides into works of historiographical memoirs.

At UB, she teaches an introductory French literature course, advanced business French and a course on religion and literature in the 16th century.

Born in Ohio, Graves began studying her grandmother's French grammar book when she was only 10. By 14, she realized that she and the French language had a future together. During her first trip abroad as an undergraduate in Switzerland, she fell in love with the Renaissance. One day after a seminar in Freibourg on the tragic novella, her European-born professor took her aside and asked: "How is it that you do as well or better than our own students?"

"At that moment," Graves says, "I realized that I had it in me to do this."

Graves' resume is replete with a number of domestic and international research grants, scholarships and fellowships from sources that range from the University of Geneva to the French Ministry.

She obtained her M.A. from the Department of Romance Languages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996 and went to Europe for two years on a Fulbright scholarship and Swiss government grant, studying at the Institut d'Histoire de la Réformation in Geneva. At the same time, the University of Chicago, where she obtained her Ph.D. in 2004, put her in charge of its study-abroad program for undergraduates, headquartered in a Paris property owned by the university and used for instruction and conferences.

Graves, who serves as a member of the UB Faculty Senate, says she enjoys the collegial atmosphere she finds at the university. She is particularly pleased to see the way the surrounding Western New York community embraces UB and views it as one of the area's crown jewels.

Among her academic areas of specialization are 16th-century French literature, the history of the book and material culture, propaganda and polemics, and the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. She collects religious tracts—and not just in French. Some contemporary religious propaganda uses comic-book forms to convey its popularizing message, she says. Just like the religious tracts of the Renaissance and the Reformation, she says her current collecting finds "offer a window on our own time." A confessed "Antiques Road Show" junkie, Graves also loves the historical patina of old furnishings and bric-a-brac.

Her fascination with devotional literature started with her study of Agrippa d'Aubigné's "Les Tragiques." Advances in the technology of the printing press led to a proliferation of pamphlet literature, Graves says. Simon Goulart, who was the subject of her thesis, gathered together a number of these tracts and laced them with his own commentary. Graves, who notes that the two men were friends and that d'Aubigné was inspired by Goulart's work, found it ingenious that he would think to do this, providing cohesion and the idea of a common struggle. "For the first time," Graves said, "history is written by documents and not with them."

One of her future projects includes a book called "La Cuisine et la controverse," a look at how polemical discourse and kitchen metaphors intersect. Other scholars have written widely about such metaphors, but Graves wants to present them as a rhetorical strategy of propaganda, as cohesive literature. "No one has connected the dots over time," she says.