Students filming winemaker Vincent Laval in his vineyard.
Program Overview

French and Italian

From cinema and literature to history and culture.

Oberlin French students making the documentary film La Vie du vin in the Bourgogne region of France.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College

Explore Global French and Francophone Cultures

Oberlin’s Department of French and Italian offers instruction and immersion in these world languages with a distinctive curriculum focused on literary texts, film, cultural and historical documents, and other media. The French major is interdisciplinary, allowing students to draw from their interests in a range of fields such as art history, comparative literature, cinema studies, economics, history, Middle Eastern and North African studies, music, politics, and other subject areas. Recent French graduates are now working in sectors as diverse as engineering, the Federal Reserve, medicine, higher education, opera, and neuroscience.

An Oberlin Community in Conversation with the World

French students form close bonds on campus, sharing their passion for French culture and le monde francophone. Oberlin’s French students have the opportunity to live in La Maison Francophone (Bailey House), a language-themed residence hall, where they can immerse themselves in the language and have daily contact with native speakers. Oberlin’s Italian students can supplement class instruction with extracurricular activities including Italian Movie Night and La Tavola Italiana. Through Oberlin’s study away program, our majors have the opportunity to spend a summer, a semester, or an entire year enrolled in partner universities in Paris, Rabat, Dakar, or other global cities.

Every year over twenty Oberlin students participate in educational programs at partner universities in Italian or French speaking countries.
Read about the experiences of French majors who studied abroad

Winter Term in Martinique

The study of French language and culture extends well beyond Europe. As part of a recent winter term project, students visited the island of Martinique to explore the context of its colonial past, and its complex relationship with France.

A large group of students smiling for the camera.
Oberlin College is among the top producers of Fulbright scholars in the United States
Learn more about Oberlin’s legacy of Fulbright scholars

French Queer Media Activism

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of the feminist movement in France, Oberlin professors and guest speakers presented on topics ranging from militant film collectives during the 1970s to the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR) and the beginning of gay rights and AIDS activism in France.

Two women filming. Black and White.

Featured Courses

ITAL 101

Beginning Italian

Designed for students with no prior experience, this introductory course develops students’ abilities to speak, write, read and understand Italian within a culturally rich environment. It also introduces them to today’s Italians, their language, their culture and their varied lifestyles. Important goals will be for students to recognize regional accents, the difference between formal or informal context, and the political, historical and financial factors that influence Italian culture and language.

Taught by
Ivana Di Siena
CINE 250

French Cinema, Intersectional and Feminist

This historical survey of French cinema tells a story that has long been suppressed but rewritten by feminist scholars who did nothing less than excavate the many artistic and cultural contributions of women filmmakers from the beginning of film to its present. Students learn about the usual periods of French cinema (Surrealism, 1930s Poetic Realism, Occupation, New Wave, contemporary film), but also study film direction, stardom, acting, editing, and producing—all through its leading women. A study of the history of industrialization, cultural policy, state regulation, and colonialism helps address the conceptualization of French cinema as a ‘national cinema,’ despite its international artistic heritage and audiences. It also foucses on opportunities for intersectional and feminist approaches that value discussions of race, gender, and class.

Taught by
Grace An
FREN 355

Creole Cultures: Struggle and Resistance

Born out of a history of resistance, Creole cultures transcend racial boundaries. Through the works of prominent authors from different Creole speaking islands such as Fanon and Césaire (Martinique), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe), Ananda Devi (Mauritius), Jacques Roumain (Haiti), this course provides a framework for understanding how French colonization led to the creation of Creole nations in different parts of the world. The discussion will move from the past to the present as students also explore how international events such as a worldwide pandemic, social justice, racism and police brutality are currently affecting these islands.

Taught by
Preeamvada (Preea) Leelah
FREN 423

L’histoire du corps, 1500–1800

During the Renaissance an ideal human body was celebrated in poetry, painting, and sculpture, as canons of beauty were revived from Antiquity, while in sacred art, a new emphasis was placed on the physicality of Christ and the saints. Opposed to these tendencies were counter-currents of realism and the grotesque: in medical treatises, travel narratives, comic genres, and crime literature, the body is palpable, repugnant, abject. Primary texts plus critical readings by Foucault, Bakhtin, Kristeva, and others.

Taught by
Matthew Senior

Student Profiles

Teaching in Benin

At Oberlin, Megan Grabill ’21 majored in anthropology, comparative literature, and French. Having studied abroad in Paris, and with an internship at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Megan is ready to facilitate moments of cultural exchange as part of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Benin.

Megan Grabill.

Culture Writing for Pitchfork

At Oberlin, Sophie Kemp ’18 worked at Oberlin’s student radio station WOBC, becoming station manager during her senior year. Since graduation, she has been working as an editorial fellow and writer for the online music site Pitchfork.

Sophie Kemp.

Fulbright to Côte d’Ivoire

At Oberlin, Mallory Cohen ’15, an art history major with a minor in French, tutored local high school students in French through the Ninde Scholars program. After a post-graduate year working for the Education Department of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Malloy was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach English in Abidjan to high school students.

Mallory Cohen.

What does French and Italian at Oberlin look like?

Three people on stage, one of them holding a sign that reads, "Les fourberies de scapin." Black and white.

From the archives: a theater festival held by Oberlin’s French Club in 1957.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College Office of Communications
An actor in a medieval attire standing by a white chair.

In 2019, the Oberlin Opera Theater and Chamber Orchestra presented Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, based on the true story of the Martyrs of Compiègne.

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
A group of students smiling for the camera.

Winter term French students at the Espace Muséal Aimée Césaire, Fort-de-France, Martinique.

Photo credit: Preea Leelah
Students in a lecture hall in King Building.

As part of a speaker series hosted by professor Grace An, students and faculty enjoy intellectual exchange with visiting scholars around gender, sexuality, and French thought.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College

Next Steps

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Ivana Di Siena and students in Italian at the Memorial Arch.
An outdoor Italian class at the arch in Tappan Square led by professor Ivana Di Siena.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97