Edouard Morot-Sir (1910-1993)

Edouard Morot-Sir was born in Autun and educated in French schools before he entered the French army at the beginning of World War II.  He was imprisoned at an internment camp after the German occupation of France, but he later completed a doctorate at the University of Paris (1947), specializing in the history of ideas. 

Morot-Sir went on to teach at the University of Lille and the University of Bordeaux before moving to Egypt to serve briefly as chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Cairo.  His career moved in new directions during the 1950s, however, when he became director of the Fulbright Commission in France and then (1957-1969) the cultural counselor of the French Embassy in the United States.

Based in New York City, Morot-Sir traveled across the United States to promote French-American exchanges.  He also arranged for French musicians, artists, writers, and speakers to visit American colleges, museums, concert halls and other cultural institutions.

He left his cultural diplomacy position in 1969 to become a professor of French literature and culture at the University of Arizona. Although he was already a well-known advocate of French-American cultural exchanges, Morot-Sir’s academic appointment led to new scholarly work and professional influence. He soon moved to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he served as the Kenan Professor of French Civilization from 1972 until his retirement in 1979.

Morot-Sir’s important work on French philosophy and literature included books such as La Pensée française d’aujourd hui (1971), an analytical study of  Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Mots (1975), and a co-authored survey of modern French writers, Littérature française: du surrealism à l’empire de la critique (1984).

He was a much-admired mentor for American students of French culture, but he also continued to promote French-American relations as President of the Institut Français de Washington (IFW) from 1972 to 1990 (the name changed to the Institut Francais d’Amérique in 2008).

Morot-Sir moved the IFW’s activities to Chapel Hill and promoted its cross-cultural mission with new financial supporters and renewed academic focus. His interest in the history of literature and ideas suggests why the Morot-Sir fellowship carries a preference for broadly defined fields of cultural history.

Morot-Sir remained involved with the IFW after his retirement, though he lived in New York until his death in 1993. He was married for 57 years to Jacqueline Le Senne Morot-Sir, who was also strongly committed to French-American cultural exchanges.

Lloyd S. Kramer
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill