> Home News April 18, 2011— Eric T. Jennings named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes académiques

April 18, 2011— Eric T. Jennings named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes académiques

by Christine Elias — Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011

April 18, 2011
A&S Staff

The history department has recently been touched by the posthumous reach of one of history’s largest characters — former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Early in April, in a remarkably illustrative example of just how wholly alive history can be, Jérôme Cauchard, France’s Consul General in Toronto, conferred upon Eric T. Jennings the rank of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques in recognition of his service to research and teaching.

The award, a French knighthood, was created more than two hundred years ago by Napoleon to reward service to French universities and academies. In 1955, the French government under Charles de Gaulle broadened the mandate to include researching, teaching and disseminating knowledge of the French culture around the world.

Jennings, who holds a trio of citizenships — Canadian, French, and American — grew up speaking French at home and at school in Paris and researches and writes in both of Canada’s official languages, even serving as his own book-translator: Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain's National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe and Indochina,1940-1944 — Vichy sous les Tropiques: La Révolution nationale à Madagascar, en Guadeloupe, en Indochine, 1940-1944.

A graduate of the University of Toronto, he returned as a faculty member in the mid-nineties after completing his doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley under the supervision of Susanna Barrows, a legend in French history academe.

As a researcher, Jennings now trains his own academic magnifying glass on French history, particularly as it unfolded during the 19th and 20th centuries both in Europe and around the world in French-held colonies. And in search of his material, he not only returns frequently to his main archives in Aix-en-Provence, but traces the path of the French Empire around the globe.

“My research has focused on the history of French colonialism, and as such it has taken me to such places as the French Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe), the Francophone Indian Ocean (Madagascar, Réunion), to Vietnam, and, most recently, to Sub-Saharan Francophone Africa.”

In addition to teaching undergraduate courses and supervising graduate students, Jennings sits on committees, contributes journal articles, edits and translates, delivers public lectures, presents papers at some conferences and chairs and comments during others, appearing to speak about French colonial history anywhere from Midland, Ontario to Singapore, in venues as disparate as an American Embassy and a Toronto café.  And even during the summer, the pace doesn’t let up.

“I spent part of last summer in the archives in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, and plan to travel to Cameroon this summer.”

Given this track record, it is perhaps not difficult to understand why this prestigious award arrived when it did.

“I was as surprised as I was moved to receive the Palmes at this stage of my career, as they are often awarded at a later career stage.”

Jennings is pleased with the recognition not only for his own work, but for the spotlight it shines on his discipline, “I am particularly honoured to receive the rank of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes académiques because it is designed to recognize both research and teaching.  It also reflects my commitment to studying and promoting the francophone world.”