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.

I retired officially from Wellesley College in June 2021, but was invited to return in Spring 2023 to teach my course Books of the Self in the Department of French and Francophone Studies and in Spring 2024 to give a guest lecture on Rabelais in the Medieval-Renaissance Studies seminar on the Renaissance.
During my active service on the faculty, the French 16th century was a principal focus of my research and teaching. In particular I studied 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 were another focus of my teaching, one I revisited in 2023 in Books of the Self (FREN 217), which examined autoécriture, asking what happens to literary structure when the teller of a tale is also its principal subject. The subject of my course Saint-Germain-des-Prés (FREN 237) was the famous 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 can transmit the feel of the period in ways no text can match. Students worked with songs by Juliette Gréco and others 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 for others interested in cultures not 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. A specialty from my first days of teaching was our beginning course in language and culture, FREN 101-102. I co-authored the online multimedia program French in Action, which was taught in that beginning course for nearly 30 years. Developed by Wellesley and Yale with major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, French in Action pioneered the concept of the “flipped classroom” 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 recent pandemic.

I was chair of the French Department from 2011-2015, and 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 and, so far, five grandchildren may seem an afterthought in the context of an academic profile, but I love them more than anything else in life.


  • B.A., Yale University
  • M.Phil., Yale University
  • Ph.D., Yale University