The French ambassador to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Bernard Emié, visited Cambridge last week on what was an auspicious day for the relationship between France and the University.

In the course of his visit he witnessed the signature of two agreements between Cambridge and the consortium of research universities known as Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL), awarded decorations to two Cambridge academics, and attended the opening of an exhibition on the French Liberation at Cambridge University Library.

Ambassador Emié’s first act was to witness the signature of two agreements between Cambridge and PSL.

Formally established in 2011, PSL is a postgraduate education and research consortium comprising the École Normale Supérieure, the Collège de France, ESPCI ParisTech, Chimie ParisTech, the Observatoire de Paris, the Université Paris-Dauphine and the Institut Curie. It is one of the French government’s Initiatives d’Excellence (IdEx).

A framework agreement was signed on behalf of the University of Cambridge by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Strategy, Dr Jennifer Barnes, and on behalf of PSL by its President, Prof Monique Canto-Sperber.

Its purpose is to enhance the existing links – and develop new ones—between Cambridge and the various institutions comprising PSL.

The agreement makes provision for the matched funding of joint research seminars and workshops in all areas of knowledge, and for the mobility of faculty and students between Cambridge and the various constituent parts of PSL.

A separate letter of agreement was signed between PSL and the Cambridge Commonwealth, International and European Trust, represented by its director, Helen Pennant, for the provision of two fully-funded MPhil bursaries for PSL applicants in all disciplines.

Speaking before the signature of the agreements, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, referred to an episode back in the 13th century when England’s monarch, Henry III, invited Parisian scholars to join the recently founded University of Cambridge.

He said: ”The agreements being signed today with Paris Sciences et Lettres are the latest manifestation of that scholarly connection. They offer a new instrument for Cambridge to enhance its well-established connections to some of France’s elite institutions, its most interesting scholars, and its brightest students.”

The Vice-Chancellor added: “PSL may be one of France’s newest institutions, but we share a commitment to the same academic values of excellence and independence in research.”

Later, in the grand setting of Trinity College’s Old Combination Room, Ambassador Emié conferred French government decorations on two Cambridge scholars.

Dr Cecil Courtney, Emeritus Reader in French Intellectual History and Bibliography, and a Fellow of Christ’s College, was made Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. After receiving the award, Dr Courtney said that the event was “a commemoration of two countries moving towards greater understanding of each other”.

Speaking about Dr Jean Khalfa, Senior Lecturer in French and Fellow of Trinity College, Ambassador Emié praised his “invaluable role in championing francophone literature”. He reminded the audience that Dr Khalfa was the founder of the French legation in Cambridge: “You are a bridge,” he said, “you epitomise the type of scholar we are trying to create”, before awarding him the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

Ambassador Emié’s final act of the day was to attend the opening, at Cambridge University Library, of the exhibition “Literature of the Liberation: The French Experience in Print 1944-1946”, assembled from the unique collection of more than 600 books, cartoons, magazines, photographs and gramophone records donated to Cambridge by collector Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey.

Speaking at the exhibition’s opening, Ambassador Emié welcomed the opportunity to recognise “the longstanding links between French history and literature and the collections of the University Library”. He added: “From its Francophone medieval manuscripts, through its rich holdings of books relating to Montaigne and Rousseau, to this new collection on the Liberation, Cambridge University Library has established itself as a major centre for the study of France’s contribution to world culture.”

University Librarian Anne Jarvis said: “We are delighted to put on display highlights from the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection, in this year of the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Sir Charles’s flair and determination as a book-collector have produced a critical resource for the study of this important era of twentieth-century history, and his magnificent gift of the collection underlines the continuing importance of donations – both private and corporate – to the Library’s mission of keeping the University at the cutting edge of research.”

Picture: Jennifer Barnes, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Strategy, and Monique Canto-Sperber, President, PSL, sign the framework agreement in the presence of H.E. Bernard Emié, France’s Ambassador to the UK

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