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.
Constance Bantman is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Surrey.
In the length of a tweet, what is your research about?
The history of the French anarchist movement (1870-1930s) from a transnational perspective, and the methodology of transnational history, with a focus on exile, networks and print culture. I am currently researching a biography of the writer and newspaper editor Jean Grave.
What was your motivation for researching French history?
Two great teachers: Pierre Albertini, who was my History teacher in Khâgne at the Lycée Condorcet, and the much-missed Francois Poirier, who supervised my PhD at Paris 13 University and shared my interest in the history of cross-Channel political and cultural exchanges, back in the early 2000s when the field was quite novel. Also, living in the UK as a French student resulted in a lasting fascination with the historical experience of French travellers to the UK, which led me to my doctoral research.
You’re given a time machine for one day. Where would you go? What would you do?
The Cannes Festival in May 68, when the decision was made to shut down the festival, in solidarity with the strikers. Progressive politics, a vintage Cannes edition and a chance to hang out with François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard – what’s not to like?
Who would you invite to your French History fantasy dinner party?
Some of the anarchist exiles whose lives I researched for my PhD and first monograph: Emile Pouget (who edited the legendary Père Peinard), Charles Malato (who wrote a hilarious memoir of his time in London, Les Joyeusetés de l’exil), Augustin Hamon (relentless self-promoter and later the French translator of GB Shaw), Charlotte Vauvelle (who may or may not have been Louise Michel’s lover, not that I care of course), Louise Michel (who could tell me all about the anarchist school she set up on Fitzroy Square). And Jean Grave, who I am working on at the moment. I think they’d all be good company – with the potential exception of Grave, who bore the ominous nickname Le Pape de la rue Mouffetard.
What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?
Most rewarding: all the relationships, with colleagues, students, fellow researchers, readers, wider audiences. The many dynamics of intellectual and emotional exchange are what I love the most about my job.
Most frustrating: the vilification of academics and academia in the media and politics. It sours relationships with students and impacts negatively on the work and lives of academics in many different ways.
What one change would you like to see in Academia during the next 5 years?
Major improvements regarding casualisation as well as pay and pension disputes.
If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?
I’d like to believe I’d be a scriptwriter or a psychoanalyst but having discovered a taste for admin in my current role, realistically, there’s a probability I could be a bureaucrat somewhere!
What key piece of advice would you offer postgraduates/early career academics?
Cultivate positive relationships: approach the academics whose work inspires you, ask peers and senior colleagues to mentor you and proofread your work, seek support and advice when you need it, publicise your work. And always reciprocate when you can.
A few quick-fire questions…
Archives Nationales or Archives Départementales?
I do realise this is a parisianiste answer, but I have to say the Archives Nationales. Their staff at St Denis are so nice, and they also house the archives of the Institut Français d’Histoire Sociale archives, which are crucial for my current research project.
Writing in silence or to music?
Music, preferably when sitting in a coffee shop.
Tea or coffee?
Best conference you’ve ever been to?
The European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) always feels like home, because it is one of the main fora for historians of anarchism and transnationalism, and I get to see colleagues from all over the world.
Éclair or saucisson?
Saucisson, hands down.