Earlier this summer, we had the pleasure to welcome Dr. Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden for the final Revolutionary Researchers event of the year. The morning started off with Rebecca’s lecture followed by a discussion, and then three shorter presentations by UK PhD students in the afternoon.
We had discussed Rebecca’s thesis, ‘Politics, the French Revolution, and Performance: Parisian Musicians as an Emergent Professional Class, 1749-1802’ during our reading group in March and so Rebecca’s visit was a fantastic opportunity to carry on our conversation and we are very grateful for her visit. In both sessions, the themes of networks and professionalization dominated, especially the methodology we should adopt as scholars to trace such individuals and institutions. Rebecca explained how the Revolution purposefully demolished and established institutions, but that these ‘new’ entities often carried on from their predecessors. Although musicians were the only artists to not have an authoritative institution before the Revolution, Rebecca showed that a less formal network existed prior to 1789 in the form of masonic lodges. Even during the ancien régime, musicians were able to transform their status through these lodges: instead of being church servants, they now played alongside amateurs, in a body of players from differing social ranks. Within this institution, all were supposedly equal. Rebecca argued that this experience transformed musicians’ status in the new Revolutionary institution of the Conservatoire. This institution’s members had often been masons, and having belonged to such an establishment greatly helped a musician’s chances not only of gaining a position in the new Conservatoire, but of holding on to his position during the budget cuts of the late 1790s. It was a formative experience in a musician’s quest to become a professional. As PhD students, it was very beneficial for us not only to continue the discussion from March but to see how Rebecca’s research had developed over her time as an Early Career Researcher.
Maïa Kirby then gave a presentation entitled ‘The Democratic Sphere: Communications to the French National Assembly’s Committee of Research, 1789-1790’ where she presented her impressive database built from information from over 12,000 archival documents, originating from all over France and sent to Paris. Maïa’s paper was particularly revelatory, because although many of the letters were denunciations, attempting to unseat elements of the ancien régime, they offer us a new view of how the revolution was carried out at the municipal level. Stacie Allan then spoke to us about networks of female authors such as Madame de Staël and Claire de Duras during the early nineteenth century and their political engagement. Although women are traditionally side-lined in these narratives, Stacie demonstrated not only how they interacted in the political sphere through their novels, but how women could be politically engaged when correcting and influencing male productions, which Simone de Beauvoir continued to do with Jean-Paul Sartre well into the twentieth century. Finally, Clare Siviter’s presentation returned to show how theatrical continuity and rupture can be traced through the ‘Registres de la Comédie-Française’ project. As Rebecca had shown with her case study of continuity and rupture, this database reveals that many elements of the ancien régime lasted into the Revolution, allowing the discussion to return to methodological questions of what such an approach reveals or hides and how we as researchers should treat such questions.