French and Italian
Department Chairs:
Matthew Senior
Peters 401

Administrative Assistant:
Blanche Villar

Department Email:

Phone: (440) 775-5257
Fax: (440) 775-6888

Peters Hall 301
50 N. Professor St.
Oberlin, Ohio, 44074

Matthew Senior

Matthew Senior

Ruberta T. McCandless Professor of French, Chair

Contact Information


Peters 401
(440) 775-8186

Personal Office Hours:
Monday and Thursday 2:30-3:30 and by appointment.

Matthew Senior

Matthew Senior

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., Yale University, 1990
  • Licence ès Lettres, La Sorbonne, Paris IV, 1978
  • B.A., University of Kansas, 1976

I teach French language, literature, and culture courses, from beginning French to intermediate and advanced surveys and seminars on early modern literature, philosophy, and art. At all levels, my goal is the same: to help, challenge, coach, provoke, inspire, and collaborate with Oberlin students in their acquisition of the French language and their exploration of the multifaceted, storied culture that French has always carried with it, in metropolitan France and in many corners of the world. Learning another language and culture is one of the most important and lasting achievements of a college education: it opens new linguistic worlds and sharpens one’s understanding of one’s own language and culture and stimulates critical thinking. On a shrinking planet, where all too often political decisions are based on calculations of wealth, power, and violence rather than peace and intercultural understanding, we need more practice positioning ourselves in other cultures and speaking their languages.

My current research and upper-level teaching interests focus on representations of the natural world in early modern France. In my work on zoos, medical and religious practices, literature, and philosophy, I have been studying a major shift in knowledge and sensibilities towards nature during the period 1500-1800, as a Renaissance paradigm of relatedness to nature and microcosm was being replaced by a mechanistic, Cartesian world view.

I have edited three collections of essays on the history and philosophy of animality: Animots: Postanimality in French Thought (Yale French Studies, 127, 2015); A Cultural History of Animals in the Age of Enlightenment (Berg, 2007); and Animal Acts: Configuring the Human in Western History from the Middle Ages to the Present (Routledge, 1997) and contributed essays to these as well. A related area of interest of mine is the process by which humans create themselves, mentally and symbolically, as human beings, a practice modern philosophers have called “supreme humanization” (Nietzsche), “hominisation” (Teilhard de Chardin), “anthropogenesis” (Giorgio Agamben), and “anthropotechnics” (Peter Sloterdijk). This ties into my earlier research on the role of confession in the formation of the self in Western history, the subject of my first book: In the Grip of Minos: Confessional Discourse in Dante, Corneille, and Racine (Ohio State University Press, 1994).

Book cover: Yale French Studies number 127Book cover: In the Age of EnlightenmentBook cover: Animal ActsBook cover: In the Grip of Minos

Publications on