French Professor Named Knight in Order of the Academic Palms

CONTACT: Aliko Songolo, 608-262-5937,

MADISON – It was one of the biggest honors of his life, and Aliko Songolo doesn’t know who to thank.

In March, Songolo, professor of French and Italian and African languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, received a letter from the French Consulate in Chicago informing him that he had been named Chavalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight in the Order of the Academic Palms) by the French Minister of National Education.

“They contacted me out of the blue,” he says. “To this day I’m not sure who might have nominated me.”

L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of the Academic Palms) was established in 1808 by Emperor Napoleon I to honor accomplished members of the University of Paris. Its three ranks – knight, officer and commander – have since been extended to those who make major contributions to the expansion of French culture in France or the rest of the world.

Typically, the French Consulate of Chicago visits the honorees in their hometowns to give a ceremony to officially decorate them. However, Songolo has not yet heard when this will be.

Upon receiving news of the honor, Songolo says, “I was elated. I was very happy to be among the ranks of other colleagues who are very well known and who have done very well.”

Songolo, who is originally from the Congo, has spoken French since early childhood, though Swahili is his native language. He is also fluent in Ebembe, English and Spanish, and can read a few others.

“I think it’s important to share the knowledge that you have about other cultures with students and others so that they can learn about other areas of the world and open up their own minds, which will help them understand their own area of the world,” he says.

Songolo is also past president of the African Studies Association, former director of the African Studies Program and former chair of the Department of French and Italian.