French History @IHR: Astrid Swenson, The Rise of Heritage: Preserving the Past in France, Germany and England, 1789-1914 (CUP, 2013)

Date & Place: Monday 9 February, at the IHR, London.

Speaker: Astrid Swenson (Brunel University)

Paper Title: Book Launch for Astrid Swenson, The Rise of Heritage: Preserving the Past in France, Germany and England, 1789-1914 (CUP, 2013) with Comments from Richard Evans (Cambridge) & Peter Mandler (Cambridge)

Chair: Alison Carrol (Brunel)

Why do we care about the past? And why do we preserve it? Sometimes as historians, we take these questions for granted. Astrid Swenson, however, was deeply curious about this fascination with the preservation of the past. How does it happen? Who does it? And why does the past matter? Other academics have asked themselves this very questions before, not least Pierre Nora in his famous Lieux de Mémoire. But scholars tend to only examine questions of heritage from national perspectives. There studies have been fruitful and inspiring – but is heritage only a national concern? Or does it have universal, transnational resonance?


Swenson, Mandler, Evans and Carrol – the room was packed as you can see!

By examining the rise of heritage in Britain, France and Germany in the long nineteenth century, Swenson has released a truly enlightening book which makes a very significant contribution to heritage studies, transnational histories and our understanding of the construction and preservation of the past. Despite some technical glitches (power point failure, railway delays, etc.), Swenson gave an enthusiastic and clear summary of her book, reminding us of the importance of those very ‘basic’ questions, and the originality of her work. In their comments, Richard Evans and Peter Mandel were clear: Swenson has produced a truly wonderful book which proves that ‘transnationalism’ is not just a trendy slogan, that ‘heritage studies’ is not just a sterile field where scholars over-rely on the theories of great masters such as Nora. The duty to preserve heritage between 1789 and 1914 was not just a national, but a transnational phenomenon.

What about the preservation of heritage before the French Revolution? Did this ‘duty’ change after 1914? How does the destruction of heritage in the Second World War fit into this story? These are questions which show the urge for a follow up to this book – but for now, we’re still enjoying Swenson’s insights. Thanks again to Astrid, Richard and Peter for an illuminating evening – and the dinner afterwards was a blast! What a way to celebrate the publication of one’s first book. Congrats again, Astrid.

Get your copy here and Join us on Monday to hear Sarah Howard (Birkbeck) discuss ‘Death and violence in Paris during the Algerian War’


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