Chair's Welcome

The Department of French at the University of Virginia is a dynamic, accomplished, talented, and always collegial community of teachers, scholars, and graduate and undergraduate students, passionate in their study of the French language and French and francophone culture in all its forms. Our particular strength comes from the fact that we have one of the largest faculties, PhD and MA programs, and number of BA majors compared to other universities in the US; at the same time, our status as one of only a handful of independent departments of French allows us to cultivate a vibrant and nurturing learning environment in which students interact closely with professors in the pursuit of their individual goals. Our undergraduate seminars, usually organized as discussions and limited to 15-20 participants, are designed to foster critical thinking, oral and written expression, and meaningful engagement both among students and between students and the instructor. Every semester, we offer a wide range of courses, almost all taught exclusively in French, spanning the Middle Ages to the present, medieval manuscripts to digital media. UVA undergrads take courses on literature, film, history, music, linguistics, politics, current events, and the world of business. They study foundational essays and philosophical treatises, saints’ lives, graphic novels, and rap songs. They put on plays in French, make digital films in French, and read rare, early modern books from the library’s world-renowned Gordon Collection. Many students speak French also outside of class, particularly in the context of the Maison française, whether they live in the house, visit to eat dinner, or attend weekly film screenings and discussions, the pause café, or other activities.

Like the French language, our interests are not limited to metropolitan France. French is spoken by more than 220 million people on all five continents, and with 120 million people currently studying it, French is the second fastest growing language after English. According to Bloomberg News, French is the third most useful language in the world for business (after English and Mandarin, but before Arabic and Spanish). And according to projections by Forbes, French will be the most spoken language in the world by 2050. French is a European Language, but it is also (as our students who study in Morocco know from experience) an African language, spoken not just in north and west Africa, but also off the south-east coast in places like Mauritius and the Île de la Réunion. It is a Caribbean language of islands from Haiti to Saint Barts, with Guadeloupe and Martinique in between, and an oceanic language in the archipelagos of French Polynesia. French is also a North American language, spoken notably in Québec, but also historically in Louisiana, and major cities like New York are marked by the Francophone diaspora. Finally, French is a language spoken throughout Asia, both in former colonies in south-east Asia like Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as increasingly, thanks to the vast network of Alliances Françaises, in places like China. French is a global language. Francophone Culture is a global culture. And UVA French alums can be found working all over the world and in just about every conceivable profession. Each semester, we invite one of them back to Charlottesville to share with us and current students their incredibly inspiring life and career stories.

I invite you to take time to browse our website, where you’ll find answers to many of the most commonly asked questions about all of our programs, and to visit our Facebook page, where we regularly post information about upcoming events. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or with any of my colleagues if you have more specific queries. You are also always welcome to visit us in person on the third floor of New Cabell Hall. We’ll be delighted to hear about your own particular interests and ambitions and to talk about any of the many aspects of French at UVA.

Gary Ferguson, Chair