Stanford Professor Robert Harrison honored by the French Ministry of Culture


Photo of Robert Pogue Harrison
Robert Harrison Photo: Linda A. Cicero

ROBERT POGUE HARRISON, professor of French and Italian at Stanford, was honorifically knighted as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Consul General last week for his commitment and dedication to French-related research fields.

Established in 1957 by the French Minister of Culture, the distinction recognizes significant accomplishments in the areas of teaching, research and scholarship that contribute to the expansion of French education, language and culture throughout the world.

Harrison, whose research interests span Western literary tradition and relationships between humans and the natural world, was surrounded by friends and colleagues as he received the prestigious decoration during a reception at the San Francisco home of the French consul on Oct. 9.

Now the chair of graduate studies in Italian at Stanford, Harrison has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2007.

Among Harrison’s most recent publications are The Dominion of the Dead (University of Chicago Press, 2003), an exploration of the significance of the deceased through a study of canonical literary works, and Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 2008), an examination of how gardens – from Gilgamesh to our backyards – evoke the human condition. Praised for their thought-provoking insights into the human experience, Harrison’s books have been translated into numerous languages, including French.

The Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature at Stanford, Harrison has published numerous articles on themes as varied as Nietzsche and philosophical problems related to architecture, as well as several essays for the New York Review of Books about John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Roosevelt.

Harrison is the host and founder of the radio talk show “Entitled Opinions” on KZSU 90.1. For nearly a decade Harrison has conversed with writers, scientists and other scholars about the intersection of life and literature. He integrates his passions for literature and music in his band “Glass Wave,” named after a line in Ezra Pound’s “Cantos.” Each “Glass Wave” song is inspired by themes from classic literary works like Hamlet and Moby Dick.

Band-mate and French Department colleague DAN EDELSTEIN calls Harrison “a true humanist” whose research “is driven by human preoccupations, not academic themes.” Harrison’s books, Edelstein said, “have been particularly well received in France, where the intellectual essay style, which he masters, is highly regarded.”


GABRIELLA SAFRAN, chair of Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, said it “is a pleasure to experience the effects of Harrison’s ideas locally and beyond, to hear students, neighbors, scholars and non-scholars from far away (even in Russia!) tell me about reading his books or hearing his radio show.”

Harrison joins five other Stanford scholars who have been recipients of the Order of Academic Palms honors: history professors ARON RODRIGUE and KEITH BAKER; MARILYN YALOM, a scholar at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research; CHARBEL FARHAT, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of mechanical engineering; and MARIE-PIERRE ULLOA, associate director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies.

Harrison’s latest publication, Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age, an exploration of how youth and aging have interacted and evolved from antiquity to today, is scheduled to be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year.

VERONICA MARIAN is a communications coordinator for The Humanities at Stanford.