Chair's Welcome

The Department of French at the University of Virginia is a place where you will find a dynamic, accomplished, talented, and always collegial community of teachers, scholars, and graduate and undergraduate students driven by the conceit that French and Francophone culture is, to borrow an expression from the great ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss, “bonne à penser,” or “good to think.” We believe that French offers those who attend to it a privileged point of departure from which to reflect fruitfully on big questions, penetrating ideas, and relevant problems in an increasingly globalized world. We hope that you might feel the same way. 

French at UVa is an independent department, and a thriving one at that. While we graduate more majors per year than most colleges or universities in the United States, we are nevertheless a relatively small department when compared with a number of other departments on the UVa grounds. We prefer to think of this as one of our primary strengths. The Department of French is known for the way we nurture our students, whether they are learning the language or taking an advanced course in literature, history, film, or culture. Our undergraduate seminars are usually organized discussions designed to get students thinking and speaking, are filled on average with 20 participants, and truly allow each and every person to engage deeply with each other and with the instructor. This kind of interaction helps foster a sense of loyalty and, quite often, love of the material. (We firmly believe that students should not leave UVa without identifying at least one subject they can fall in love with, again and again, over time). Of course, what really sets us apart from any other department on grounds is that we do it all in French. We study fiction, poetry, cinema, history, music, graphic novels, linguistics, great essays, saints’ lives, and philosophical treatises, not to mention French politics, culture, society and, of course, the language itself, in French. Students put on plays in French, they make digital films in French, and they read rare books and early-modern manuscripts in French. As their fluency improves, we encourage them to talk amongst themselves outside of class in French, and even to talk to themselves in French (when they’re alone!). Rumor has it than many of our advanced students occasionally dream in French. Whether in classes or on grounds, our students debate history and current events, not to mention the work of a diverse array of thinkers, writers, and artists, in French. They think deeply about all of this material, and write about all these things, in French. All of our undergraduate classes, save for one or two that we teach in translation every semester, are conducted entirely in that language. This is what sets us apart, and our students wouldn’t have it any other way. 

While French is our common language, France, and what the French call la France metropolitaine, is just the tip of the iceberg. French, and our Department, is much more than just France (much like the Department of English is more than just England, or the Department of Spanish studies more than just Spain). 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, to be sure, but it is also, as our students who study in Morocco can tell you, an African language (not just N and W Africa – they even speak it in Timbuktu! – but also off the SE Coast in places like Mauritius and the Île de la Réunion). It is a Caribbean language (from Haiti to Saint Barts, with Guadeloupe and Martinique in between); and an oceanic language (think French Polynesia). French is a North American language (they speak it in Louisiana and Quebec, but also in places like New York, which is marked by the Francophone diaspora). And it is also very much a language spoken throughout Asia. Not merely in former colonies in SE Asia like Vietnam and Cambodia, but increasingly, thanks to the vast network of Alliances Françaises, in places like China. French, to put it succinctly, is a global language. Francophone Culture is a global culture. The Department of French at UVa, which could very well be called Global French and Francophone Studies, covers it all, more or less. And, again, we do it all in French. 

I invite you to take your time browsing our website, where you will find answers to many of the most commonly asked questions about all of our programs. Feel free to “like” our Facebook page, where we regularly post information about upcoming events, or check us out on instagram. And don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or any of my colleagues if you have more specific queries. You are always welcome to come visit us personally on the third floor of New Cabell Hall. Soyez les bienvenus. We’ll be happy to tell you more about our department, about our undergraduate courses, our major and minor, our graduate programs, our various opportunities for study abroad, or about our many wise and worldly students.

Gary Ferguson, Chair