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The chronological French civilization survey course I was assigned to teach is the last in a series of three, stretching from Napoleon I through to De Gaulle, and "covers" an -ism in a day or two (the academic equivalent of a frenzied bus tour through Europe).
These materials function at several levels: 1) they deliver content (and serve to motivate students who may be surprised to learn they can handle the language level despite their non-native status); 2) they are rich cultural documents that can be analyzed as such, providing, for example, valuable insight into the transmission of cultural values; and 3) because they are pedagogical materials, they heighten the students" awareness of the processes involved in organizing, delivering, and assimilating content (French students after all do focus on periodization, movements, -ism s, etc.
In this specific example, several of the terminological difficulties of modernism surface: it is an -ism that appears rooted in a time period that cannot be precisely delineated; "modern" as an adjective loses its descriptive value because it is too widely used, etc.
4) Dub your own -ism : Students are asked, individually or in pairs, to invent an -ism (whether whimsical or "serious "') drawing on social or cultural trends they have noticed.
Scholars have long been acutely aware of the resistance to definition of even the most 'established' -isms.