Professor David Bellos received the University’s Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities.
Bellos is the Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of French Literature, professor of French and Italian and comparative literature, and director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. He joined the Princeton faculty in 1997 after teaching at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Southampton and Manchester. In 2007, he became director of Princeton’s newly created undergraduate certificate Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication, which is designed to educate students about the important role that translation plays across academic fields and in cultural understanding.
His current research project focuses on the history of copyright and its role in shaping modern cultures and societies.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he was principally a scholar of 19th-century French fiction, in particular Balzac, on whose works he wrote three books. In 1994, after having translated into English works by modern French writer Georges Perec, Bellos was awarded the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie for his literary biography “Georges Perec: A Life in Words.” In 1988, the French government bestowed on him the rank of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, for support and advocacy of French arts and language. In 2015 he was also appointed officier in the Ordre National des Arts et des Lettres.
In 2005, Bellos won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize for Translation for his translations of four of the novels by the Albanian writer Ismail Kadaré from French into English. His 2011 book, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything,” explores how people understand each other — or not — in various situations. His latest book is “The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables,” published in 2017.
“His accomplishments as a scholar, biographer, translator and public intellectual, as well as a teacher and program director, are nothing short of astonishing,” wrote one colleague in nominating Bellos for the Behrman Award. “David is uncommonly versatile, energetic and productive. … [It] goes without saying that the seniors and graduate students who have benefited from David’s capacities as an adviser are too numerous to name.”
Bellos teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in translation and core offerings in 19th- and 20th-century European prose. He has also innovated courses such as “Great Books from Little Languages,” “Jewish Identities in France Since 1945,” and the 2014 PIIRS Global Seminar “Our Multilingual World: Regional and Global Responses to Linguistic Diversity,” a six-week summer course in Geneva, which examined how a multilingual society like Switzerland works and how international bodies deal with diversity in languages and its associated issues.
“David is consistently involved in bringing the perspectives of a diverse group of translators and theorists of translation into our community,” another colleague wrote. “This is a major and far-reaching contribution to what many of us do. … “[He] has been a remarkable and unique humanist at the University since he arrived here more than 20 years ago.”
An earlier version of this article appeared on the Princeton University homepage on May 6, 2019.