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William Paulson, Edward Lorraine Walter Collegiate Professor of French, retired from the Department and the University in 2021.  One of the longest-serving members of the Department, Bill has been a highly regarded teacher and mentor and a much appreciated colleague who made an exceptional contribution to RLL and U-M overall.

Bill earned his B.A. in French and mathematics from Rockford College in 1976 and his Ph.D. in French from Princeton in 1981, with a dissertation on blindness in eighteenth-century French literature.  He began his teaching career in 1981 as an assistant professor at Mount Holyoke College and in 1986 joined the University of Michigan faculty where he spent the remainer of his career.  A scholar of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as of relations between culture, science, and technology, Bill has published many books and articles in those fields, including Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France (1987), The Noise of Culture: Literary Texts in a World of Information (1988), Sentimental Education: The Complexity of Disenchantment (1992), and Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities (2001).  In this latter work, he makes a powerful case for the importance of the humanities in a world of technological and environmental change, a case that remains urgent and compelling today.  His recent work has built upon this foundation, exploring the temporal situation of human thought in the age of digital communication and automation.  He has also translated the work of the philosopher of science Michel Serres.

Professor Paulson is recognized by colleagues, family, and friends

As Chair of RLL from 1992 to 1997 Bill led the department in a radical revision of its structures and curriculum that put it on a new course for decades to come.  These changes reflected a generational shift in the intellectual focus and climate of the department and placed it at the forefront of the field of Romance studies.  The new curriculum was innovative and forward-looking, emphasizing interdisciplinarity and a broad conception of literary and cultural study.  Bill served on many College and University committees and was the recipient of a Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award from the Rackham Graduate School.  A dedicated teacher, he continued to offer new courses right up until his retirement, including a popular class on translation and another amusingly entitled “Les Misérables (the book).”  On committees and in departmental deliberations, he was especially valued for his discerning judgment, open-mindedness, collegiality, and good sense.  Although he will be much missed day to day, we look forward to seeing him around the MLB and wish him a happy and productive retirement.

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