Carnegie Mellon University

Michael J. West

Michael J. West

Teaching Professor of French and Francophone Studies

Department of Modern Languages
Carnegie Mellon University
Baker Hall 160
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


Nearly all foreign language educators will say that they strive to create a student-centered class. Nearly all university-level educators will say that they try to incorporate their research into their teaching. For over 20 years I have been extremely fortunate to work with both highly capable students and highly productive scholar-colleagues. Being student-centered means that I expect my students to teach me something, either through independent research or by providing insights into how they learn French.  My colleagues and I constantly challenge and inspire each other through demonstrations and discussions of new research and new pedagogies. This is a highly talented environment, and it is a both a privilege and a challenge to live and work in this department. All of us are committed to fostering the growth of skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) while at the same time helping to develop critical thinking and expression (oral and written). Our efforts are focused on the development of different competencies, from the linguistic to the cultural. We take a broad definition of culture ranging from "large-C" culture (literature and fine arts) to more broadly based forms of popular culture (newspapers and magazines, current films, internet media).

In my classes I try to foster a spirit of curiosity, often beginning with an assessment of students' existing knowledge and then building on that. No student comes to the class as a blank slate; everyone has something to say and something to contribute. Everyone brings the sum of past experiences interacting with different cultures. In my language-oriented courses, we look at grammatical structures always in the context of communication. Students want to be able to do something with their language, whether it's to talk to new friends or explore internship possibilities in different countries. My goal is to help them to become more familiar with French-speaking cultures, and at the same time acquire a set of skills to help them keep learning when they're outside the classroom. In my upper-level "content" courses, students focus on longer discourses (novels, plays, films, artworks) with the goal of acquiring critical thinking skills and advanced communicative skills to illustrate their analyses. I am personally interested in history and the ways in which historical knowledge is produced and represented, and so many of my advanced seminars will be grounded in a solid understanding of history.

As I have recently begun to work more closely with graduate students, I am more conscious of the specific needs of graduate students in the humanities who are seeking specific tools to help them better understand and interpret primary and especially secondary sources. Recent work with graduate students in our own department has focused on pedagogical mentoring and helping to create the next generation of foreign language educators. It is immensely rewarding work, and I am very grateful to all my students and colleagues who continue to make this environment so stimulating and rewarding.


Ph. D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1989

Recent Work

  • “Science and Global Learning” co-authored with Indira Nair. Diversity Digest, a publication of the Association of American of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Spring 2007.
  • "Homm(e)age." Review of D.A. Miller’s Bringing Out Roland Barthes. GLQ, Vol. 3, 1996, pp. 317-326.
  • "Stories and Stances: Cross-Cultural Encounters with African Folktales."Foreign Language Annals, Vol. 28, No. 3, Fall 1995, pp. 392-405.
  • "Cannibals and Anorexics, or, Feast and Famine in French Occupation Narrative." War Stories, Paul Holsinger, ed. Bowling Green, KY: Popular Press, 1992.

Manuscripts in Progress (monographs)

  • Fairs of State: The Parisian Expositions Universelles and the Formation of French National Identity, 1855-1937.
  • Remembrance and Representation: World War I Memorials and Monuments in France and Flanders.
  • French for Graduate Reading Knowledge in the Humanities

Courses Taught

  • Freshman Seminar (in English): Cultural Constructions of National Identity
  • Freshman-Sophomore seminar (in English): Global Responsibility
  • Elementary French 1 & 2, Intermediate French 1 & 2
  • "Haïti" Freshman Seminar (in English); Senior Seminar (in French)
  • French in Social Context (Advanced French)
  • "Paris, Capitale" (Senior Seminar)
  • "L'Amour et la Guerre en France" (Senior Seminar)
  • French for Graduate Reading Knowledge

Department Member Since