On Thursday, November 5, 2015, Deputy Cultural Counselor Thomas Michelon decorated esteemed scholar Gilles Bransbourg with the Insignia of the Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Academiques. The award was presented at an intimate ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames, Messieurs,
Monsieur le Directeur,
Cher Monsieur le professeur Roger Bagnall,
Cher Gilles Bransbourg,
Je suis très heureux d’être parmi vous aujourd’hui pour cette journée mémorable. Merci à l’Institut des Etudes du Monde Ancien de nous accueillir. Nous sommes en effet réunis pour remettre les insignes de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques à Gilles Bransbourg ; médaille qui reflète la gratitude de la France pour ses actions remarquables. Permettez-moi de continuer ce discours en anglais pour toutes les personnes qui ne parlent pas notre langue.
The Palmes Académiques was founded in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte, who appreciated the importance of education and thus established an honorary title in recognition of an individual’s dedication and achievement in the areas of teaching, scholarship and research. The award was later raised to the status of an Order of the French Minister of Education.
I am honored to confer upon Gilles Bransbourg tonight this esteemed insignia.
When you confer an award in the realm of academia, it forces you to reflect on the nature of academia itself. There are so many reasons why we hold scholars in such esteem – their immersion in their subject, their meticulousness, their sense of balance that steers public debate away from blaring sensationalism. So as a society we are grateful for our scholars, for their enlightened approach as well as their profound conclusions.
But beneath all of that thoroughness and restraint simmers an intense drive. For the most groundbreaking scholars, education is also an attitude. It is the desire to push your intellect and your skills beyond what’s expected of you, in teaching and study and research. It is a willingness to seize the opportunities before you and make more of them. And Gilles, I think you embody this attitude better than anybody. Throughout your life, you have greatly valued education, but you have also actively added value to education.
From an early age, you have been committed to the pursuit of knowledge, leading you to extraordinary academic success. During your studies at Lycee Louis-le-Grand, you won the French nationwide Concours Général award in History – much to the disappointment of your parents, I’m sure.
Your interests were never singular, however. Despite your history award, you entered some of France’s top universities in mathematics and social science. The thread of consistency across your studies was always your distinction based on your intellectual rigor. At Sciences Po, you were the Jury’s Laureate for your Masters, and you similarly excelled in your studies at École Polytechnique, at École Nationale de la Statistique et de l’Administration Économique. You have been fortunate to attend some of France’s best schools, but you also brought your best hardworking ethos to your experiences.
To this day, you have continued your studies, but you are also teaching. You have been a Master of Finance at Sciences Po since 2007, encouraging a similar motivation among your students.
And everything I have already mentioned, Gilles, is sufficient to call you a worthy and dedicated scholar. But what sets you apart is your unconventional approach to enriching your knowledge. For a deeper understanding of currencies and financial markets, you decided to look back…very far back, actually. All the way to the Roman Empire.
Your PhD thesis at Ecole des Hautes Etudes des Sciences Sociales was entitled, Fiscalité et Enjeux de Pouvoir dans le Monde Romain. And it may seem unusual that someone like you, who had studied the high-paced world of derivatives and structured products, was also poring over ancient texts and examining antique coins. But you did, and you say that that your scholarly interests advanced your concepts of wealth and value.
You continue to sharpen your expertise of the ancient world, publishing papers and holding lectures on the subject. You are a Research Associate at both New York University and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Recently, you became the Adjunct Curator of Roman Coins at the American Numismatic Society, where you manage the Online Coins of the Roman Empire project. For you, antiquity is not only a scholarly curiosity, but a subject abound with timeless insights that you connect to contemporary events. You once gave a talk on Public Radio International entitled “What Europe can Learn from an Ancient Empire with a Common Currency.” This is the type of ingenuity that comes through a commitment to pushing your intellect as far as you can.
Searching the past for the keys to the contemporary world, drawing from historic phenomena to analyze the evolutions of our own age – all of this constitutes a very important aspect of your intellectual approach. Should that be surprising? No, not if one knows you, and even less surprising if, like for you, one considers the depth of history to be an integral part of the conscience of the modern man.
But there’s yet another dimension to the multifaceted man that is Gilles Bransbourg, which is your achievement in the financial sector. While teaching at Sciences Po, you held executive positions in banking, and you have successfully founded your own Asset Management Company, Traystar. You move seamlessly between the realms of academia and finance, and even bring them together. My favorite example is when you curated the “Signs of Inflation” exhibition at the Federal Reserve Bank, filled with methods of payment from the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world. As you demonstrate well, when we unite different modes of thinking, we maximize the profits – as you might say in economist speak.
You continue to share your insights with the public through your many media contributions. In publications as diverse as Newsweek, Bloomberg News and La Croix, you elevate the discourse on subjects ranging from the financial crisis to the Euro.
Your commitment to education extends in a way that is very meaningful for us here at the French Embassy – you were an ardent member of the fundraising committee for our Dual-Language program in New York public schools, where you offered your time and resources to make French-English education attainable for children across the city. And while you are modest about your efforts, we wish to thank you for your constant involvement in the development of the program, which is both the fruit of a collective initiative, as well as the sum of individual energies. And we’re thrilled to note that you placed your own three children in one of our Dual-Language Program schools in Brooklyn. It’s a nod to your French identity, but also to the many proven educational benefits of a bilingual education.
Gilles, you are someone who fuses scholarly thoughtfulness with a real world ambition. Your academic success spans multiple countries and multiple disciplines, all with a common passion and dedication. You are a shining example of what can be achieved through the French education system, in learning and teaching and beyond. I am honored to be able to recognize you today for your contribution to France and to French-American exchange by conferring upon you the medal of Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques.
Gilles Bransbourg, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.