French Professor Marva Barnett Named a Chevalier

October 01, 2012

Colleagues are offering félicitations – that’s “congratulations” – to Marva Barnett, a French professor in the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences. In recognition of her work on French language and literature, the French government has named Barnett a chevalier, or knight, of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, or Order of the Academic Palms.

Barnett joined the department in 1983. She also founded and has directed U.Va.’s Teaching Resource Center since 1990. Last year, Barnett received the Thomas Jefferson Award for her service, the highest honor the University community bestows upon its faculty.

Roland Simon, now retired, was the last U.Va. faculty member to receive the honor in the past 30 years.

Gérard Pouchain, chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur, du Mérite National et des Palmes Académiques, will present the Palmes medal Oct. 19 at a ceremony in the Dome Room of U.Va.’s Rotunda. Jean-Claude Duthion, representing the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan also plan to attend.

“I am deeply honored to receive this recognition for my efforts to connect across cultures, especially since I so much enjoy helping Americans understand things French,” Barnett said. “It is wonderful that Gérard Pouchain can come from Paris to U.Va. to present the insignia in person.”

Like Barnett, Pouchain is a Victor Hugo scholar. The two co-edited “105 Unpublished Letters of Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo, Recently Found in American Libraries,” which was published earlier this year in France. 

Hugo, a 19th-century French Romantic poet, writer and dramatist, is well known for the novels, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables.” Barnett published “Victor Hugo on Things That Matter in 2009, a reader that highlights the contemporary relevance of his ideas and puts his work in historic and personal contexts. She also teaches a course on Hugo, as well as courses on reading and writing French texts. This fall, she is teaching a University seminar on interpreting “Les Misérables” and writing a book on what the novel tells us about living well, she said.

The Ordre des Palmes Académiques is an association in France for academic, cultural and educational figures, founded by the Emperor Napoléon to recognize devotion and accomplishment in the realm of teaching, scholarship and research. Later, membership was extended to non-French citizens to acknowledge their promotion of French language or significant achievement in the field of education.

As the Thomas Jefferson Visiting Fellow at University of Cambridge’s Downing College in 2000, Barnett pursued a cross-cultural analysis of thinking skills, values and expectations in humanities education in the U.S., France and England. She also has studied and offers workshops on second-language reading and writing processes, peer observation and coaching, and active learning.

Also the author of “Read with Pleasure” and “More Than Meets the Eye: Foreign Language Reading, Theory and Practice,” she has published in such journals as The Modern Language Journal, Foreign Language Annals and The French Review.

Barnett holds a master's degree in French from the University of Maine at Orono and a B.A. from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She received her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University, where she studied at the Harvard-Danforth Center for Teaching and Learning.

On her website, Barnett has written: “ ‘Aimer, c’est agir’ ... ‘To love is to act.’ An aphorism highly appropriate to Hugo’s life and wonderfully open to interpretation, these words summarize well what moves me professionally. Because I believe in young people’s potential to learn, grow and contribute in marvelous ways, I teach. Because I care about France, the Francophone world and the importance of cross-cultural understanding, I teach French language, literature and culture.”

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications