French is the most popular language in American secondary and higher education after Spanish. What accounts for this fact, given that the French-speaking population in the United States is relatively small? Two factors no doubt play an important role: the history of French influence over Western Culture, and the status of French as an official language for a large percentage of the world's population. Since the fall of the Roman Empire and the gradual demise of Latin as a living language, French has arguably had the greatest influence of any language on European literature, culture, and politics. It is the native or administrative language not only of the almost sixty million citizens of continental France, but of over two hundred million more people in Europe, North and South America, Africa and the Pacific. Countries in the Middle East and Asia, such as Lebanon and Vietnam, are still profoundly influenced by their status as former French territories. Our page titled "Why study French?" expands further on its cultural and political significance in the world.
Kenyon students are more likely than college students as a whole to have a strong interest in literary studies. France has a unique history of literary richness and influence during a period of more than one thousand years, extending from the creation of the first masterpiece of French literature, La Chanson de Roland, and into the twenty-first century with the rise of Francophone literature from Northern and Western Africa, Canada, and the Caribbean. French intellectuals have also had an important influence on the practice of literary criticism in America, especially over the last several decades. The three professors of French at Kenyon, Jean Blacker, Mary Jane Cowles, and Mortimer M. Guiney, are experts in various periods of French and Francophone literature. Together, we try to make the entire range of that long and diverse tradition accessible to our students, while also teaching classes on contemporary French civilization, film, and literary theory.