On March 28, 2023, Séverine Autesserre, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and Maurice Samuels, the Betty Jane Anlyan Professor of French at Yale University, were each awarded the insignia of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques by Judith Roze, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the U.S. and Deputy Director of Villa Albertine, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
The Deputy Cultural Counselor began the ceremony with introductory remarks and the presentation of the insignia to Séverine Autesserre:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,
I am Judith Roze, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy. I am delighted to welcome you this evening to honor two individuals who have dedicated their lives to academic research, peacebuilding and education: Séverine Autesserre and Maurice Samuels.
The Ordre des Palmes académiques, founded in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte, honors individuals who have distinguished themselves in the fields of education, scholarship, and research. Both Séverine Autesserre and Maurice Samuels have shown themselves to be exemplary educators and contributed significantly to their respective areas of scholarship through their hard work, leadership, and passion.
Please allow me to say a few words in recognition of your respective accomplishments. I will proceed in alphabetical order, starting with Séverine.
Dear Séverine, you are an accomplished academic celebrated by your peers and a beloved teacher at Barnard College, Columbia University, an institution that we commend for its mission of empowering young women to become concerned citizens and difference-makers on the world stage.
However, an academic is far from the extent of your identity. You yourself are a difference-maker, as your work concerns the most crucial of questions in political philosophy– how to nurture peace where war once prevailed. Your research speaks to building peace from the ground up; in your case, this is not an abstract concept, but a lived philosophy, as your work stems from your first-hand experience in conflict zones and with the people groups involved.
As fellow practitioners of diplomacy, we are humbled to welcome you tonight.
Throughout your career, you have established yourself as a dedicated citizen of the world. You worked for humanitarian organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World, as well as development agencies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua, and India. Both Paris and New York City played key roles in your education, as you obtained a master’s in political and social sciences from Sciences Po, subsequently obtaining a master’s degree in international relations at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Political Science from New York University.
And after a post-doctorate at Yale, you started your career as a professor and researcher at Barnard College, Columbia University, where you were elected Chair of the Department of Political Science in January of 2022.
Since completing your dissertation, you have published a book every 5 years, and each one has succeeded in engaging audiences across academia, diplomacy, and beyond. I believe the International Studies Association said it best when they praised your work for “revolutioni[zing] the study and practice of peacebuilding, and of security studies more broadly.”
Your first book, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding, stemmed from your earlier work with NGOs in eastern Congo, and was awarded the 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, as well as the International Studies Association’s Chadwick F. Alger Prize in 2011.
Your second one, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention won the Yale H. Ferguson Award in 2015 and the Best Book of the Year Award in 2016.
And the latest of your monographs, The Frontlines of Peace: The Insider’s Guide to Changing the World, has garnered praise from academics and diplomats alike, providing the reader with a first-hand look at examples of successful peacebuilding efforts around the world.
Far from evoking the ivory-tower solutions of International Relations theorists, your work is grounded in practical, evidence-based approaches that espouse the importance of local citizens and grassroots efforts in building lasting peace. Each of these works masterfully engages readers in the discussion of a foundational idea: Every peace is built out of conflict, every peace is a war that has come to an end.
Séverine, we commend you on your achievements in the realms of academia, peacebuilding, and research, as well as your ability to bridge the gap between international relations theory and the current happenings of our world.
Séverine Autesserre, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes académiques.
The Deputy Cultural Counselor went on to present the insignia to Maurice Samuels:
Now, to our second recipient of the night, Maurice Samuels. If Séverine Autesserre has helped the French better understand the world, Maurice Samuels has helped the world better understand the French. Maurice, it is our honor to welcome you here tonight, and to recognize your accomplishments as a scholar and as a peacebuilder yourself in your chosen field of antisemitism studies.
Maurice, your relationship with France has been multifaceted and fruitful. After graduating from Harvard University in 1990, you studied in Paris at the École normale supérieure, where you further developed your interest in France’s language, culture, and history. You then returned to Harvard to obtain your doctorate in French in 2000. After teaching for six years at the University of Pennsylvania, you joined the French faculty at Yale University as the Betty Jane Anlyan Professor of French in 2006, where you specialize in the literature and culture of nineteenth-century France, while also chairing the Judaic Studies Program. Even now, your relationship with Paris is ongoing, as you spend time working at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris every year.
As an author, you strive to cast light on the complex transformations of French identity, particularly the evolution of the relationship between the Jewish identity and French literature and politics, from the nineteenth century to today.
Your first book, The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France, was awarded the 2007 Gaddis Smith Book Prize by Yale University’s MacMillan Center.
The second, Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France, won the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize, awarded by the Modern Language Association for the best book in French studies.
Your subsequent work, The Right to Difference: French Universalism and the Jews studies the way French writers and thinkers have conceived of the place of Jews within the nation from the French Revolution to the present. It also won the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for the best book in French Studies.
Your most recent book, The Betrayal of the Duchess, explores the catalyst of antisemitism in France in the 1830s. While this work did not win the Scaglione Prize, as the competition needs to remain open and fair, it has been praised not only by your peers, but by The New York Review of Books, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and The National Book Review.
At a time of renewed antisemitism across the world, you have been at the forefront of the movement to study the causes and manifestations of discrimination and hatred in your role as Director of the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism. Since its inception in 2011, it is one of the only academic programs in the United States dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of both historical and contemporary forms of antisemitism. This work is immensely important not only for encouraging research on topics related to antisemitism, but also to calling attention to this discrimination and hatred, and to fortifying efforts to combat it, especially amongst our next generation of changemakers. We hold a tremendous amount of admiration for the fruits of your research, and we look forward to your future endeavors, in particular your biography of Alfred Dreyfus.
Maurice, your efforts in the movement against antisemitism and your dedication to the study of French literature from the Revolution to the present deserves our most sincere praise.
Maurice Samuels, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques.
The Deputy Cultural Counselor concluded the evening:
In recognition of your commitment to education, to scholarship, and to peacebuilding, it is my privilege to honor you both on behalf of the French government.