About the French Major

Prof. Laure Katsaros teaching a class during homecoming

The objective of the major is to learn about other cultures directly through  their language and principally by way of their literature. Literature is here understood as a significant expression of a culture.

Emphasis in courses is upon examination of significant authors or problems rather than on chronological survey. We read texts closely from a modern critical perspective, but without isolating them from their cultural context. To give students a better idea of the development of the francophonie littéraire—literary and cultural productions in the French language—throughout the centuries, we encourage majors to select courses from a wide range of historical periods, from the Middle Ages to the present.

Fluent and correct use of the language is essential to successful completion of the major. Most courses are taught in French. The Department also urges majors to spend a semester or a year studying in a French-speaking country. 

The major in French provides effective preparation for graduate work, but it is not conceived as strictly pre-professional training. 

Major Program. The Department of French aims at flexibility and responds to the plans and interests of the French major within a structure that affords diversity of experience in literary and cultural productions in the French language and continuous training in the use of the language.

A major in French (both rite and Honors) will normally consist of a minimum of eight courses in French language and French and Francophone literatures and cultures, beginning at the 200 level (FREN-205 and above). In addition to courses in the French Department at Amherst College, students may also count courses taken at other institutions (i.e. Five College classes, study away, previous institution) or in related fields with approval from the French Department faculty. Of the eight courses, a minimum of six must be conducted in French, and a minimum of four courses must be taken from the French offerings in the Amherst College French Department. One of these four must be taken during the Senior year. French 410H does not count toward fulfilling this requirement.

All courses offered by the Department above French 103 may count for the major. The one rule of selection is that two of the eight courses submitted for the major must be chosen from offerings in French and Francophone literatures and cultures before the nineteenth century. Among the courses in the French Department at Amherst College, students may choose any combination of classes numbered 310, 320, or 330. (N.B. FREN-346 will also count toward this requirement). Up to four courses taken in a study abroad program may count toward the eight required courses for the major with the approval of the French Department faculty. Comprehensive examinations must be completed no later than the seventh week of the second semester of the senior year.

Course Numbering System

The French Department’s curriculum is comprised of (a) language courses at the beginner (101, 103), intermediate (205), and intermediate-advanced (207, 208) levels and (b) literature and culture courses. The language sequence (FREN-101, 103, 205, 207/208) is numbered by degree of difficulty.  French 207, with a focus on composition and French 208, with a focus on conversation have identical prerequisites and may be taken in any order. 

The literature and culture courses,  numbered 310 and above, with the exception of those courses conducted in English, list French 207 and 208 as prerequisites.  Courses numbered 310 and above are advanced literature and culture courses, but are not ranked by order of difficulty.  They are organized, instead, by period in the following manner:

310-319 - Medieval Literature and Culture
320-329 - Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Literature and Culture
330-339 - Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture
340-349 - Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture
350-359 - Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature and Culture
360-369 - Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature and Culture / Advanced Language Courses
470+       -  Advanced Sminars
498-499 - Senior Departmental Honors
490         - Special Topics

Honors Program

Candidates for Departmental Honors must write a thesis in addition to fulfilling the course requirements for the major described above. Students who wish to write a thesis should begin to develop a topic during their junior year and are highly encouraged to submit a “Declaration of Interest” form in the spring of their junior year to receive feedback in preparation for conducting summer research. Prospective honors candidates must submit a detailed thesis proposal to the Department at the end of the first week of Fall semester classes in their senior year. Subject to departmental approval of the thesis proposal, candidates for Departmental Honors will enroll in French 498 and 499 during their senior year. (French 498 and 499 will not be counted toward the eight-course requirement for the major.) An oral defense on the thesis will be scheduled in late spring.

Study Abroad

The Department highly encourages its majors to pursue an approved program of study in a francophone country for one or two semesters. The Department views study abroad as a significant means of enlarging a student’s comprehension of French or Francophone cultures and as the most effective method of gaining proficiency in the language. For a more detailed explanation of the ways in which courses taken in a study abroad program may be counted toward the course requirements for the French major, see Study Away

Exchange Fellowships

Graduating Seniors are eligible for two Exchange Fellowships in France: one fellowship as Teaching Assistant in American Civilization and Language at the University of Dijon; the other as Exchange Fellow, Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.

Learning Goals

By graduation majors should be able to:

  • express themselves fluently and correctly in French, both orally and in writing;
  • think critically;
  • demonstrate general knowledge of French and Francophone literatures and cultures; and, know how to analyze and appreciate a literary text.
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