Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Winners
2022 Winner: Beatrice Barr (Oxford), ‘Revolutionaries, Feminists, Martyrs? Revisiting the image of the Religieuses Hospitalières in pre-revolutionary France’
The prize panel described this as marvellous work which was extremely well written and presented. The dissertation explored issues of Church-State relations and the significance of Jansenism and public debate in Ancien Régime France very effectively, through examining the ‘resistance’ of the Religieuses Hospitailères to episcopal authority in the context of the 1713 papal bull Unigenitus.
The overall approach was nuanced and supplements sometimes simplistic accounts of the royal attitude towards accusations of Jansenism in certain religious orders and the problems it presented for Crown and Church. By highlighting individual experience (so far as it can be reconstructed) the dissertation questions generalisations and shows a sophisticated approach to history writing. The analysis in Chapter 3 is particularly sophisticated and nuanced.
You can read Beatrice’s dissertation by clicking on the following link (right click to save file)
2022 Joint Runner-up: Joshua Castle (Royal Holloway), The Republic in Quarantine: To what extent, and with what consequences, did contemporary observers conceive of French anarchists in pathological terms, c.1880-1900?
2022 Joint Runner-up: Nathan Davies (Cambridge), Altered States, Psychotropic Substances, and Perceptions of Time in Nineteenth Century Paris
2021 Winner: Claire MacLeod (St Andrews), Not Just Paris? The Development of the 17th Century French Provincial Book World
This was very sophisticated work which began engagingly and confidently. It featured an excellent introduction which starts with a clear ‘vignette’ and frames the research questions and historiographical context with clarity and aplomb. The dissertation was very fluent and offered very convincing answers to the ‘so what’ questions. The candidate set the historiographical issue of the significance of the provincial book trade very clearly and showed both how and why it was significant, thus making an original contribution.
The overall structure works well and in each chapter the candidate engages with the historiography in a nuanced fashioned. The first chapter argues that ‘while the seventeenth century was undoubtedly a period of gradual decline, the development of the provincial book trade throughout this challenging period reveals not so much an age of ‘anaemia’ as one of stubborn persistence’. The second chapter demonstrates that the growth in the size of the provincial administrations created a new market for print in provincial towns. The third examines how the presence in provincial towns of religious orders brought support for the provincial book trade. The committee throught the argument that Richelieu’s determination to shape the French book trade into a loyal instrument of political power coincided with the Paris guild’s interest in expanding their monopoly was good. There were very interesting points on how religious diversity increased demand and about the actions of royal officials in a trade that was bigger and more provincial by the end of 17th than it had been in the 16th or would be in 18th.
The committee enjoyed reading this dissertation and think that it is of publishable quality. A superbly written essay, well researched, and balanced in its exploration of the subject.
2021 Runner-up: Ella Higgs-Sharrock (Oxford), The Albigensian Crusade: Shaping Resistance and the War on Paratge
This dissertation is outstanding for the complexity of the enquiry, the depth of the research and the range of primary sources used. It is hugely ambitious, imaginative and deeply grounded in scholarship. The panel was impressed with the range of themes within the analysis, the inter or at least intra disciplinary approach and its careful attention to theoretical models in ethnography.
Joint Runner Up of the 2020 SSFH Undergraduate Dissertation Prize:
Aoife Miralles (Oxford) -‘Si j’étais Rai…’: Singing about Politics in the Brittany Affair, 1764-1769
This is an engaging and original thesis, which makes a clear argument and develops a complex methodology. The analysis is very sophisticated in place and the argument adequately situated in the historiography of protests and that of regional representation and the crown. The thesis gets to grips with some of the technical as well as the political issues raised in the writing, production distribution and various performance traditions in songs as protest, but more might have been said about the specifics of the Breton situation.
Jacob Travers (Manchester), Viking Normandy: Political and Cultural Interconnections between Early Normandy and the Viking Diaspora
This is an engaging and well written thesis on the development of Norman culture and power within the idea of a Viking diaspora. It is well researched, coherently structured and based on a thorough grounding in the historiography. The panel was particularly impressed by the candidate’s handling of complex concepts and attention to both domestic and foreign politics.
2019 Winner: Tim Fairbairn (Cambridge) – Interpreting the Iranian Revolution in France, 1978-1980.
This is an excellent and sophisticated dissertation, which argues that Khomeini’s return in February 1979 and subsequent collapse of the Shah’s regime signalled a rupture in French media portrayals of the Revolution, which prior to that tended to be sympathetic to the revolution. The dissertation is original in its focus on the Iranian Revolution and what it tells us about the revolutionary paradigm, the geopolitical impact of the revolution, and the tension between Islam and secular republicanism’ (p. 3). The candidate makes excellent use of Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, L’Humanité, and the political magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, which had a wide circulation at the time. The dissertation is structured in a clear and coherent fashion: the first chapter examines the transformation in February 1979 when the downfall of the Shah’s regime divided opinion across the five newspaper titles, largely along political Left-Right contours; the second chapter argues that the politics of revolution was less important than the oil crisis of 1979-1980, the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980 and its Cold-War implications in shaping these newspapers’ portrayals of the revolution; the third chapter focuses on the debates around Foucault’s interpretation of the revolution. The dissertation is extremely sophisticated and nuanced, even though the discussion on Foucault’s perspectives (and the concept of ‘political spirituality’) was a little vague/unclear at times.
2019 Runner up: Jack Hunter (Oxford) – Underground insurrections – Local, transnational and revolutionary resistance in a French mining community, 1940-1944.
This is an excellent and extremely well written dissertation, which explores how transnational encounters, ideas and identities shaped local resistance through the study of a mining community in Herault. It draws on French departmental archives and oral interviews and combines successfully two strands of the historiography (‘local studies’ and transnational histories of the resistance). The dissertation is structured in a very coherent and clear manner and the candidate makes excellent use of archival documents and oral testimonies. Although the dissertation demonstrates a mature reading of the primary sources and speaks with confidence about the various forms of resistance in Herault, we felt that the argument about the ‘transnational identities’ and memories of resistance groups was a little underdeveloped.
2018 Winner: Jack Dickens (Cambridge) – The Revolution in Saint Domingue and the Historicity of Liberty, 1791-1797.
This compelling, engaging and sophisticated dissertation is fluently written and shows genuine interpretative imagination. Drawing on a previously unknown document, Truguet’s Mémoire sur Saint- Domingue (1796), it demonstrates a remarkable appreciation of how this ‘administrator-agent’ understood the struggle for liberty in Saint-Domingue. The dissertation also speaks with confidence about Truguet’s ‘geography of liberty’ and his Eurocentric visions. It provides a robust critique of Trouillot’s Silencing the Past and engages in an inventive way with different historiographical paradigms and theoretical approaches, including Hartog’s Régime d’historicité. In sum, this dissertation offers a new interpretation of how French Republicans understood the events in Saint-Domingue (1791-97) and how they conceived of and sought to bring about a ‘free and French’ colony in the Caribbean during those brief years.
2018 Runner up: Deborah Herzberg (Cambridge) – Louis XIV’s mistresses and the political implications of favour, 1666-1674.
The prize committee awards a strong commendation to this dissertation which shows some genuine originality and creativity in approaching a well-worn subject. It demonstrates a mature reading of the sources and speaks with confidence about how Louis XVI’s mistresses helped the Sun King’s image building efforts and acted as ‘brokers’, motivated by dynastic advancement.
2017 Winner: Joanna Clarke (Cambridge), ‘English Policy in Gascony c.1413-1437‘
This engaging dissertation uses the Gascony Rolls to assess Lancastrian policy towards Gascony under the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI. The topic is original and the contribution to knowledge is clear. The Prize Committee was impressed with the interesting and sophisticated approach to the topic and source material, particularly in terms of case studies, to illustrate that English Policy towards Gascony in these years was one of defence and reclamation.
2017 Runners-up: N. Low, ‘The Early Levinas: Jewish experience and the legacy of Heidegger, 1930-1950’ (Edinburgh)
This dissertation offers a sophisticated exposition of Levinas’ thought. The Prize Committee was impressed by the complex and engaging analysis as well as the ambition of this work, even if the historical contextualisation could have been developed further.
G. Webster, ‘A Radical Revolutionary? The Political Theory of Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès 1788-8’9 (St. Andrews)
This dissertation presents a pleasing analysis of Sieyès’ work during the early Revolution. The Prize Committee was impressed by the close reading of Sieyès’ ideas which was set well into the context of his contemporaries and subsequent historiography.
2016 Winner: Alexander Harries (Oxford), ‘Faire le bordel: The Regulation of Urban Prostitution in Morocco’.
One of the very few dissertations to work with previously untapped primary sources and to use this material to construct an argument without the advantage of a large body of secondary literature available. This is a harder task and shows very good historical skills which should be recognised. The argument is independent and the approach to the sources is consistently analytical. The topic is ambitious and the original contribution to knowledge very clear.
2016 Runner-up: Harriet Morgan (Durham), ‘The Search for a New Left Wing Politics: Europe and the French Socialist Party 1971-1994’.
A convincingly argued and also very engaging dissertation, which gives a clear sense of the different perspectives and agendas at play during this period. This material is drawn together in an effective and sophisticated way. The three moments seem well chosen, with the chronological gaps between them skilfully bridged so the reader is given a clear sense of the entire era. This piece makes good use of primary sources, treating them analytically contextualising them well.
2015 Joint Winner: Katherine Bulteel (Cambridge), ‘The Use of Religious Justifications of War during the Albigensian Crusade and the Conquests of James I of Aragon’.
2011 Winner: Pierre Caquet (Cambridge), ‘Egyptology, French Romantic Nationalism and the Oriental Crisis of 1839-1840′.
Panel citation: This dissertation made sense of a moment which often seems incomprehensible in other accounts of the nineteenth-century, the Oriental Crisis of 1840 when France risked international isolation and even war in order to support the regime of Mehemet Ali in Egypt. Clear and sophisticated in its analysis, this dissertation was also a pleasure to read, not least for the author’s gift at phrase-making. But the judges’ decision was not based on aesthetic considerations alone, the student also displayed a profound familiarity both with the archival material located in the Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères and the BNF, but also with the newspapers, journals, memoirs and other sources concerning the Oriental Crisis. The student does an excellent job of marrying cultural and political history, demonstrating that the attitudes of political decision makers such as Thiers in the moment of crisis were not informed by a rational calculation of France’s interests, but were framed by a series of cultural engagements with Egypt that went back through the Restoration to the Napoleonic invasion. Egypt, as a possible ‘nation-state’ emerging under a Napoleonic modernising figure, appealed to many elements across the July Monarchy’s political spectrum. In the French political imagination, Egypt became a projection of French nationalism. As the title suggests, Ali’s very numerous supporters in France were influenced by a very particular post Napoleonic, romantic orientalism.
2011 Runner-up: Sean Heath (Cambridge) ‘Subtleties in the Representation in Music and Libretti of Louis XIV’s Power, Rule, and Pursuit of Glory, 1661-1715’.
2011 Highly Commended: Katy Brill (St Andrews), ‘A Liberated Nation on Stage: Politics, Theatre and National Identity in Post-Liberation France’.
2010 Winner: Adam Boukraa (Oxford), ‘The harkis in France since the 1960s: local experiences, national discourse’.
Panel citation: An extremely clear, innovative, well-focused analysis, based on a close and intelligent reading of much original material and wide ranging understanding of the historiography of the harkis in France. Knows the secondary literature but does not become bogged down in it; selects his targets with considerable thought and independence; delivers an excellent and subtle commentary. This is a straightforward piece of archival work, but what it does, it does very well indeed. Original in outcome if not in method, it provides a very welcome and instructive analysis of complex and elusive themes of identity. [download]
2010 Runner-up: Julia Nicholls (Cambridge), ‘The Ideas of the French Revolutionary Left c. 1871-1881’. [download]
2010 Highly Commended:
Arthur Asseraf (Cambridge), ‘The Muslim Algerian deputies in the French National Assembly, 1958-1962’.
Carly Hicks (Durham), ‘Language, tradition, modernity: the rhetoric of Breton regionalist identity 1898-1945’.
Samuel Pollack (Cambridge), ‘Ideas of Venality from Montaigne to Montesquieu’.
2009 Winner: James Eastwood (Cambridge): ‘Noble Obligation and Political Imagination in ninth-century Carolingian Francia’.
Panel citation: ‘This is a clever piece, a very clever piece, and one only really appreciates how clever as it comes towards its conclusion. Mature, confident and engaging, it copes well with difficult sources and understands the developing historiographical issues clearly. Both sources and the secondary literature have been subjected to very close and independent reading. Presentation is clear, references correctly cited although, curiously, there is no final bibliography. Throughout the thesis, which is advanced in an extremely logical and coherent manner, is contextualised in the light of changing approaches to primary and secondary source material. The substantial third chapter on imperial connections moves the study from its focussed beginnings to significant reflection on wider European considerations. While the author suggests much of the work is observational (cf. Conclusion) it is in fact a useful insight into interrogating varying source material and matching this to current historical research on family, obligation and European structures in the early Middle Ages. If we have some reservations they derive from the author’s assumption of knowledge that none of us had and from a sense that he may occasionally be loading his sources with ideological baggage that they just can’t sustain. The concepts of ‘Noble obligation’ and ‘political imagination’ are elastic, and the latter is never closely defined. There is also a danger of modern scholars reading too much subtlety into statements that were, and were meant to be, taken at face value. Nevertheless, this is an impressive piece that engages with big, well-studied themes but succeeds in establishing its own distinctive viewpoint. Publication in some form should not be ruled out.’ [download file]
2009 Joint Runners-up:
Melanie Pocock (Bristol): ‘The French Pantheon 1791. Re-defining the dynamics of power in public art’. [download file]
Joanna Warson (LSE): ‘Britain, France and the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970’. [download file]
The Chair of the Panel would also like to make honourable mention of the following thesis: Michael Surman (Durham), ‘”A Holy Nation, a peculiar people”: Religion, region and nation in medieval Brittany’. [download file]
2008 Joint Winners: David Henry Doyle (Trinity College Dublin): ‘What role did Public Opinion play in the formation of French foreign policy from June 1791 to January 1792’.
Panel citation: “The dissertation sought to examine a problem in the early years of the Constituent Assembly to which no satisfactory answer has yet been forthcoming from historians of the Revolution: to what extent were the Assembly deputies duped into declaring war in 1792 by a small clique from within, and to what extent were they responding to public opinion from without? The dissertation uses a very broad range of primary and secondary sources in order to demonstrate that there were important tensions between the Assembly and the public over attitudes to foreign authorities, and their peoples; even more impressively, however, it highlights the ‘interactive mechanisms’ between deputies within and opinion without, which ensured that foreign policy issues were not discussed in a vacuum. By combining a keen sense of political evolution over the narrow time-frame chosen for analysis with an evaluation of the evidence from the records of the Assembly itself, the dissertation shows how opinion could be mobilised by deputies on the basis of reports (notably from deputies from frontier constituencies) from the provinces.” [download file]
2008 Joint Winners: Julia Gilham (Bristol): ‘Memory, discrimination and integration: a study of the 17 October 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris’.
Panel citation: “The dissertation examined the contested evidence and subsequent history of the notorious demonstration of c.20,000 Algerians of 17 October 1961 in Paris, and its repression by the authorities. It did so in the context of a sophisticated awareness of the historiography of memory and the related issues of institutional discrimination and attitudes towards the integration of immigrants and minorities in contemporary France. The panel were impressed with the careful handling of the necessarily incomplete and contested evidence regarding the events of that day, especially the evaluation of contemporary newspaper testimony balanced against later witness evidence. The dissertation is notable for tracing the evolution of ‘memory disputes’, for the sophisticated handling of limited photographic evidence to expose the discriminatory nature of the massacre, and for the analysis of decisions by local communities to erect commemorative plaques in memory of the victims of that day.” [download file]
2008 Runner up: Hannah Yadi (Durham): ‘Les Oubliés de l’Histoire – Les Harkis. A history Distorted by official narratives’.
Panel citation: “This dissertation examines the ‘neglect’ of Harki history through the prism of a ‘triple silence’; the reluctance of the official authorities in both Algeria and France to come to terms with a group whose role had been deeply problematic and embarrassing to both sides, albeit for different reasons, coupled with the reluctance of Harki participants themselves to acknowledge their own role. The Panel found it commendable in the way in which it integrated selected oral testimonies into a discriminating use of the available and growing secondary literature on the subject.” [download file]
2007 Winner: Katie Alloway (Durham): The Limits of Dechristianisation: Religion and Revolution in the District of Montpellier, 1789-99. [download file]
Joe Philp (Cambridge): The Idea of an International Order in the Political Thought of the Abbé de Mably. [download file]
James Salmon (Durham): Surveillée, Encadrée, Canalisée: Institutionalisation and suppression of festivals by the religious and secular authorities in Bordeaux, 1600-1789. [download file]
Andrew Smith (St Andrews): The Midi, the Métropole and the Marshall Plan. A Study of the Midi vignerons in the French Fourth Republic [download file]
2006 Joint Winners:
Charlotte Wink (Durham)
Bryony Palmer (Oxford)
2006 – Rachel Leow (Warwick)