Rebecca Powers: “Representations of le travail under the July Monarchy (1830-1848)”

Many congratulations to Rebecca Powers, a member of the Revolutionary Researchers network, who has recently finished her PhD at John Hopkins University. Here is the abstract of her dissertation:

“Representations of le travail under the July Monarchy (1830-1848)”

This project investigated how the ubiquitous but elusive concept of labor was operating at different levels of discourse in the 1830s and 1840s. After their contribution to the July Revolution, French workers were hoping for improved social conditions, but were promptly denied them. Their frustration came to a head in 1848, when they demanded the right to work. This moment is often considered the beginning of the labor movement in France, but I contend that it is during the years leading up to 1848 that “travail” underwent its most dramatic consecration as a modern value.

In order to better understand how the term took on such significance, I examined a variety of cultural documents, both literary and what we would today consider paraliterary, although this is a more recent distinction. I relied on Michel Foucault’s theory of discourse formation, whereby various texts contribute to an authoritative understanding of a given subject. The corpus included novels by Honoré de Balzac and George Sand; moralist inquiries by L.R. Villermé and H.A. Frégier; Jules Michelet’s historiography of the French peuple; and writings by the workers themselves, whose first-hand accounts of physical labor were becoming increasingly influential. I found a progression in the modalities of representation of work over the course of the July Monarchy: “le travail” shifted from an object of observation in Balzac, to a subject of discourse in Sand and the moralists, and finally to a political imperative in the workers’ press. Additionally, I discovered that, even as authors strove to represent labor as an observed reality, they were nonetheless highly dependent upon the imaginary types and tropes of literature, highlighting the centrality of literature in the formation of a social conscience.

May scholars before me have investigated textual instances of the emergence of a working-class identity in France, usually conceiving of 1848 as a point of rupture. Historians William Sewell, Jacques Rancière, and Joan Scott have studied popular discourse leading up to that moment, while French literary scholars Roland Barthes and, quite recently, Claire White have focused on the author’s own identity as laborer after 1848. However, before my project, the centrality of literature in the construction of a paradigm for understanding the social reality of labor before1848 had been neglected. Historians discounted the literary significance of the texts which form discourse, while most literary scholars ignored texts which did not fit an aesthetic or generic category, such as worker-writer newspapers. As a result, there was a gap to be filled as to how cultural and literary writings worked together to form the backbone of a discourse on labor which would ultimately lead to the uprisings of 1848. My research contributes to a more complete understanding of the cultural tapestry of the July Monarchy.


Le Musée de la Révolution française and le centre de documentation-bibliothèque Albert Soboul

Le Musée de la Révolution française, Domaine de Vizille

Le Musée de la Révolution française, Domaine de Vizille

Whilst at the conference ‘Collectionner la révolution française’ we had a little chance to explore the Museum’s collections and we were luckily enough to be shown the library as well as have free access to the ‘fonds ancien’. The museum is actually set in the former presidential chateau (seeing a state of the art bathroom from over half a century ago was an experience!), but most of the space has been redesigned in a thoroughly modern way to display the Museum’s fascinating collections.

The museum also has a very precious resource which might be of interest to the Revolutionary Researchers, the ‘centre de documentation-bibliothèque Albert Soboul’ with over 27,000 works. 3,000 are dedicated to history of art during the period, 20,000 to French Revolutionary historiography, 4,000 in the ‘fonds ancien’, 36,000 prints and 25,000 microfiches, not to mention the press at the time. The ‘fonds ancien’ was particularly interesting. Taking the example of poetry and theatre, the centre de documentation had some remarkable bound collections of Revolutionary plays which were deemed to be ‘political’ as well as some beautiful first editions.

What is more, the Museum and centre de documentation are able to accommodate researchers free of charge in the gothic tower (see their conditions below). Speaking to several of the academics who had worked there, they said it was a fantastic and idyllic experience, and an opportunity well worth taking up!

For more information see:

‘Collectionner la révolution française’, 23rd-25th September 2015, Grenoble and Domaine de Vizille, Musée de la Révolution française

Collections of objects from the French Revolution were the topic of discussion, as a modern-day collection of French Revolutionary scholars gathered in Grenoble and then at the Musée de la Révolution française in Vizille, nestled in the Alps. A blog space is far too short to give this fantastic conference full justice but the programme can be found here, and hopefully the ‘actes’ will be published:

The first afternoon opened with an introduction from Michel Biard, who was followed by Alain Chevalier’s paper which gave a very useful overview of the French Revolution collecting habits, from 1790 to the present day. Laurent Le Gall and Serge Aberdam’s fascinating papers relied heavily upon regional collecting practices and scholarship, whilst Raymond Huard concentrated upon the collector Marcelin Pellet’s republican influences in the construction of his collection.

After a spooky arrival at Vizille which was bathed in fog, the second session ‘Collections érudites, collections engagées’ got underway. Tom Stammers, who we were lucky enough to have speak at the Revolutionary Researchers Study Day in 2014, spoke about Jean-Louis Soulavie, and his collecting habits during the Revolution, especially papers which could later be helpful for him in the changing political tides. Michela Lo Feudo was concerned with how Chamfleury’s collection had been dispersed, and proposed alternative notions of collection, such as that of novel writing. Jean-Marie Bruson then spoke about the Count Alfred de Liesville’s collection which was instrumental in the Musée Carnavalet’s holdings. Aurore Chéry then gave a great paper on the modern royalist collections, their activities since the bicentenary, and questioned the ethics of these collections.

The afternoon focused on the institutions of the Bibliothèque nationale de France with Yann Fauchois’s paper, and the Archives nationales with the archivists Yann Potin and Martine Sin Blima-Barru. All the speakers highlighted the difficulties of classification of the Revolutionary collections, most amusingly and disbelievingly in Martine Sin Blima-Barru’s paper on Dubois who was employed by the Archives nationales in the nineteenth-century and stole many documents to collect their signatures, which after being divided, were re-collected by the Archives nationales. Magali Charreire finished the afternoon with a paper which would have attracted many Revolutionary Researchers, on Pixerécourt, Nodier and Lacroix.

The final day saw the collections become international. Vladislava Sergienko, Guillaume Nicoud, and Elena Myagkova all spoke about the intriguing Russian collections and archives of the French Revolution, including their classification, division and how the French Revolution was understood through the Russian Revolution. Then the focus became Anglophone, with Julia V. Douthwaite asking whether one can collect innocently, especially for an American institution which receives patronage or has an ideological aim, after which Kate Astbury and Clare Siviter gave a paper on the Marandet Collection at the University of Warwick and how it can be used online. The afternoon finished with historiographical collections, with Antonio De Francesco speaking about Harvard University’s collection of Alphonse Aulard’s works, and Yoshiaki Omi’s paper on the Michel Bernstein collection in Japan.

In all, it was an enthralling conference which created much discussion and debate!

Lieu(x), espace(s), mémoire(s), dans les écrits des femmes auteurs 1789-1830.

Upcoming Journée d’études, held at the University of Warwick, Wednesday 20th May 2015.
All welcome, please register your interest by sending an email to before Tuesday 12th May.

Lieu(x), espace(s), mémoire(s), dans les écrits des femmes auteurs 1789-1830.

Humanities building, Room H103

10.00 registration and coffee

10.30 Laure Philip (Warwick) Welcome

10.45-12.30 Anglo-French spaces

Katherine Astbury (Warwick): Garden spaces in Charlotte Smith’s Desmond and Germaine de Staël’s Delphine

Stacie Allan (Bristol): English Marriage as a Reflection of the English Nation in the Works of Germaine de Staël and Claire de Duras’

Laure Philip (Warwick): Adèle de Souza, Claire de Duras and Adèle de Boigne, the ‘émigré novel’ and the trauma of emigration

12.30-1.30 Lunch

1.30-2.45 Protesting voices

Christie Margrave (St Andrews): The Natural Asylum and the Feminisation of Madness in Early Nineteenth-Century France

Karen Lacey Holder (KCL): The Bélisaire of Madame de Genlis

2.45-3.30 General discussion: Can we transpose the gender and space issues from French to British woman literature of the late eighteenth and early ninetee nth century?Discussion of the introduction to Gender and Space in British Literature, 1660-1820 edited by Mona Narain and Karen Gevirtz, (Burlington, Ashgate, 2014). Gender and Space in British Literature, 1660-1820

3.30- 4.00 coffee, conclusions

Journées doctorales, Réseaux politiques et culturels européens sous la Révolution et l’Empire, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme de Clermont-Ferrand, 30th-31st March 2015

At the end of March several members of the Revolutionary network travelled to Clermont-Ferrand to attend an excellent doctoral event, hosted by Philippe Bourdin and Cyril Triolaire (CHEC, Université Blaise Pascal). In attendance were British students from Warwick, KCL and St Andrews, led by Kate Astbury and Katherine Hambridge, the Clermentois doctoral students from the Centre d’Histoire Espaces et Cultures (CHEC), and those from the Institut Histoire de la Révolution française (IHRF), Paris-I Sorbonne, with Pierre Serna and Jean-Luc Chappey.

The event was launched by two presentations on the CHEC’s databases. The first by Andoni Artola, who showed us his impressive database tracking the networks of the Spanish Revolutionaries. The second by Cyril Triolaire and a presentation of the Philador gateway which combines multiple research projects and databases, enabling researchers to track provincial artists during the Revolution and Empire. After the first of many wonderful lunches Kate Astbury also presented the Waddeston collection of Revolutionary prints, Warwick’s Marandet Collection, and the 100 Days virtual exhibition ( The afternoon saw a start to the doctoral presentations, with Matthieu Ferradou (IHRF) who is working on human and intellectual networks between Ireland, France and the United States during the French Revolution. Then came the turn of Bruno Petit (CHEC) who is researching illegal printing of counterrevolutionary pamphlets in Switzerland and identifying their provenance. The day ended with Jeanne-Laure Le Quang (IHRF) and the presentation of her doctoral project on the police during the First Empire.

After the intellectual stimulation of Monday, Tuesday quickly followed suit. François Avisseau (IHRF) commenced the day by presenting his research on the postal system during the Revolution and the Empire in modern day northern Italy. Guillaume Colot (CHEC) then followed with an account of his project on Catholic newspapers and journalists during the Revolution, before Côme Simien (CHEC) finished the morning with a paper on ‘maîtres d’école’ and ‘instituteurs’ from the end of the ancien régime up until 1802. After yet another delicious lunch, Clare Siviter (Warwick) spoke on tragedy and the classical tradition during the Napoleonic era and the final presentation was given by Christie Margrave (St Andrews) on women and nature in the works of French female novelists 1789-1815.

This was an incredibly enriching event and thoroughly enjoyed by all. It was a great opportunity to meet French doctoral students working on similar subjects, learn about new research, discuss our Revolutionary research with excellent scholars, and as per usual we all had lots to talk about!

The British team then had a presentation on database entry for the THEREPSICORE project which aims to create a database of provincial French theatre from 1791 to 1813. After this we spent Wednesday and Thursday morning going through archive photos: Kate and Katherine focused on Lille whilst Clare concentrated on the Vendée, whilst Jonathan and Christie manically read new research they had discovered. We are hoping to work remotely tracing theatre personnel, performances and theatrical works to enter into the database during our next session in Clermont-Ferrand, hopefully in the Autumn with other contributors to the project.

The Revolution and the ‘Transnational’

The theme of this second reading group, led by Clare, was ‘France and the Transnational’, leaving the definition of ‘transnational’ intentionally broad to encourage the discussion of ideas and themes which might reach beyond the obvious issue of sovereign boundaries. The reading—extracts from David Bell’s Inventing Nationalism; John Isbell’s The Birth of European Romanticism; Rahul Markovits’ Civiliser l’Europe: Politiques du théâtre français au XVIIIe siècle; and the collaborative effort by Ann Thomson, Simon Burrows, Edmond Dziembowski, and Sophie Audidière, Cultural Transfers: France and Britain in the Long Eighteenth Century—was intended to draw out these sorts of interpretations.

We began our discussion by focussing on this very issue. Jonathan opened up by asking the group to consider how we might best define the communities under scrutiny: is the nation a useful framework for us to work within when we as researchers are predominantly concerned with shared ideas within a community of cultural elites working across national boundaries? In other words- is transnationalism an intrinsic aspect of ‘cultural transfer’ anyway? It was agreed that the process of cultural transfer within these communities is perhaps more interesting than the functionalities of national politics; but that the construct of the nation is an integral part of how we map this process.

This naturally provoked a discussion on the idea of ‘cultural transfer’ as a concept (dealt with in Cultural Transfers), which we concluded by agreeing that ‘cultural transfer’ between sovereign states is at least as interesting for the means by which cultural ‘objects’ are transferred as for the end result itself.

We also discussed the notion that sovereign states were keen to encourage culture transfer as a means of achieving a ‘cultural monopoly’, or acquiring ‘cultural capital’. One particular example that stood out in the discussion was Napoleon’s contest with Great Britain for Egyptian cultural artefacts at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Sarah suggested that we pursue this further- what function does ‘cultural capital’ play within a transnational framework? Notions of ‘heritage’ dominated the discussion- Oskar argued that we might perceive heritage as a foundation on which cultural acquisitions might be ‘spent’ to construct something entirely new.

Turning towards the cultural ‘objects’ themselves, it was pointed out by Fabio that the framework is as much an issue of romanticism as of transnationalism. Indeed, where we consider Staël’s De l’Allemagne (the focus of Isbell’s The Birth of European Romanticism), the two are perhaps even inseparable. The romanticists were keen on pushing back to the past, with German romantics in particular frequently recycling classicism through re-reading of ancient Greeks etc. Might we—as Clare suggested—perceive this as a form of ‘temporal transnationalism’, where cultural transfers crossed both national and temporal boundaries?

But what do we mean by romanticism? This proves to be a problematic term within disciplines, let alone across disciplinary lines. Can we really discuss romanticism within a methodological framework of ‘temporal transnationalism’? Sarah suggested a helpful metaphor- romanticism as an umbrella, where ideas ‘hang together’ wherever they are but which (as Michael posited) take on slightly different meanings depending on the location of their performance (thus back to the importance of national identity in the process of cultural transfer).

Some form of transnational mediation of meaning is possible, however, if we consider the cultural hegemony of what some scholars have termed l’Europe française during the eighteenth and the early decades of the nineteenth centuries. It is a problematic mediation, however, given there was also a very dynamic and reciprocal practice of import and export in France, particularly of Italian and German cultural objects. Therefore, from a cultural perspective, it is difficult to limit oneself to writing purely national histories, given that the practice of dialogue between them was so well entrenched.

Nevertheless—and in conclusion of our discussion—we agreed that alongside any meaningful discussion about issues pertaining to culture and transnationalism, we need to consider the importance of nationalism within the same context.

‘Continuity and Rupture’ 1789-1830

The first Revolutionary Researchers event of 2015 was a reading group on the theme of ‘Continuity and Rupture’ in the period 1789-1830 on 26th February at Warwick before a fascinating seminar with Munro Price on 1812-1814 and the fall of Napoleon.
Jonathan has been the driving impetus behind this first reading group and the reading we discussed was as follows:
·      Roger Chartier ‘Do Books Make Revolutions?’ in Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, trad. by Lydia G. Cochrane (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991), pp. 67-91
·      François Furet, ‘The French Revolution is Over’ in The French Revolution in Social and Political Perspective, ed. by Peter Jones (London: Arnold, 1996), pp. 30-54
·      James Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley, Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 97-163
·      James Leith, The Idea of Art as Propaganda in France, 1750-1799: A Study in the History of Ideas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), pp. 70-129
 Two main themes dominated the discussion, namely those of ‘compartmentalisation’ and ‘construction’.
We found that revolutionary scholarship has tended to ‘compartmentalise’ events. In music, the decade 1789-1799 has tended to be seen as 1789-1793, 1793-1795, 1795-1799. Theatre is marked likewise by the changes of 1789, 1791, 1793, 1799, 1806 and 1807. We then discussed how much these external political events shaped the repertoire being performed. On the one hand, certainly some cultural elements were removed with these ruptures, but we found that through popular demand, institutional choice, and political allusion the repertoires actually contained many more elements of continuity that this compartmentalised vision has allowed for. When rupture does occur there are also numerous external factors such as the actors themselves or the physical conditions of the buildings which are not uniquely political. After this there was the difficult question of how to measure change and how this altered between the arts and between genres. From this, using Chartier and Furet, we thought about the notion of ‘construction’, both the extent to which the Revolution fashioned the ‘Enlightenment’ and how the ‘Revolution’ has been, and continues to be, shaped since the events of 1789.
The theme of ‘Continuity and Rupture’ was then suitably extended by a seminar with Munro Price where he explained why 1812-1814 were the years of Napoleon’s downfall rather than 1815. By 1815, Price considers that Napoleon could not remain leader of France even if he had won at Waterloo. From a variety of unexploited archives from high profile figures such as Metternich, Price demonstrated Napoleon’s continued refusal of peace and his psychological inability to retreat in time or accept rather than dictate a truce. This seriously questions the true extent of Napoleon’s military genius and the dominant narratives surrounding the final years of the First French Empire.