Earlier this month during a ceremony held at the Katzen Arts Center, Peter Starr, dean of American University’s College of Arts and Sciences, received a medal from the French government in recognition of his being named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques—a knight in the Order of Academic Palms—for his work promoting French language and culture in the United States.
“I am honored and humbled that the French government has chosen to recognize my work with such a distinguished award,” says Starr. “As both a scholar and as a dean, I can testify that France understands the power of cultural diplomacy in a way that few other nations do.”
The French Order of Chivalry was created by Emperor Napoleon in 1808 to honor members of the University of Paris. In 1955, French president René Coty expanded the order to its current decoration for academics and cultural and educational figures.
Before becoming the dean of American University’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2009, Starr was a professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. A renowned scholar of French literature and literary theory, Starr is the author of three books: Logics of Failed Revolt: French Theory after May ’68 (Stanford, 1995); Commemorating Trauma: The Paris Commune and Its Cultural Aftermath (Fordham, 2006); and We the Paranoid (2008), a web-based, multimedia project.
But Starr isn’t the only current AU academic to have been knighted by another country.
In 2005, Jerzy Sapieyeskvy, an award-winning composer and pianist who teaches in AU’s Department of Performing Arts, received the Knight Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
Gemma Puglisi, a professor in AU’s School of Communication, received the Order of the Star and was knighted by the Republic of Italy in 2006 for her contributions to education and promoting Italian language and culture.
In 2009, Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, was awarded a Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Republic of Hungary in recognition of his work to promote appreciation for the arts and culture of Hungary.
Last summer, School of Public Affairs faculty member Connie Morella received the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her efforts to further strengthen German-American ties.