French

V. From 1985 to the present: A Renaissance in Romance Languages

In 1984, both Jeffrey James Carre and Elmo Giordanetti passed away unexpectedly within several months of each other, leaving the Romance Languages Department without any senior faculty in French. The following year, the College responded to this crisis by recruiting to tenured positions Marie-Hélène Huet, who was then Chair of the Department of French at the University of California-Berkeley, and Jay Caplan of the University of Minnesota. They joined assistant professors Rosalina de la Carrera and Leah Hewitt in an effort to rebuild the program in French. The results of this effort were dramatic.

Within three years the Department graduated sixteen senior French majors. By 1993 that number had almost doubled. In no year since the arrival of Huet and Caplan has the Department ever graduated fewer than thirteen senior French majors, a number that had never been reached since the establishment of the "New Curriculum" in 1946. Moreover, since 1986 the Department has graduated on average twenty senior French majors per year and in 2002 reached thirty-six senior French majors or over 8% of the graduating class. Over the same period the numbers of Spanish majors also increased dramatically. Whereas from 1968-85 there were, on average, 4.9 senior majors per year, there have been on average since 1986 18 senior majors per year.51 Over the past five years between 11-12% of each senior class has graduated with a major in one Romance Language.52 The success in attracting majors to the program is perhaps one reason why, on average, 44% of students of French at Amherst College are now enrolled in advanced-level courses (third-year college level and beyond).53

Romance Languages has seen rapid growth in enrollment over the same period. Whereas from 1968-85, French averaged 275 registrations per year, since 1986 French has averaged 394, a 43% increase. Spanish averaged 200 registrations per year between 1968-85. Since 1986 it has averaged 491, which represents an astounding 145% increase. The growth in enrollments cannot exclusively be attributed to the increase in the size of the College during this period. The combined enrollment of French and Spanish hovered between 4 and 5% of the total enrollment of the College for the entire period between academic year 1967-68 and 1986. After 1986 this percentage has grown consistently to the point where it now represents approximately 8% of the total enrollment of the College. (These figures do not include students participating in study abroad programs.) Enrollment in the most recent years indicates that this trend should continue for some time.54

In 1996, the Department of Romance Languages was divided into two separate departments, French and Spanish, in recognition of the fact that in administrative terms, the two units had essentially been functioning as distinct departments for a long time. They had been operating on separate budgets and had developed distinct curricula that were evolving in different directions. As the enrollment figures cited above demonstrate, the separation has not adversely affected the popularity of either program. On the contrary, French and Spanish have recorded higher enrollments in recent years than during any period after the introduction of the "New Curriculum." This is especially remarkable, given that there is currently no language requirement at the College.

The current curriculum in French includes courses that cover the entire tradition of French literature and culture from the eleventh century until the present. With very few exceptions, all courses in the Department are conducted in French. Students may still count four courses taken abroad in an approved study abroad program towards the eight courses needed for a major. During the past fifteen years approximately 80% of Amherst College French majors have studied in France or Senegal for at least one semester. Over the same time span, roughly 80% of French majors have been double majors, combining their interest in French with literally every other major available at the College except Astronomy.

Go to Works Cited

Return to History Menu

Footnotes:

51 See graph "French Senior Majors: 1968-2003." See graph "Spanish Senior Majors: 1968-2003." See also graphs entitled "Senior French Majors as % of Graduating Class: 1968-2003" and "Senior Spanish Majors as % of Graduating Class: 1968-2003."

52 See graph entitled "Spanish and French Majors as % of Graduating Class: 1968-2003."

53 This represents an average taken each semester from fall 1988 until the present.

54 See graph entitled "French and Spanish as Percentage of Total Enrollment by Academic Year: 1967-68 AY to 2002-2003 AY". It should be remembered that these percentages do not reflect the full student interest in these programs. Each semester a significant numbers of students in these programs are participating in study abroad programs. Study abroad students are not counted in the enrollment figures of the College.

 

Barrett Hall