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Vol 57 No. 18 : November, 2005
Vol 57 No. 18 | October 28, 2005
Donato Honored by French Award

Clorinda Donato

Clorinda Donato

Clorinda Donato, a professor in the Romance/German/ Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL) Department at CSULB, has been appointed a "chevalier" in the Order of the Palmes Academiques by the French Ministry of National Education. Donato officially received her award from Alain Belais, cultural attachŽ to the Consulate General of France in Los Angeles, at a special reception on Sept. 28, in the Karl Anatol Center on campus.

Established in 1808, the Palmes Academiques (Academic Palms) was created by Napoleon Bonaparte as a reward for devotion and accomplishment in the realm of teaching. It was raised to the status of an order in 1955 and is awarded worldwide to both French citizens and foreigners. The order rewards teachers and non-teachers who devote their lives promoting French language, culture, extracurricular and educational activities.

"I am truly honored and pleased to receive this award. To be named a chevalier of the French Order of the Palmes Academiques is a dream come true," said Donato, who served as RGRLL chair at CSULB from 1992-97. "I especially want to thank those members of the French Cultural Services in Los Angeles who have made this possible Ñ Laurent Deveze, Alain Belais and Sylvie Christophe. It has been a distinct pleasure to work in the service of culture. I am truly touched by this recognition of my work."

Donato received the prestigious award in recognition of her outstanding record of international scholarship through her research into 18th century French language encyclopedias. In fact, Slatkine Press has just published her ongoing work in this field, Une Encyclopzdia vocation europŽene: le Dictionnaire universel raisonnŽ des connaissances humaines de F.-B. De Felice (1770-1780), a volume she co-edited with Jean-Daniel Candaux, Alain Cernuschi and Jens Haesler.

"I was delighted just to learn I was being considered, let alone receiving the award," Donato noted. "Anyone who receives this order, I understand, may sign their name with it as well. Maybe I ought to start doing that. I like the idea of being a female knight."

Donato specializes in the literature and culture of the Enlightenment. In particular, she has traced the reception and influence of the EncyclopŽdie throughout Europe, with special emphasis on Italy and Switzerland. A first edition of this 18th-century French encyclopedia is housed in the University Library's Special Collections.

"It's magnificent to have what is considered the definitive repository of French Enlightenment thought and culture a stone's throw from my office," she pointed out. "The editors, Diderot and D'Alembert, created one of the first efforts to view all human activity, whether manual or intellectual, as a form of knowledge. The baker and blacksmith were just as important as the mathematician, man of letters or scientist. The 25-volume work, which includes several volumes of plates, also provides insight into the status of women.

"I've found researching these encyclopedias to be one of the best ways to chart the progress of knowledge in different 18th century national contexts as each European nation translated, rewrote, updated and corrected the EncyclopŽdie to fit differing national agendas," she added. "Like much of the literary production of the 18th century, the Encyclopdia has maintained an ongoing dialogue with the 20th century as reflected in the work of cultural icons as diverse as Borges, Foucault and Peter Greenaway. And because it is a literary, historic, artistic and scientific masterpiece, it reflects the interdisciplinary nature of my work."

Today, the Ordre des Palmes Academiques is sometimes referred to as the "ruban violet" for its distinctive violet ribbon first introduced 120 years ago. Though the form of the award has undergone changes as has the organization which administered it, the Palmes has survived the social and political storms of France over this long span and has earned far-reaching esteem.

"As a professor of French and Italian who has worked on the reception and adaptation of Enlightenment thought in other national contexts," Donato said, "this recognition shows the French are looking at the larger implications of what it meant and means to be part of an interdependent cultural and linguistic world."
Donato, who speaks French, Italian, German and Spanish as well as English, was raised in the San Fernando Valley and received her bachelor's in Italian from UC Berkeley, where she met her husband. She returned with him to Italy where she lived and worked for four years while studying French and English literature at the Universitˆ di Urbino. When she returned to California, she enrolled at UCLA where she received a Ph.D. in Romance languages, literature and linguistics in 1987.

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