Course code:



M - Intermediate

Typically offered:


France is renowned for its waters. Whether it is the spa cities like Vichy where people flocked to “take the waters,” the marketing of Perrier that started the global bottled water craze, the pilgrimages to the sacred waters of Lourdes, the home of global water giants like Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, or the rivers that define its various regions, water provides a lens through which to understand France.

This course will look at the multiple dimensions of water in France and Europe and ultimately at the question of the meaning of water. This class will be taught in conjunction with Doreen Stabinsky’s class and the French language course at CAVILAM (Immersion Program in French Language and Culture). The first five weeks of the course will be based in Vichy. Vichy owes its existence to its mineral springs that have drawn people since Roman times to “faire une cure thermale.”

Looking at both the mythology and the current practice of thermal medicine, we will examine the use of water for healing and renewal. In addition, we will investigate the conflict between efforts to commodify water globally and citizen efforts to build a “water democracy” around the idea of water as a human right. The final three weeks of the course will explore related issues through excursions in France and to Brussels to understand the history of humans’ relationship with water. From ancient Roman water structures, to the engineering marvel of Paris sewers, contested dam sites, and multinational water conglomerates, the class will experience the changes in water paradigms over time.

The class will also seek to assess the success of Europe’s continent-wide attempt at holistic water management. The EU Water Framework Directive provides an excellent opportunity to investigate the new federalism of Europe, ambitious efforts to improve water quality, and the strengths and weaknesses of Integrated Water Resource Management. Class readings and discussions will take place in English, though some conversations with outside experts may be in French.

Students will be evaluated on response papers, projects, problem sets, and class participation.


At least one policy course, French language course and permission of instructor.

Always visit the Registrar's Office for the official course catalog and schedules.