French Historians under the spotlight: Julian Wright

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.

Julian Wright is Professor of History at Northumbria University and co-editor of French History (his co-editor Penny Roberts’ interview can be read here). Julian’s latest monograph Socialism and the Experience of Time: Idealism and the Present in Modern France was published by OUP in 2017.

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Julian Wright: ‘Write as much as you can, even in uninspired moments’

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

How people experience time in the present; what they say about time’s passing, on personal, emotional, political, familial levels.

What was your motivation for researching French history?

I was fascinated by the problem of people who changed from right to left or vice-versa in the period of the Dreyfus Affair and I found the emotional, cultural and intellectual levels of explanation endlessly complex, cutting across so many deeper long-term issues about France, history, modernity, the Revolution, and so on.

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

June 1940, St-Valéry-en-Caux. To walk with my grandfather into captivity.

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

Léon Blum, Colette, Maurice Ravel, Geneviève Straus, André Léo (but not bothered by Benoît Malon), Mona Ozouf, Marcel Sembat, Joseph Paul-Boncour. Wouldn’t mind having a drink beforehand with Richard Cobb but might not ask him to dinner (budget not big enough).

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

I love working in communities of dedicated teachers and passionate students. Expressing that in tables and graphs for management purposes is necessary because our lords and masters would like to know, when we ask to grow those communities, where the evidence is; but it really does your head in a bit.

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

Departmental TEF should force us to think harder. There is great practice across the UK in terms of communicating with students about how their courses develop them as a community of historians and how research-rich teaching environments really matter. It would be great if celebrating this – not just trying to struggle on by and getting grumpy about surveys – was bought into more widely. Our departments shouldn’t be afraid of the challenge.

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

On sabbatical in my previous institution!

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

Write as much as you can, even in uninspired moments, and send it for comment to friends and mentors, senior and junior, as bravely as you can! Especially if they’re not working on your field.

A few quick-fire questions…

Archives Nationales or Archives Départementales?

Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris.

Writing in silence or to music?


Tea or coffee?


Best conference you’ve ever been to?

Loved organizing SSFH in Durham in 2014.

Typed or handwritten?

Typed – fills the page up faster and I don’t mind editing, it’s the blank space that troubles me!

Éclair or saucisson?

Saucisson, from the Corsican deli in the rue des Martyrs.


If you’d like to suggest someone to feature on the blog, then let us know via @FrHistNwk.


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