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Welcome to the Department of French at the University of Virginia
On the pages of this website, we hope you will receive a vivid impression of who we are as scholars, what kinds of questions we ask, and what kind of academic and human community we comprise. As we put the pandemic behind us and begin to confront a world that is become increasingly virtual, we are even more committed to the importance of being together, in person, and benefiting from the human learning community that we so cherish. At this important moment, we renew our dedication to excellence as teachers and scholars who believe that the cultivation of the life of the mind and the pursuit of our shared quest for human betterment is driven in critical ways by the humanities.
If the recent past is any indication, we will undoubtedly continue to experience challenges as individuals, families, and communities, including our university community. Among my hopes for this new academic year are that we will look out for each other in ways big and small; that we continue our efforts to better understand and put an end to the realities of bigotry and racial injustice; and that we use our work in the classroom and as scholars to interrogate the many ways that difference has been constructed--and mobilized as a disciplinary and exclusionary practice--here and in the francophone world. Training a global lens on our own current situation in the United States can help us see how the various pieces of our shared histories and geographies are, in fact, connected. In this spirit, I invite you to visit the indigenous Land Acknowledgment information found on UVA's office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights.
What is the Department of French?
We are a full-scale humanities department that explores the literature, language, ideas, history, and cultural forms generated over the centuries by diverse peoples—from continental France, the Americas, Africa and Asia--who have expressed their thoughts, critiques, creations, and passions in French.
Our faculty is an extraordinary group of creative, talented, and caring scholars and teachers known for their collegiality and united by the conceit that French and Francophone culture is, to borrow an expression from the 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 complex world. We hope that you might feel the same way.
We are fortunate to have one of the largest faculties and one of the most robust graduate programs in the United States. Our undergraduate major is also among the country's strongest, consistently graduating between 30 and 40 majors a year, on average, over the last decade. One of only a handful of independent departments of French in the U.S., we are proud to cultivate a humanistic learning community that is united by our love of the French language as a vehicle of creation and communication.
Students appreciate getting to know us in small-scale seminars that are attentive to them as individuals and that foster critical thinking, speaking, and writing skills in French. Our undergraduate classes, limited to 15-20 students, encourage dialogue, conversation and a lively exchange of ideas. Our language classes cultivate a love of learning and create a vibrant and nurturing pedagogical experience for students at all levels. Seeing our students get excited about the material we teach in our classes is often the highlight of our day!
Each semester, students can choose from an array of courses spanning the Middle Ages to the 21st century, from learning to read medieval manuscripts to unpacking the latest in digital media. They can further their mastery of French or begin the study of Creole. We regularly offer courses that explore Francophone film, history, linguistics, politics, and current events, as well as professional uses of French in the world of business, international relations and global development. Our students are exposed to a full array of French literary and cultural expression from foundational essays and philosophical treatises, to saints’ lives, graphic novels, and rap songs. Students are also introduced to 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. We offer cultural activities to residents of the Maison and to friends of the department at UVA or in the wider Charlottesville community who are always invited to weekly film screenings at the cinéclub. Many also join us for coffee and snacks at the weekly pause café. You are all most welcome. Venez nombreux!
We enthusiastically embrace the vast expanse and diversity of the French-speaking world that spans five continents. Today, French is the second fastest growing language after English and, according to projections by Forbes, could be the most widely spoken language in the world by 2050. According to Bloomberg News, French is currently the third most useful language in the world for business (after English and Mandarin, but before Arabic and Spanish).
French is a European language, but it is also an important African language, not only of officialdom and business, but also of literary, musical and cultural creativity. In fact, the world’s largest francophone metropolitan area today is not Paris, but Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. French is spoken in North and West Africa and in places like Mauritius and the Île de la Réunion off the southeast African coast. A Caribbean language of Guadeloupe and Martinique and of islands from Haiti to Saint Barts, French is also an oceanic language in the archipelagos of French Polynesia. French, too, has long been a North American language, spoken notably in Québec, but also historically in Louisiana and in many pockets of the United States from New York and New England to Detroit, all places marked by the Francophone diaspora. Finally, French continues to be a language spoken and learned throughout Asia, where the vast network of the Alliance française boasts record enrollments among students wishing to learn and perfect their French in places like Hong-Kong and in the major cities of mainland China.
In short, French is a global language and Francophone culture is global, too. As Abdou Diof, former secretary general of the Francophonie, said: “French remains one of the most reliable seedbeds of cultural and linguistic diversity that must be recognized and promoted to ensure an inclusive dialogue between men and women, between traditions and cultures and different types of human societies.”
Indeed, a large network of UVA French alums can be found working all over the world and in just about every conceivable profession. We are so proud of their many successes, and of the ways they have leveraged the skills they acquired studying French at UVa, that we often invite them back to Charlottesville to share with us and current students their 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 our programs, and to check out our "socials," where we regularly post information about upcoming events. Never hesitate to reach out to us should you have a question or wish to start a conversation. We will always be delighted to hear about your own interests and ambitions and to talk about the many facets of French at UVA.
Bien chaleureusement, et à bientôt,
Ari Blatt, Professor and Chair