Scholarly interest in the topic of nostalgia has come late to discussions of the workings of memory, a popular topic in contemporary historiography, but its moment may at last have arrived, bringing with it perspectives unappreciated a generation ago. As an emotional response to time’s passage, nostalgia has long been viewed with suspicion. From the dawn of the modern age, critics have explained that it plays into life’s illusions, drifting into sentimental idealization of a past on the fast track to obsolescence. From the earliest critical commentaries on its nature in the late seventeenth century, nostalgia has been equated with homesickness, futile longing for lost places, lost times, and lost causes. For the most part, it was diagnosed as a psychological disorder that immobilized individuals susceptible to the tug of its emotions. It was in this guise that discussion of its nature entered the lexicon of medical discourse during the nineteenth century. The impairments of those who suffered from its sadness were real. The remedy was to awaken them to life’s present realities, and so to teach them to adapt with vigor to their own times.
In July 2012, President of France François Hollande recalled the Vel d’Hiv roundup seventy years earlier. He opened his commemorative speech with the usual reference to the “horror of a crime” and used the familiar expression of the “sorrow of those who experienced the tragedy.” What stood out, however, were his allusions to the violation of France’s, and by extension Europe’s, social contract with its Jews. The men, women, and children who were assembled for internment and deportation “could not have known the fate that awaited them.” They believed that the ties that united “the great French family [were] too strong,” he said, quoting a distinguished rabbi just after the 1940 decree depriving Jews of their citizenship, too self-evident “to be broken.” President Hollande then struck the memorable chord: “Therein lies the betrayal.”
Regional Identity, Royal Imaginary, and Holy Women
Claude Langlois’s work points the way out of a long-standing whiggish view, not only of French, but also European historiography. If Western Civ textbooks or respectable general histories reflect the consensus of the profession, it is still easy to find themes of progress toward equality, secularism, and modernity. Such themes are defensible, of course, but they are one-sided. They omit a lot, like the experiences of those left out of the march of progress, of religious institutions, and of unintended victims of revolution and civil war. A more sophisticated rendering would be more satisfactory since it would emphasize resistance, the apparently marginal, and the richness of historical experience. It would replace assumptions about inevitable outcomes with a greater awareness of contingency. Claude Langlois’s work on women, religion, and the French Revolution illustrates how such a complicated history might look.
The editors have taken this opportunity to feature four articles that investigate the ways in which women are embodied by, or embody in themselves, the social, cultural, or political ethos of a particular era or region. Although very different in both topic and approach, these articles discuss radically new ways of approaching discussions of women, their sexuality, and notions of the feminine in historical discourse.
History Writing as a Public Calling
This introductory article raises questions about history's work in the contemporary public sphere and sets the stage for the issues addressed in the special issue as a whole. Drawing on my experience at a public university in fiscal crisis, I argue that historians can and should contribute to debates about the future of higher education, the role of the humanities in the twenty-first-century liberal arts curriculum, and the fate of intellectual work in a global world.
Linda E. Mitchell
In Memoriam Shona Kelly Wray, 1963-2012
By lucky circumstance, this second issue in our continuing series on historians reflecting on their craft gave us the opportunity to feature the work of one of the most innovative and creative scholars writing French history today: Yves Pourcher.
Robert R. Palmer exemplified the best that historians have to offer. He wrote with conviction, empathy, and at times passion, yet he always managed to maintain balance and portray both the good and the bad in the people and events he brought to life for his readers. Because he wrote with conviction, he also wrote with exceptional clarity. He never displayed the impulse to hide behind highfalutin language, contorted prose, or excessively specialized topics. He believed that democracy was an absolute good, that it had its origins in European history, and that its rise provided one of, or even perhaps the principal theme of all of modern history. As a consequence, he never lost his sympathy for the French revolutionaries of 1789–1794, however terrible their actions, however much they fell short of living up to their ideals.
A Transatlantic Journey of American Liberalism
John Layton Harvey
To study how American scholars have written about the history of France over the course of the last hundred years is, in certain ways, to appraise the evolving contours of American liberalism. For American historians who specialize in the past of France, its empire, or its wider continental context, the twentieth century saw a steady growth of institutional optimism. Although conservative suspicion against popular sovereignty and universal Enlightenment reason once markedly influenced the profession, since the late 1950s the American study of France has been increasingly associated with an advancement of progressive-minded ideals. Yet, reflections over the past thirty years on the development of French history in American universities have been curiously silent on the nature or evolution of liberalism within their field. Its contours and challenges over the course of the twentieth century, as a distinct intellectual focus within the wider American Academy, remain in some ways terra incognita.
Medieval to Modern
Elizabeth C. Macknight
This special issue of Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques derives from panel sessions for the Irish-Scottish Academic Initiative (ISAI) conference held at the University of Aberdeen in October 2009. The conference marked the tenth anniversary of the founding of Aberdeen’s Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. It was also the first ISAI conference to feature panel sessions dedicated to the study of gender in Irish and Scottish history. The overarching theme of the conferenceGlobal Nations? Irish and Scottish Expansionencouraged discussion of the ways in which the history and heritage of Ireland and Scotland are interpreted and understood both within those countries and abroad. In the two panels on gender, history, and heritage we sought to interrogate past and present notions of Irish and Scottish identity through the lens of gender by bringing together speakers from universities and the heritage sector.