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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 11, 2006

Photos: Steven Ungar, left, Christopher Merrill, right

UI Professors Ungar, Merrill Honored By France

Two professors in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have been honored as knights by the French government for promoting the French language and francophone culture through teaching, publishing, research and creative work.

Steven Ungar, professor and chair of cinema and comparative literature, was named a chevalier in l'Ordre des Palmes académiques (Order of Academic Palms) and Christopher Merrill, professor of English and director of the International Writing Program, was named a chevalier in l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters).

Ungar and Merrill join the ranks of at least three other UI professors knighted by France in recent years. Downing Thomas, professor and chair of French and Italian was knighted earlier this year, Jacques Bourgeacq, an emeritus professor of French and Italian, and Rick Altman, a professor of cinema and comparative literature, received the honor in 1999 and 1984, respectively.

"Both Steve and Chris are richly deserving of this prestigious international honor," said Linda Maxson, dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "I am enormously proud to see two more of our faculty members recognized among the top scholars worldwide."

Michael Hogan, UI executive vice president and provost, said the awards were a mark of distinction for Ungar, Merrill and the whole university. "Not only do these extraordinary and well-deserved honors shine a spotlight on two of our superb faculty members, they also say a great deal about how far-reaching is the work that happens on this campus, and how engaged we are as a faculty and as a university in the intellectual life of the global community," he said.

The Order of Academic Palms is the oldest civilian award in France, created in 1808 by Napoléon Bonaparte to honor university professors. The award was extended in 1866 to non-educators for their exceptional work in the area of education and today can be bestowed upon educators and non-educators alike who have devoted their lives to the expansion of the French language and francophone culture in the world.

Ungar, a Collegiate Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is an internationally renowned authority on 20th-century French literature, literary theory, and film. In addition to numerous scholarly articles, Ungar has written five books including, "Roland Barthes: The Professor of Desire," "Scandal and Aftereffect: Blanchot and France Since 1930," "Identity Papers: Contested Nationhood in 20th-Century France," and "Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture."

His work has been highly influential, consistently prompting new research in both the U.S. and France. He was co-director of the National Endowment for the Humanities Interpretive Project for the Study of French Culture between the Wars, as well as of three NEH summer seminars. He has supervised 20 doctoral dissertations, with six more in progress, and several of his former students are now leading scholars in French studies. A UI faculty member since 1976, Ungar has served as department chair for French and Italian and for cinema and comparative literature, as well as interim chair for Spanish and Portuguese.

The Order of Arts and Letters was, established in 1957 by the Minister of Culture and confirmed as part of l'Ordre National du Mérite by Charles de Gaulle in 1963. Its purpose is the recognition of significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.

Merrill, who joined the UI faculty in 2000, is the author of four collections of poetry, including "Watch Fire," for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; translations; several edited volumes; and four books of nonfiction -- "The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer"; "The Old Bridge: The Third Balkan War and the Age of the Refugee"; "Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars;" and "Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain." His work has been translated into 20 languages.

Merrill received the 2005 Kostas Kyriazis Award, Greece's most prestigious journalism award, for "Things of the Hidden God." He is also the commentator on international literature for the syndicated radio program, "The World," jointly produced by the BBC and station WGBH in Boston. Before coming to the UI, Merrill held the William H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters at the College of the Holy Cross.

Nominees for the awards are approved by the French Prime Minister. Plans are being made for a representative of the French government will visit the UI during the academic year to officially decorate Ungar and Merrill.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,