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Annette Smith Oral History Interview with Heidi Aspaturian

 Digital Record
Identifier: 2016-02-17-000021


  • Other: 2016 February 17


Interview in seven sessions, December 2010 to January 2011 with Annette J. Smith, visiting professor of French at Caltech from 1970 to 1982, appointed associate professor with tenure in 1982, promoted to professor of French in 1985, and Professor of Literature emeritus since 1993. Family history, childhood and education in Algiers, Algeria. Family history and background of late husband, Caltech Professor of Literature David R. Smith (1960-1990). Bachelor’s degree in Classics (1948) from Sorbonne in Paris. Attended the School of Professors of French Abroad at the Sorbonne and taught at the University of Wales in Swansea. Master’s degree in English. Marriage to D. Smith and move to the United States. Teaches at Scripps College and Claremont Men’s College [now Claremont McKenna College], where she had tenure position. Caltech hires D. Smith as professor and A. Smith as lecturer in French language. D. Smith as Joseph Conrad scholar. Doctorate degree (1964) and dissertation on author Nicole Védrès. D. Smith made Master of Student Houses (1969-1975); life in Virginia Steele Scott house. Descriptions of faculty and atmosphere within Division of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), beginning when Hallett Smith was chair. Friendship with Max and Manny Delbrück. Cultural life at Caltech; D. Smith brings poets, actors, directors and musicians to campus. Life as professor’s spouse and efforts to improve working conditions and salaries for female staff. Sexual discrimination in HSS and support for Jenijoy La Belle. History and founding of Baxter Art Gallery (1970), significant exhibitions organized by D. Smith, closing of Baxter Art Gallery (1985). Important relationships with Caltech professors, postdocs and staff: R. Sperry, R. Feynman, A. Hibbs, J. and F. Audouze, D. and C. Cesarsky, J.-P. Bibring, and N. and C. Corngold. Elevated to associate professor (1982). Literature courses she taught and impressions of students. Two books accepted for publication: one on Arthur de Gobineau and translation of poems by Aimé Césaire. Explanation of racial theories of Gobineau and discussion of his fiction; impact of Gobineau’s racist writings and theories, including appropriation by Nazis. Discussion of Darwinism. Comments about translating poetry and working with poet Clayton Eshleman on four books of Césaire’s poetry. Description of Césaire’s life and politics and his importance as a leader and author. Reads her translations of Césaire’s poems. Impressions of foreign language study at Caltech and further descriptions of HSS, including some unfortunate hires and tension in the division. D. Smith’s illness and death. Teaching in Papeete, Tahiti, 1990-1991. Circular nature of her life and work. Purchase of land and building of second home in Point Dume, Malibu, (1980-1981) and celebratory party there. Expressions of gratitude for Caltech and its brilliant scientists and community.

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