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Overview French language and literature have been taught at the University since its founding by Thomas Jefferson, who based the design of his Academical Village on French structures he visited while he was the United States minister to France. In keeping with its founder’s international outlook and interest in many disciplines, French is taught here today as both a medium of practical communication and as the foundation for a lifetime of learning, travel, and intellectual and cultural exploration. Courses in French today include the study of the literature, history, and cinema of the many other francophone nations as well as of France.
Faculty The department has attracted a group of highly diverse and internationally-respected scholars, whose expertise ranges from medieval hagiography to African cinema, and whose interdisciplinary interests link them to linguistics, the visual arts, popular culture, and literary theory. The Department has a long-standing reputation for outstanding teaching; several faculty members have received prestigious awards for their excellence in the classroom.
Students Although for some students French has an obvious practical link to their future career, for many the study of French is a way to refine their skills of analysis, interpretation, critical thinking, and speaking. By studying French, they broaden their cultural horizons and reach a more objective understanding of their own culture. Students in French work closely with faculty members, and class size is kept small so that students can participate in class discussion and thus improve their French. More than half of the approximately one hundred fifty French majors have two majors, and the faculty urges students to make French part of a broad liberal arts education. The most popular combinations of majors with French are Foreign Affairs, Economics, English, Comparative Literature, Anthropology, Spanish and pre-medical studies. A number of French majors combine a French undergraduate degree with a Master’s degree in Education (see below).
Special Resources La Maison Française, a restored Victorian mansion, is a student residence in which only French is spoken in the common areas. Students may apply during their first year at the University and may live there during their second, third, and fourth years. Applicants to the Maison need not be French majors. The Robertson Media Center in Clemons Library has an extensive video collection of films in French. Alderman Library is home to the Gordon Collection of rare books in French, with strength primarily in the period from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. The department participates actively in the establishment of programs of study for undergraduate students in France and other French-speaking countries, including study centers in Lyon, France, and Rabat, Morocco.