Our History

Our Beginnings

As told by our Founding Director, Alice Kaplan

"The Center for French & Francophone Studies was born in the fall of 2000, in two offices on the second floor of the beautiful new John Hope Franklin Center on Erwin Road. I was its first director, assisted by Shannon Mullin (now Shannon Satterwhite). Hervé Ferrage, the university attaché for the French Embassy, Elie During at Cultural services in New York, and Cécile Peyronnet, cultural attachée in Atlanta, were key people in launching our enterprise and linking us to the French Embassy network of “centres pluridisciplinaires”. We had significant start-up support from the Provost and President—Peter Lange and Nan Keohane. I still remember the enormous notebook we assembled on French studies at Duke, the many planning meetings, and the excitement of the first events: The Tournées French film series at Reynolds Theater; the bilingual lunch series (Paol Keineg on poetry, Philip Stewart on translating Lee Smith, Anne Quinney on J.B. Pontalis); visiting scholars, writers, and filmmakers (Marc Chenetier, Hélène Merlin, Roger Grenier; Olivia Rosenthal, Martin Winckler, Raoul Peck); visiting journalists, in tandem with the DeWitt Center (Fabrice Rousselot from Libération); a faculty exchange with the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (six week residencies by Christophe Prochasson, Nathan Wachtel, Christian Jouhaud); a student exchange with Sciences Po (in tandem with EDUCO); performances by the Théâtre de Folle Pensée from Saint-Brieuc; and on the Paris side, events with Duke-in-Paris alums organized by Amy Tondu. Our second year of operations brought the tragedy of 9/11, the Iraq war, and the challenge of promoting French culture in an age of “Freedom Fries”. We had a mission! Our work of those first years was to put into place structures and traditions that could be adapted as our ties to the francophone world, our intellectual curiosity, our institutional needs changed. I was told by an experienced administrator that if a center could remain vital through 3 directors, 3 “generations”, it was solid: pari tenu!"

Our Directors

  • 2017-present — Stephen W. Smith, African and African American Studies and Romance Studies
  • 2013-2017 — Helen Solterer, Romance Studies
  • 2010-2011 — Deborah Jenson, Romance Studies (Co-Director with Dubois)
  • 2009-2013 — Laurent Dubois, History and Romance Studies
  • 2006-2009 — Hans van MieGroet, Art, Art History and Visual Studies
  • 2003-2006 — Michèle Longino, Romance Studies
  • 2000-2003 — Alice Kaplan, Romance Studies, founding director (now the John M. Musser Professor of French, Yale University