Welcome back to ‘Voices of Early Career Researchers’, a monthly feature on the French History Network blog. Each month we’ll post a short interview with an Early Career Researcher of French History, giving you an insight of the different paths that ECRs are following after their PhDs in and outside of academia: what do the lives of recently appointed lecturers, teaching assistants, post-doctoral researchers or teaching fellows etc. look like? How does one transition from PhD to the post-doctoral years? We invite our interviewees to share their experiences and we hope that the conversation carries on in universities, conferences and social media.
Clare Siviter completed her BA and PhD (2016) at the University of Warwick. She has been a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Warwick and then held a post at the Université Clermont Auvergne as a postdoctoral fellow from 2016 to 2017. In 2017 Clare joined the University of Bristol as a lecturer in French Theatre and Performance.
Could you tell us a little about your PhD?
My thesis, ‘Rewriting History through the Performance of Tragedy’ (supervised by Dr Katherine Astbury, University of Warwick), examines tragedy during the Napoleonic era from a poetic and then a cultural political point of view. Tragedy under Napoleon has long been associated with dull imitation, propaganda, and censorship, but I challenge this view and ask what these plays can this tell us about the Napoleonic regime. In the first section, I show that seventeenth-century tragedies, which Napoleonic creations were simply meant to copy, had actually been extensively rewritten during the ancien régime, the Revolution, then the Napoleonic era. From this, I examine how new tragedies performed at the Comédie-Française depart from this inheritance, reconsidering the passage from theatrical Classicism to Romanticism. The second axis engages with Napoleonic cultural politics by rethinking the terms ‘propaganda’ and ‘censorship’. Although tragedy was used for its propagandistic properties, this policy was not always successful. The works’ reception reveals that playwrights and the public appropriated tragedy’s rewriting of historical narratives as a means of mediating the Revolution. Finally, I examine censorship, investigating how the State’s bureaucratic and the Comédie-Française’s lateral systems combined to control and tailor tragedies in performance and print for contemporary audiences.
How did you come to the field of French Studies?
When I was sixteen I really wanted to study History at university but I was struggling with dyslexia and I was worried about all the reading. Some said that these fears were ungrounded with the help that you can get at university but I did not feel this way at the time. On a more positive note, I had spent periods of my childhood in France and loved it, and I combined these two interests for my A-Level where I wanted to work on Louis XIV. It was also at this time that I discovered theatre, first with Le Mariage de Figaro, then the plays of Racine and Molière which added a whole new dimension to my understanding of seventeenth-century France. I was hooked!
When did you submit your thesis? How did you approach (academic or non-academic) job applications then? Now that’s you are more experienced, do you wish you’d done anything differently?
I submitted my thesis in July 2016, two months before the end of the three-year course. At the beginning of my third year of the PhD I knew there was a post coming up in France which would allow me to work with the global experts in my field. At this point I had started to draft application ideas for JRFs and a British Academy proposal, but if I was appointed in France I had to pass my ‘soutenance’ by the end of September, not just submit. I had a choice: apply for the jobs that came up or apply for the French job, another one as a backup, and finish my thesis in time in case I was appointed in France. It was a risk, but I worked a lot and my supervisor was amazingly supportive and encouraging. Plan B was to go back to waitressing, which I really enjoy, and then apply for academic jobs. Either way I was glad to finish within three years.
What was your first post-doctoral position?
I was an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Warwick for a month before I started as a postdoctoral fellow at the Université Clermont Auvergne working between the history and literature research centres, the ‘Centre d’histoires espaces et cultures’ and the ‘Centre des recherches sur les littératures et la sociopoétique’.
How did you move from your post-doctoral position to your current job?
In early 2017 there was a series of job announcements for lectureships in French Studies which I applied for but then I saw that Bristol was advertising for a lecturer in French theatre and performance – this was the job of my dreams – so I applied, crossed my fingers, hoped a lot, and finally got it! I am still adjusting to the idea that I am now paid to do my job and that I do not need to be working first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
What advice could you give to ECRs looking for academic and research jobs?
Respond to the job specifications; be ready to move; speak to people. I wrote a fair few cover letters which I thought were good but then I realised institutions were receiving hundreds of applications. To make mine stand out I structured my application along the job specifications (literally putting their bullet points into my letter and showing how I responded to these criteria). Think also about what is specific about that institution – who else works there, what is in their special collections or archives – and how this fits to your teaching and research. Throughout my PhD I loved meeting other researchers and emailed academics to discuss ideas with them. The discussion was the key point but in turn these meetings led to several conference invitations, then publications, and invitations to apply for posts.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Take a day off a week. You might think you are wasting time but you are not. It allows you to take a break from your work and relax which makes you far more efficient when you start again. Also, if possible, save money for moving. Some institutions do not reimburse your relocations costs and at quite short notice you can find you need to give a deposit, or you might end up commuting which can be quite expensive when not booked in advance – it’s worth having those previsions.