Under the Spotlight

French Historians under the spotlight: Malcolm Crook

Welcome to Under the Spotlight, a monthly interview series which offers a snapshot from academics’ lives: their passions, interests and reading suggestions – all summarised in less than ten minutes. You can catch up with previous posts here.

Malcolm Crook is Emeritus Professor of French History at the University of Keele and a past president of the SSFH. You can listen again to his Douglas Johnson lecture from January 2018 ‘How the British & French learned to vote’.

Malcolm Crook: ‘find me on the barricades in the quartier latin’

In the length of a tweet, what is your research about?

The history and culture of voting in France. I am currently finishing a book entitled How the French Learned to Vote.

What was your motivation for researching French history?

I enjoyed learning French, then fell in love with the country and its people when I first visited. Researching French history provides such an excellent excuse for making regular trips across the Channel.

You’re given a time machine for one day. Where would you go? What would you do?

I am a soixante-huitard, an undergraduate in the UK in the late ‘60s, so I would like to savour those heady days of May 1968 in Paris, when everything seemed possible. You would find me on the barricades in the quartier latin.

Who would you invite to your French History fantasy dinner party?

I would like to share a meal with 68ers like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Alain Krivine, Alain Geismar, or Jacques Sauvageot, and also that rather benign prefect of police for Paris at the time, Maurice Grimaud.

What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?

The autonomy offered by an academic career, both in terms of teaching and research, has been a real privilege. I guess my greatest frustration is that I have never been able to speak French well enough to be taken for a Français.

What one change would you like to see in Academia during the next 5 years?

Scrap the REF!

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?

I have recently retired and take a lot of delight in looking after our young grandchildren. Had I not been an academic, I would have taught History as a school-teacher. I did sign up for a PGCE when I graduated, then took up research instead.

What key piece of advice would you offer postgraduates/early career academics?

I would recommend making contact with French colleagues, attending conferences in France and writing for French journals. It’s challenging but, over the years, French colleagues have become more and more receptive towards us ‘Anglo-Saxons’.

A few quick-fire questions…

Archives Nationales or Archives Départementales?

I like working in the AN at Pierrefitte, but I am still attracted to provincial archives. I started out at the Archives municipales in Toulon, where the archivist was an ardent monarchist who was always asking me about the British royal family – and exposing my lack of interest in the subject.

Writing in silence or to music?

Silence, though I can’t resist some surfing on the internet while I am tapping away.

Tea or coffee?

Both.

Best conference you’ve ever been to?

The annual SSFH conference is always a treat, and I have been to most of them, but the first colloque at which I spoke (extremely nervously) in France, at Rennes in 1985, remains a marker. A host of celebrated French historians were present, from to Pierre Goubert to Jacques Godechot and Jean Tulard, whose work I had read and admired.

Typed or handwritten?

I still make notes by hand, on scrap paper, but I type everything for publication.

Éclair or saucisson?

Can I say merguez? My time in the Midi made me a great fan of cous-cous, which is virtually unobtainable in the UK, and another good reason for going to France frequently.

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