Katharine Harrington Appointed Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques

French Republic honor acknowledges her promotion of New Hampshire’s French culture.

Plymouth State University (PSU) Professor of French Katharine Harrington, Ph.D., has been appointed a Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, a national order bestowed by the French Republic, for her efforts and commitment to promoting French culture and language in the U.S. In addition to her role as an educator and mentor at PSU, Harrington also serves as President of the American Council of Quebec Studies, President of the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French, and is co-founder of the Bienvenue New Hampshire initiative.

Katharine Harrington, Ph.D.

The Ordre des Palmes Académiques was originally established in 1808 by Emperor Napoleon and is one of the oldest civil honors bestowed by the French Republic. The title, Knight in the Order of Academic Palms, is bestowed upon a handful of educators living and working outside of France each year.

“I am honored to receive this award because it’s not just about teaching French, it’s about making the culture visible in our communities,” said Professor Harrington. “About half of the students that I teach are not majoring in French studies so I don’t want the focus to be on memorizing vocabulary and conjugating verbs. I try to focus on cultural comparisons and I feel lucky to teach French in New Hampshire because of our rich French-Canadian heritage.”

Harrington emphasizes engagement with the local community, including both visitors from Canada and locals with French-Canadian heritage. Her students spend a lot of time working on translation projects for businesses and organizations across the state and have translated everything from menus and websites to hiking trail signs. Having materials in the native language is creating a more French-friendly culture and is giving the local tourism industry a boost. New Hampshire welcomes nearly 500,000 Canadian tourists each year, nearly half of whom are visiting from Quebec where French is the primary language.

Although many of Harrington’s tourism-based initiatives have been put on hold since the U.S.-Canada border closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her students are still out in the community elevating awareness of Francophone culture and familiarizing themselves with the nuances of French-Canadian French, which Harrington likes to expose her students to since they are more likely to encounter it in their everyday lives. Last year, Harrington and her students partnered with the Franco-American Centre in Manchester, New Hampshire, to promote the organization and its mission. When the Centre’s annual Poutine Fest, which is its primary fundraiser, was cancelled due to the pandemic, Harrington’s students crafted social media content, videos and educational materials to raise the profile of the Centre. In previous years, Harrington and her students have also run a month-long afterschool French program at Plymouth Elementary School, introducing children to the language using songs, games and themed vocabulary. She hopes to restart the program once it is safe for her students to visit schools. 

Once the Canadian-U.S. border reopens, Harrington hopes to launch a ‘Welcome Back’ campaign in partnership with Bienvenue New Hampshire and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Harrington looks forward to working with the AMC staff to provide training, including beginner French lessons, as it prepares to welcome Canadian hikers back to New Hampshire’s trails and mountains.

This past summer, Harrington served as a mentor in PSU’s ACE program, which provided training that enabled professors to be more successful in teaching online courses this year. ACE stands for adaptability, connection and equity, and this framework is used to help faculty plan assignment-, course- and institution-level responses to crisis in areas related to teaching and learning. For Harrington, participating in this program was a way to help others reframe the way they teach so the focus is not on the course content and rote memorization, but rather on students’ learning processes.

As President of the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French, Harrington has organized numerous professional development events, allowing French teachers from schools across the state to connect. Each year, with the exception of 2020, teachers statewide have been invited to an immersion weekend in Colebrook, New Hampshire, at an eco-village run by individuals from Quebec. The weekend allows teachers to come together to speak French with the residents of the village and each other, and take part in a cultural field trip to Canada.