French and the Global Humanities

French and the Global Humanities is a working group dedicated to rethinking and reworking the scholarly, pedagogical, and disciplinary parameters of what it means to study “French.” Our goal is to build intellectual and institutional connections, across departments and programs at Northwestern, but also throughout the greater Chicago area and indeed around the world.

We embrace and emphasize the history and future of French as a world language—an official language in 29 countries, the sixth most-spoken language in the world, and by some measures, the fastest-growing one, too. Our collaborations include French and Francophone cultures in the conventional sense but also explore contacts, comparisons, and common ground in places that do not fit the definition of Francophone, but where French-language cultures have played a major role in cultural life, from Japanese philosophy to Egyptian surrealism to psychoanalysis in Argentina.

At the same time, the French language does not define the limits of our inquiry, but rather constitutes one partner in dialogues with other languages and traditions, a frontier where one finds interaction, fusion, and conflict.


In the fall of 2016, we collaborated with Middle Eastern and North African Studies and the Program of African Studies on a weeklong series of events with the Moroccan writer Abdelfattah Kilito. In settings ranging from small informal breakfasts to public lectures, the renowned critic and award-winning novelist engaged with faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students in Arabic, English, and French.

In the fall of 2017, we will hold a multi-day conference on French/Brazilian cultural connections between the First and Second World War. In addition to partners at Northwestern including the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, we will collaborate with the Art Institute of Chicago, which is preparing a major exhibition on Tarsila do Amaral, arguably the most important painter of Brazilian modernismo. Speakers from Brazil, France, and the United States will explore the connections and contrasts of French and Brazilians modernisms and modernities through the lenses of art and literary history, ethnography, and, musicology.


Artwork in header image by Tarsila do Amaral.