Barry Lydgate

Barry Lydgate Professor of French at Wellesley College
blydgate@wellesley.edu
(781) 283-2439
Faculty Emeritus
B.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Yale University
GRH 228B

Barry Lydgate

Professor Emeritus of French

Interests: intellectual history of the French Renaissance; confessional writing; post-war Paris; exploring the power of interactive media to teach language and culture.


Currently on leave, I retire from Wellesley College in June 2021. During my time at the college the French 16th century has been a principal focus of my research and teaching. I’m especially interested in the ways in which the introduction of printing altered the relationships of writers and readers in the 1500s, creating unprecedented levels of literacy and demand for books, exacerbating political and religious tensions, and producing new forms of narrative art. (This revolution in the production and consumption of texts in the sixteenth century is of course not wholly foreign to readers in the twenty-first.)

Autobiographical and confessional narratives have been another focus of my teaching. My course Books of the Self (FREN 217) examined autoécriture and what happens to literary structure when the teller of a tale is also its principal subject. Saint-Germain-des-Prés (FREN 237) analyzed a quartier of Paris that for a few heady years in the 1940s and '50s thought of itself as the exact geographical center of the intelligent world. That course considered works by Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir, but also Raymond Queneau and Boris Vian, and popular songs of the ’40s and ’50s, which transmit the feel of the period in ways no text can match. Students worked with songs via online interactive programs of my design that gave them access to textual meaning and cultural references as they listened in real time. From 2015 through 2020 I taught a course in English, my first in over 40 years—a Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing (FREN/CPLT 359, Advocating for Other Cultures), for majors in the languages and Comparative Literature, and others interested in cultures other than our own. 

After a year studying at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (rue d'Ulm) in Paris and stints as Carnegie Teaching Fellow at Yale and Dean of Branford College, one of the Yale residential colleges, I came to the Wellesley French Department in 1973, receiving tenure in 1980. I’ve been committed to language teaching since arriving at the department, where one of my specialties has been our beginning course in language and culture, FREN 101-102. The backbone of the course is an online multimedia program, French in Action, of which I’m co-author. Developed by Wellesley and Yale with major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, French in Action pioneered the concept of the “flipped classroom” (now known as “blended learning”) in which course content is structured for delivery online, freeing up students' time with the instructor for discussion and practice, and anticipating the needs of distance-learning imposed by the current pandemic.

I was chair of the French Department from 2011-2015, and have served several times as director of Wellesley-in-Aix, the college’s study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence, France. For many years I was campus liaison officer for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and chair of the college committee that supports Wellesley students for Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell and Churchill scholarships and Watson Fellowships.

I’m a dedicated cyclist, cook, music-lover, traveler and oenophile. Mention of my three children may seem an afterthought in the context of an academic profile, but I love them more than anything else in life.