BEYOND POLITICS. New Directions in French History.

On 27 January 2017, Chris Millington (Swansea) led a one-day workshop at the Institute of Historical Research funded by the British Academy where doctoral and early career French historians met to discuss their research and approaches to teaching. Organised in conjunction with the French History Network and New Directions workshops, it showcased the work of six doctoral researchers exploring various of modern French history.

In the third panel, Dan Callwood (QMUL) and Rachel Chin (Exeter) discussed  ‘Re-evaluating the French gay liberation moment 1968-83‘ and ‘Global and Imperial Perspectives of 20th Century French History’ respectively. If the Second World War and the gay liberation moment are often analysed through the lens of political history, here both scholars looked beyond politics to explore the implications of culture and language. The session was recorded so you can listen to it here.

DAN CALLWOOD on ‘Re-evaluating the French gay liberation moment 1968-83‘ presented some iconic sites in Paris, not least this former site of the Dragon adult cinema, on the rue Dragon, in Paris’s sixth arrondissement. The former cinema’s sign is still visible. The photograph was taken by the author.

Dan Callwood photo

RACHEL CHIN on ‘Global and Imperial Perspectives of 20th Century French History’: The aim of this paper is to highlight the historic (and contemporary) role that rhetoric plays as a strategic and valued tool in the construction and communication of foreign policy. Rhetoric, in this instance, is considered through draft and finalised press releases and the analysis of public and press responses to these official government communications. Focussing on the British bombardment of the French fleet at Mers el-Kébir in July 1940, I argue that examining how the bombardments were justified or condemned is vital for understanding how both France and Britain sought to situate themselves within the on going conflict and the broader global power base.

Specifically, both French and British policy-makers employed persuasive language as a way to gain or maintain public support at home and to create wider, global perceptions of strength and solidarity. By examining a series of French and British archival documents the following discussion will illustrate that rhetorical perspectives of historical events are essential. Namely, the language of policymaking, or more specifically, policy justification/condemnation opens the door onto the nuances of transnational relations, the construction of power and the consolidation of national identities.

The National Archives, Kew (TNA), PREM 3/179/4, First Lord of the Admiralty Alexander to Churchill, 2 July 1940.
The National Archives, Kew (TNA), PREM 3/179/4, First Lord of the Admiralty Alexander to Churchill, 2 July 1940.


Dan Callwood is currently completing his PhD in the school of history at Queen Mary University of London, supervised by Professor Julian Jackson. His PhD offers a re-evaluation of the process of gay liberation in France in the 1970s; suggesting that what we have come to call ‘liberation’ was not a linear march towards legal equality but rather a contingent process with its own fits and starts, successes and dead ends. He has recently published the article ‘Anxiety and Desire in France’s Gay Pornographic Film Boom 1974-1983’ in the Journal of the History of Sexuality.

Rachel Chin completed her MSc at the London School of Economics in International History in 2012. This was followed by a PhD in History at the University of Exeter as part of the Leverhulme project ‘Rhetoric of Empire’. Rachel’s research is broadly focussed upon 20th century Anglo-French relations with a particular focus on imperial tensions during the Second World War. Its aim is to use rhetoric as a tool to provide insight into the complexity of both foreign and domestic policy making and draw links between policy makers and their publics, thus challenging on-going conceptions of policy making as a relatively straightforward weighing of material costs and benefits. Studying rhetoric as a part of rather than an afterthought to policymaking has shed light on how historical myths and memories and conceptions of actual or imagined power influence individual and governmental worldviews and thus the policies that they constructed. Rachel’s next project will be undertaken as part of an interdisciplinary global research group funded by the British Council’s Newton Fund. It will examine discourses surrounding poverty, social welfare, wealth creation and economic development that were evolving within and between Britain and France and their post-war colonial empires after 1945.


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