French Historians under the spotlight: Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh

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.

Kicking off the new academic year, September’s interview is with Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh, CUF Lecturer in Politics and Tutorial Fellow in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford. His most recent monograph, How the French think: an affectionate portrait of an intellectual people was published earlier this year.

Sudhir Hazareesingh: ‘most rewarding is the absolute freedom I have had to roam across the field of French history, politics, and political culture’.

In one sentence, what is your research about?

French political culture, from the Enlightenment to the present.

What was your motivation for researching French history?

After finishing my doctorate on contemporary French communism, I wanted to find out more about its political and philosophical origins – and so this took me back to the republican tradition in France, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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

I would go back to 8th of June 1794, and attend the festival of the Supreme Being at the Champ de Mars (and hopefully get an autograph from Robespierre).

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

Jules Michelet, Adolphe Thiers, Jean Jaurès, Marc Bloch, and Maurice Agulhon (the general theme for the evening would be “myths in history”).

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

Most rewarding is the absolute freedom I have had to roam across the field of French history, politics, and political culture. Most frustrating has been the decline in interest in the study of history among my colleagues in political science.

What is on your desk at the moment? Laurent Binet’s latest novel, La septième fonction du langage (a clever and very funny satire on the French political and intellectual milieu of the 1970s and 1980s); Pierre Rosanvallon’s Le bon gouvernement (his latest, and very impressive work on presidentialism); and Lionel Jospin’s Le Mal Napoléonien (a very silly book, which I am about to review scathingly for the Revue Historique).

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

Probably an international journalist (that’s what I wanted to be when I left school), or maybe politician in Mauritius (where I was born). But I am very glad to be where I am, and doing what I do: I feel very privileged.

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

To believe in, and to defend the ideal of the republic of letters — and to persevere!

A few quick-fire questions…

Archives Nationales or Archives Départementales?

Archives Nationales (and Gallica at the BNF).

Monograph or journal article?


Best conference you’ve ever been to?

June 2010, at the Institut Français in London, for the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s Appel du 18 Juin: I had the privilege of meeting the last great survivors of the French Resistance era, including Stéphane Hessel, Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, and Raymond Aubrac.

Writing in silence or to music?

Music (I am in Paris at the moment, so lots of Berlioz, Debussy, and Ravel).

Pick a century?


Éclair or saucisson?

Éclair! My favourite éclair, which I have just discovered, is the éclair à la pistache. [ed: recipe available here for the adventurous/those outside of France!]


Many thanks to Sudhir for taking part. If you’d like to suggest someone to feature on the blog, then let us know via @FrHistNwk.


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