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Centers of Excellence

Cornell University


Director : Laurent Dubreuil


The Center of Excellence, whose Director is appointed by and reports to the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, is interdepartmental. The French Studies Program has its own endowment. A bit more than 40 Faculty are affiliated with the Center.


French Studies used to be an area studies program, symbolically positioned at the intersection of Romance Studies and History, while being a part of the Einaudi Center for International Relations. While we do keep strong ties with those entities, we are now more independent administratively, and even more transversal and interdisciplinary than ever. Faculty members affiliated to the program represent a wide array of departments from the humanities, the performing arts and the social sciences, namely: Anthropology, Art History, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, Government, History, Music, Near Eastern Studies, Romance Studies, Science & Technology Studies, Sociology.

In the last five years, we organized dozens of events involving each of the departments mentioned above plus a few others (e.g. German studies, Asian studies), as well as other programs (such as Medieval Studies, Renaissance Studies, AD White Professorship), reading groups (psychoanalysis and theory), centers (such as European Studies and the Africana Center), or schools (the Law School in particular). The Society for the Humanities, a crucial structure at Cornell, provides support on a regular basis. Under the stewardship of Laurent Ferri, French Studies has developed a series of strong and ambitious partnerships with the Johnson Museum of Art, the Division of Rare Books& Manuscripts in the Library, the Cornell Council for the Arts, and Cornell Cinema. We are associated with undergraduate clubs (the Haitian and French societies in particular) and the language house (East campus dorms).

Within Cornell, the Program Director is the main contact person for potential and actual cooperation with French universities and grandes écoles. The Director is also in charge of overseeing two key partnerships Cornell has with French schools (Université Paris-VIII, and the Écolenormalesupérieure, Paris).


We sponsor and organize numerous events reaching a large audience (museum exhibitions, concert and ballet performances, poetry festivals, movie screenings, roundtables on French political life, etc.). In the recent past, co-sponsored activities included: three piano concerts given by the French composer Karol Beffa, a movie-screening of D’ailleurs Derrida in presence of the film director for 200 attendants, an “elegant soirée” of Renaissance poetry reading and music for 300+ people, and much, much more.

These events are a fundamental part of what we do. Most initiatives, however, seek to enhance the quality of research and academic dialogue. Here, our strongest interest lies in the examination of French (and Francophone) theory,” understood in a broad and truly interdisciplinary way.

We could identify five sub-fields of inquiry. (1) One is in literary theory; for instance, the highlight of Fall 2010 was for us a one-week stay of Hélène Cixous, Professor-at-large at Cornell, that was punctuated by a two-day conference on her work. (2) Continental philosophy is a very high point for us. In the course of a typical year, we may have a workshop devoted to Jacques Derrida, a public lecture given by Étienne Balibar, and a mini-seminar taught in French by Serge Margel. In literary theory as well as in philosophy, we take advantage of our special relationships with the journal diacritics, and with the Faculty in CompLit and Romance Studies. (3) The French tradition of historiography is widely represented in our invitations. Many scholars belonging to this mouvance have spoken or taught at Cornell throughout the last decade—from Roger Chartier, François Hartog and EnzoTraverso to younger scholars such as Marc Aymes and David Schreiber. (4) We also focus on a reflexive use of Francophonie. Over the last two years, two symposia (on “the experience of Haiti” and “the poetics of banlieue”), and a series of lectures given by Anthony Mangeon on ‘black thought’ were intense moments of intellectual exchange. We also co-sponsored an international conference on gender and postcolonial studies held in 2009 at Paris-8. (5) More generally, we dwell on the epistemology of the disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences. This clearly enters into an informal but recurring and decisive partnership between the Program and the French journal Labyrinthe: Atelier interdisciplinaire. This journal published two issues having a distinctly “Cornellian” flavor (“La fin des disciplines” in 2006, and “Par les Grecs” in 2010), and, in one way or the other, most Labyrintheboard members have been associated to our activities. The program director, Laurent Dubreuil has been the co-editor of the journal from 2008 to 2011.



French Studies / Departement of Romance Studies
303 Morrill Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4701

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