Oxford’s history with France goes back to the very first days of the University’s inception; although university-level teaching is known to have existed at Oxford in some form in 1096, the University of Oxford developed rapidly from 1167 onwards after English students were banned from attending the University of Paris by Henry II, the English King. Since then, academic links between them have grown and have, over the centuries, gone from strength to strength.
Ties between Oxford and France were greatly strengthened in the 1940s by the establishment of the Maison Française d'Oxford, which was set up with the aim of consolidating the links between the two sides of the Channel, in both academic and cultural terms. Today, the Maison Française is a unique and vibrant hub for international and interdisciplinary academic cooperation and research, with a number of Oxford faculties affiliated with the centre.
Oxford’s French Department is the biggest in Britain, with over thirty permanent members of staff covering all areas and periods of French literature, culture and language, all of whom are international leaders in their field, plus a large contingent of college lecturers, language instructors, and native-speaker lecteurs and lectrices for spoken-language practice. The department has an intake of about 200 undergraduate students and 50 graduate students a year. French can be studied as a single honours degree, with another language from the Modern Languages Faculty, or with any one of six other humanities subjects. Those studying French single honours take extra courses in French philosophy, literary theory and cinema in their first year, and choose a broader selection of linguistic, literary or cultural subjects in subsequent years. Two-language students can combine French with Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Russian or Czech, all of which apart from Spanish are available to start from beginner’s level. The full range of French Studies is covered both in the MSt and MPhil in Modern Languages, offering a wide range of languages with flexible, tailored programmes and various interdisciplinary options such as Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, European Enlightenment and Medieval Studies.
The Voltaire Foundation is a research department in the University of Oxford and a world leader for 18th-century and Enlightenment research and scholarship. Founded by the bequest of Theodore Besterman in the 1970s, its core mission was originally to research and publish the definitive, scholarly edition of the Complete Works of Voltaire (Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire). Over the last 25 years, the Foundation has become the leading publisher of definitive critical editions of many prominent Enlightenment figures. It also produces Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (SVEC), the foremost series devoted to Enlightenment studies. The Foundation has attracted funding from the Mellon Foundation to develop Electronic Enlightenment, which uses cutting-edge technology to make correspondence of the most significant 18th-century figures fully searchable. The Centre is currently led by Professor Nicholas Cronk who is Professor of French Literature, and Lecturer in the History of the Book at Oxford. The Foundation has received sponsorship from the British Academy, the Centre National du Livre (CNL), Domaine de Bélesbat, the Florence Gould Foundation, and Union Académique Internationale/International Union of Academies.
Founded by Dr Jonathan Williams (TORCH AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellow 2013-14), the Rameau Project is a large-scale multidisciplinary research project devoted to the operas of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). This ambitious venture brings together leading international scholars and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a major reappraisal of Rameau's stage works. Rameau’s 30 operas are among the most aesthetically complex theatrical forms of the Enlightenment period; as such they offer fascinating opportunities for research into music, dance, dramaturgy, and the wider environment of Enlightenment thought and practice. The principal objectives of the project are to explore this extraordinary multimedia repertoire, addressing compelling issues of composer-specific practices – particularly regarding Rameau’s use of complex choreography – and to develop the expertise in music and dance required to communicate it to a modern audience.
Opportunities to Study and Work
At undergraduate level, those studying French have the opportunity to spend a year abroad as part of their degree. Students have a range of options: they can study at a foreign university, do voluntary work, work in a foreign company or follow training courses in the country of their choice. The Modern Languages department and several colleges have schemes with French universities, which students are encouraged to take advantage of. Similarly, other departments and individual colleges also have agreements with French institutions for student exchange. Undergraduate students in Biochemistry can study at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Lyon and the École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier. BA Law with Law Studies in Europe students spend a year abroad at a European university, with the opportunity to study French law at the University of Paris II (Panthéon-Assas). A number of colleges have lecture exchange schemes with French universities, including Nanterre (Paris X), the École Normale Supérieure in the rue d'Ulm (Paris) and Université Stendhal Grenoble III. Graduate students in French can apply for these lecturerships which are usually taken up in the second or third year of doctoral research.
Libraries and Museums
Oxford’s collections hold an extensive range of French artefacts, books, manuscripts and art. At the start of the decade, there was exciting news regarding the Ashmolean Museum's French art collection, relating to a highly important portrait by French impressionist artist Manet. The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, 1868, is one of only a handful of Manet paintings residing in the UK, but had been sold to a private foreign buyer and was due to be exported from the country. Judged to be of outstanding cultural importance, the then culture minister Edward Vaizey put a temporary export ban on the painting. This opened up the opportunity for a British public institution to purchase at 27% of the market value, as long as the funds could be raised before the temporary ban expired. The Ashmolean swiftly launched its 'Save Manet' campaign appealing to public funding bodies, trusts, private individuals and members of the public to help keep this item of exceptional cultural significance from leaving the country. Over 8 months an extraordinary response meant that the museum was able to raise the £7.83 million required to keep the portrait in the UK. The museum called it "the most significant purchase in the Ashmolean's history" and it represented a triumph for Britain's cultural landscape.
The Oxford-Sciences Po Research Group in the Social Sciences (OXPO) is a meeting point for social science scholars in Oxford and at Sciences Po in Paris, who work on the comparative analysis of the evolution of the transformation of political systems and societies, in Europe and beyond. It is made up of comparative research projects initiated by its member academics. The research group consists of the Department of Politics and International Relations, the Department of Sociology, a number of Oxford colleges, and the Maison Française d'Oxford, along with the laboratories of sociology and political science of the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (FNSP) and the teachers of the École Doctorale of Sciences Po. In addition to joint research projects, OXPO also facilitates other types of exchange between the partner institutes, notably in teaching. Past projects within OXPO include: ‘Citizens Talking about Europe: French, British and Belgian Citizens in Political Discussion’; ‘Comparative Analysis of Elites’, and ‘French Politics.’ It also offers small grants to support joint research workshops and research visits.
The research project Governing ‘new social risks’: The case of recent child policies in European welfare states (PolChi) is an international collaboration between researchers from Oxford's Department of Social Policy and Intervention, the University of Rennes, the University of Göttingen and Utrecht University. It looks at the new focus of both science and politics on parental practices, and in particular the welfare state’s role in these developments.
Academics from Oxford and Paris Nanterre University are participating in Writing 1900, a collaborative project led by Humboldt University. Writing 1900 is an international and cross-disciplinary network of scholars who are interested in studying the literary culture of this period in ways that overcome traditional national, linguistic, and generic borders. The group aims to share expertise and, through dialogue, to keep searching for innovative and challenging approaches to literary and cultural history and critical practice.
The University of Oxford, L'École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and the CNRS are part of a Fell-funded network on the transnational literary field, which brings together graduates, post-doctoral researchers and faculty from the partner institutions. The network, created by Stefano Evangelista and Gisèle Sapiro, facilitates a conversation between literary studies and sociological approaches to literature based on presentations of work in progress as well as seminar-style discussion of critical readings. In 2017, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the English Faculty hosted a workshop on Literary Cosmopolitanism as part of the network.
Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences
Oxford University was one of the international partners in the CoRoT mission, a space telescope project led by the French space agency CNES and based at CNRS laboratories. The CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and Transits) space telescope was designed to detect planets outside our solar system - exoplanets. The other partners in this truly pan European project included a series of astronomical laboratories from all across France, and international partners in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and the European Space Agency (ESA), plus a team of scientists from Denmark, Switzerland, and Portugal as well as Oxford University. The ground stations used for CoRoT were located in Kiruna (Sweden), Aussaguel (France), Hartebeesthoek (South Africa), Kourou (French Guyana), Alcantara (Brazil), and Vienna (Austria).
Although vaccination is commonly considered to be one of the greatest successes of Western medicine, it has also contributed to a resurgence of diseases as a result of vaccine scares. So far, such scares or oscillation in vaccinating decision-making are understood as the result of a conflict between individual and group optimal interests. In collaboration with modellers from the University of Lille (Dr S. Billiard, M. Voinson), Dr Alex Alvergne of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography is investigating the extent to which the assumption of rationality – here the idea that individuals act in their own interest – is mandatory for oscillations in vaccination coverage to occur. The project brings together cultural, psychological and epidemiological models for describing the dynamic of vaccinating decision-making.
Founded by the Universities of Oxford and Paris in 1946, the Maison Française d'Oxford was created through a mutual desire to develop cooperation between researchers, lecturers and students from both institutions. The institution aims to promote French culture and to be an agent for academic cooperation. As a research/cultural centre funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Maison Française organises and hosts lectures, seminars and cultural and scientific events. Two current research projects of the Maison Française are the History of Science programme which brings together specialists of French and British research in the history of science, techniques and innovation, and the Classical Studies programme, a multi-disciplinary network linking the Maison Française, Oxford's Faculties of Classics and Philosophy, and other European research centres.
France is the seventh largest source of students at Oxford outside of the UK and the third largest in Europe. There are over 320 French students currently studying at Oxford, around two-thirds of whom are postgraduates and nearly a third of whom are undergraduates. The largest cohorts of French undergraduates are in the Humanities and Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences divisions. French taught postgraduates are mainly concentrated in the Social Sciences, whereas half of research postgraduates are in Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences.
Founded in 2003, Oxford University French Society (La Société Française de l’Université d’Oxford) is Oxford’s student-led cultural, political and social centre for promoting francophone culture. They offer a wide range of events, regularly offering film nights, guest speakers, debates, concerts, and drinks and conversation evenings to members and non-members of the society alike. Their primary aim is to act as a vibrant forum where like-minded students can meet outside of academic work.