Voices of Early Career Researchers: Thibault Le Hégarat

Welcome back to ‘Voices of Early Career Researchers’, a monthly feature on the French History Network blog. Each month we’ll post a short interview with an Early Career Researcher of French History, giving you an insight of the different paths that ECRs are following after their PhDs in and outside of academia: what do the lives of recently appointed lecturers, teaching assistants, post-doctoral researchers or teaching fellows etc. look like? How does one transition from PhD to the post-doctoral years? We invite our interviewees to share their experiences and we hope that the conversation carries on in universities, conferences and social media.

Thibault Le Hegarat photo

Thibault Le Hégarat is a media  historian who focuses on television and patrimoine.  He submitted in PhD thesis in 2015 at the Centre d’histoire culturelle des sociétés contemporaines  (Université Versailles-Saint Quentin) where he has been teaching for a few years.

You can find out more about his research and publications here.

He tweets @thibault_lh


Can you tell us a little about your PhD thesis and your current research? How did you come to this field (did you do something else before considering PhD/teaching) and has it affected you as a teacher and researcher?

Have you ever watched a television programme about heritage such as cathedrals and castles, or maybe old rural houses and archaeological sites? That is the kind of programme I studied in my thesis: everything that was broadcasted on French national television from 1950 to 1999 which related to material heritage.

Since my master’s dissertation I specialized in the history of television but it was only for my PhD that I got to work in the heritage field. The creation of the “Fondation des Sciences du Patrimoine” in 2011 gave me the opportunity to focus my research on heritage. My thesis is both a study of these programmes and an history of the representation of patrimoine based upon television archives. Never before has such work been done and it was a huge challenge. One of my conclusions is that these programmes are, as we could say, “medium-brow”, neither too elitist nor too popular. They are mostly recreational with a façade of cultural content but with a low amount of knowledge. Formally, considering the choice of topics, the images, the staging, the musical illustration, and the tone, patrimoine is, on television, made into a popular spectacle by journalists and producers. Also, I dedicated a whole section of my thesis to studying the place and roles of emotions in such programmes. This was a very stimulating part of my research because the use of emotions in these programmes is not just a way to create empathy, it is in fact deeply connected to important notions about patrimony such as legacy, identity, or memory.

I guess I can be considered an historian of television. I used to think I belonged to the field of media history, but I see myself more as a cultural historian now because I am now driven by interrogations that can be qualified as “culturalistes”.

When did you submit your thesis; what did you do in the months following submission/the viva?

I submitted my thesis early September 2015. You know the Frozen song “Let it go” (which translates in French as “Libérée, délivrée”)? I had it in mind all day long when I submitted my manuscript. Even though it only took me 4 years to write my thesis, I felt relieved to have completed my PhD and to be able to move on. A few months later I had my viva, which was a bit stressful but ended up being a great experience.

Since the submission, I have been at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, teaching students from licence to master. It has been a very busy year and I haven’t done much research in the past months. It is true what people say about your PhD years being the time of your career when you get to dedicate the most time to research.

Did you apply to jobs/ work outside of academia after the end of your PHD?

Not yet but I’m considering it. There are not enough jobs in France for all early career historians and it’s hard to imagine waiting years before finding a permanent position. I used to be a teacher in secondary school before my PhD, but I might well decide to take a different road.

How tricky and long was the application process until you landed in your first post-PhD job? Did you benefit from the support of your peers (senior colleagues or other ECRs) and how do you feel that impacted your job search.

Too early to say, I’m still waiting for answers. Yet, so far, I’ve had to dedicate a lot of my work time to writing several applications for jobs (as a TA or post-doctoral researcher…) and it felt like a waste of research time. French early career researchers are in such a state of precariousness, competition is so high between us, and there are so few positions that we have to make the most applications we can.

However, I am also quite active with other projects at the same time. I’ve been organising several study days, I’ve been editor in chief three times for issues of an history and social science journal (Circé. Histoires, cultures et sociétés), and I am coordinating with a colleague on an upcoming special issue for the journal Le temps des médias. All these, in addition to the courses I have taught and my PhD … these have been busy years!

What is a typical week in your current role?

I usually teach two to three days a week at the university. The rest of the week is mostly filled with grading papers, preparing the next courses and dealing with the many emergencies and deadlines that occur in our jobs. Not much time for attending conferences, seminars or even writing papers. Also, twice a week I go to the swimming pool, it helps me to relax as well as giving time to think about the questions that trouble me. I remember having entirely changed – for the better – a chapter of my thesis while swimming.

Earlier in March, there was a wave of excitement and expectation amongst historians I follow on twitter as the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research released the details of tenured positions available from September 2016 in French universities. Can you tell us more about the application process and requirements to apply to lectureships in France?

In France, being a doctor is a prerequisite to getting a position in a university, but not the only one. After getting your PhD you must apply for the “qualification”. Your academic profile is examined by a jury in the Commission Nationale des Universités, which qualifies you to the function of maître de conferences (lecturer in the UK or assistant professor) in a certain section (there are sections for all major disciplines, for example I am qualified in 22nd section, which is modern and contemporary history).

Only then you can apply to a job of permanent lecturer and, if lucky, get to be interviewed. Nowadays the requirements are getting tougher: you must have teaching experience, have had administrative responsibilities, published in top journals, and it makes a better impression if you have travelled a bit for conferences.

Has the post-PhD life enabled you to devote more time to academic related activities (societies, public engagement, and social media etc.)?

Have I told you about my workload since submission? I intended to write more articles, participate in more conferences… but ended up having as less time than before. I even stopped my academic blogging, which is a shame. The only thing that did not change is the time I spend on twitter (not sure if it is a good thing though).

Still, I have joined two major societies in my field, the Société Pour l’Histoire des Médias, and the Association pour le Développement de l’Histoire Culturelle. Plus I was recruited as an editorial secretary for an educational website publishing tools and articles from researchers (Decryptimages).

To finish the interview, we thought we would end on three light-hearted questions:

Red or white wine?

I used to say red but I am opening up to white wine these days.

Favourite French TV show?

Kaamelott (a must see).

Love or hate Bienvenue chez les ch’tis?

Never seen it, because it is not my kind of movie (I think I would have hated it).


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