French is a national language of twenty-eight countries, and spoken widely in at least eighteen more. The French brought the world the Bayeux Tapestry (arguably the world’s first comic strip), Versailles, Impressionism, Surrealism, New Wave cinema, Poststructuralist thought, and many other movements and works that have been influential for world culture. But France is also only the beginning of the story. And not even the beginning: before there was anything known as France, there were medieval documents written in “roman,” the new vernaculars derived from Latin that would become our romance languages. In the wake of French colonialism, creoles and other appropriations of French language and literary genres have sprung up around the world. Our French Programs are, in other words, not just for students interested in France, but also for students interested in the literatures and cultures of the pre-and post-Francophone world.   Students at Cornell who are interested in French may also want to view the offerings and programs at the Language Houses.

Major Requirements

The Major in French prepares students to engage with the literatures and cultures of the French-speaking (and French-writing) world. The major consists of two tracks, French Literary Studies and French Cultural Studies, each designed to give students the opportunity to obtain proficiency in oral, aural, and written French while becoming savvy critical thinkers. Through required language courses, an introduction to close reading, literary and cultural surveys, and seminars on an array of topics (e.g. gender and sexuality, absolutist monarchy, psychoanalysis, monstrosity), students acquire a wide-ranging familiarity with French and Francophone cultural production as well as an ability to engage with this material with care, creativity, and interpretative skill.

Literary Studies Track

The track in French Literary Studies enables students to become familiar with foundational texts in the French and Francophone literary traditions through a two-course historical survey (3210/3220) [Note: in 2013-14, students may substitute FREN 3570: French Surrealism, for FREN 3210, which will not be offered].  This is then followed by five upper-level seminars, of which three must be taught in French: one of these five courses must address literature or culture before the French Revolution; one must address the non-French Francophone world; and one must be given at the most advanced (4000) undergraduate level. Up to two of these courses may be taken in departments other than Romance Studies. Students acquire thereby a sense of the impressive historical depth of the French tradition as well as the ways in which critical reading practices may cause historical (as well as linguistic and geographical) distinctions to break down.

Cultural Studies Track

The track in French Cultural Studies sets students up to think critically about French and Francophone culture in a way that would not be accommodated by the disciplines of literary study alone. For this track, students take two cultural surveys, one on the hexagonal French world (in 2013-14, FREN 2270: Versions of Versaillles, or FREN 3200: Introduction to 21st-Century France), one on an aspect of the Francophone diaspora or, if no such course is offered, the problematizing of French national identity (e.g., in 2013-14, FREN 3230: Readings in Francophone Literature and Culture or FREN 3200: Introduction to 21st-Century France) and then proceed to take five elective seminars with the same requirements that pertain to the literary track. They are also actively encouraged to take courses cross-listed in departments (such as History, Comparative Literature, Government, Art History, and Music) whose resources would complement, and occasionally challenge, a more strictly literary training.


  • Both tracks require the completion of FREN 2210 (Reading, Looking, Thinking: Introduction to Interpretation) and FREN 3120 (French Stylistics).
  • Both tracks require FREN 2190 (Intermediate Conversation and Composition II) or an equivalent class as their prerequisite.
  • The minimum grade for courses acceptable for credit toward the French major is B-


Inquiries of a general nature can first be directed to the Undergraduate Assistant, Cal Hile.  Students who wish to major in either French Literature or French Cultural Studies are advised to consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Marilyn Migiel, who will take into account the student’s interest, preparation, and career goals. The Director of Undergraduate Studies will assign the student to an adviser.

Course Descriptions

Please refer to the French section within the Romance Studies course offerings for detailed descriptions about the courses we offer.  Note that bracketed courses are not being taught this academic year.

See our departmental  fall course roster or spring course roster for courses offered in French language and literature during the current academic year.

Minor Requirements

To minor in French, you need to do two things:

1.  Prove your language proficiency by taking a placement exam or a 2000-level course in French.

2.  Take four French and/or Francophone literature and culture courses.  Only one of these courses may be graded S/U.  Up to two courses from abroad may be counted toward the French minor.  Students are encouraged to take FREN 2210 ( Reading, Looking, Thinking), or FREN 2270 (Versions of Versailles) as one of their four courses.

Note:  literature and culture courses currently include most courses at the 3000-level and above in Romance Studies (with the exception of 3000-level language courses; please see the Director of Undergraduate Studies if you have questions about what constitutes a language course) as well as FREN 2210 and FREN 2270.  Other departments’ numbering systems are such that 2000-level courses in History, Government, etc. may be applicable toward the French minor.

Study Abroad

Finally, students are encouraged to study abroad through Cornell-sponsored or Cornell-approved programs, such as EDUCO in Paris. When appropriate, this work can be counted toward the required course work for the major. Students should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies of Romance Studies (Cary Howie), the Study Abroad advising dean, and Cornell Abroad, as well as with their faculty advisor before taking courses abroad to assure they are appropriate.