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U of I Holds the Record for Knighthoods

Try this trivia question next time you want to stump your coworkers from those "other" Big Ten universities: What Midwestern university holds the record for the number of Nobel prizes and knighthoods won by its faculty? Wave your orange and blue—the answer is Illinois.

Since 1963, when the first records were kept in the U.S., 12 faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have accumulated 21 knightings from the French government. Some faculty have received multiple knighthoods, bringing the total number of recognitions to 21—more blueblood than any other college or university in the Midwest.

The knighthoods are bestowed by the Order of Academic Palms, a division of the French Ministry of Education, to recognize contributions to French culture and language.

Because the 198-year-old award, established by Napoleon Bonaparte, emphasizes education, most go to teachers and professors or researchers. The majority of recipients also happen to be French nationals. The non-French recipients are usually nominated by one of the French consulates, although other organizations can petition the French government.

Such was the case for history professor John Lynn, who, in 2004, became U of I's most recent knight at the request of scholars in France who wished to recognize his extensive research on the French military.

The first recipient, and the only U of I professor to hold all three levels of knighthood—chevalier, officer, and commander—was French professor and former department chair Bruce Mainous, who received his knighthoods in 1963, 1967, and 1969.

The honor is lifelong and includes a medal, diploma, and pin that the recipients are encouraged to wear whenever visiting France, where people recognize its significance.

And yes, the winners are designated as a Sir or Madame.

Fall/Winter 2006–07