Each month, a postgraduate student or an early career researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research.
Tabitha Baker, University of Warwick (www.warwick.ac.uk/tabithabaker)
My PhD thesis is a joint collaborative doctoral project with the University of Warwick and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and is entitled ‘The Embroidery Trade in Eighteenth-Century France’. It examines the relationship between the consumption and professional production of embroidery for fashionable clothing and furnishings in eighteenth-century France (c.1660-1820), with a particular focus on the cities of Paris and Lyon. My research investigates how techniques of embroidery changed over time, how the trade functioned in different cities, and the nature of the professional embroiderers’ clientele. As part of my research, I have recently been working on the bankruptcy records of eighteenth-century embroidery and silk merchants held at the Archives départementales du Rhône in Lyon. One of my trips to these archives was generously funded by the Society for the Study of French History in September 2017.
Lyon was the centre of French silk production during the eighteenth century and as such, the Archives départementales contain a wealth of information relating to the Grande Fabrique (the silk-weaving guild) and the artisans employed by both the silk industry and related trades, such as embroidery. For my research, the bankruptcy records (series 8B) are a rich source for investigating the commercial practices of those who sold embroidery, the structure of the embroidery trade in Lyon, as well as the customers who bought embroidered products, such as men’s waistcoats. The commercial correspondence found within these archives have also enabled me to trace changes in the consumption patterns of embroidery during the eighteenth century, both nationally and internationally.
It is possible to conduct an online search on the website (archives.rhone.fr) before you arrive and there is also a useful online catalogue which is accessible on the computers in the reading room. It took me a while to find my way in these archives, but I found that a good old-fashioned trawl through the detailed inventories in the reading room often yielded the most fruitful results. If all else fails, the archivists are incredibly helpful, as well as being extremely friendly and approachable!
Researchers working on other aspects of Lyon history will find that the archives cover a broad chronology, from the 16th-20th century. The collections of the public administration of the Rhône department, notarial records for investigating individuals, as well as an extensive collection of local maps and architectural drawings, are all held at the Archives départementales. Reader registration is free but you must bring along a piece of identity. You are able to order up to a generous 20 documents a day and documents (a maximum of 8) can be reserved for a further 10 days if you need more time with them. Photography is permitted (no need to fill in a form) and there is also a scanner available (just bring along a USB). Note there is no Wi-Fi (this currently seems to be the norm in French archives).
The Archives départementales du Rhône are very easy to find and are located just a 15-minute walk from the main Part-Dieu train station. There is also a tram stop for the T4 line directly outside the building. The new building opened its doors to the public in 2014 and has a modern, airy and pleasant atmosphere. Free exhibitions are held in the main reception area and are updated on a regular basis, which makes for a welcome diversion during those long archive marathons! The exhibitions normally have a link to the local area, and are always of national importance. They draw upon the rich and varied information held in the archives themselves, as well as collaboration with local and national archives and museums.
The archives do not close for lunch so you are able to work to your own schedule. There is no café in the building but there are vending machines and a water machine, as well as a seating area. There are shops and restaurants within walking distance, but after two years of archive expeditions, I recommend bringing a budget-saving packed lunch and your own coffee flask!
Thank you very much for this, Tabitha!