In The Land Is Our History, Miranda Johnson shows how the forces of globalisation - much maligned in the current political climate - allowed previously marginalised indigenous peoples to form transnational networks of solidarity with which they asserted strong claims against national governments. This was the beginning of a powerful new ‘politics from below’. For the first time, minority indigenous groups in Australia, Canada and New Zealand successfully engaged with the legal systems of these states to insist on their distinct identities and, importantly, land rights. Rejecting policies of assimilation, indigenous activists radically challenged assumptions that the nation-state was one single and unified entity. Beginning in the 1960s, indigenous peoples established a ‘fragile truce’ with settler-states that would last for the next three decades.  Crucially, their claims carried extra weight as these nations attempted to cut ties with their British pasts, redraw their foreign policies in light of decolonisation and forge new cosmopolitan national identities.

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RC: The book places indigenous legal claims in this period in a global perspective, and shows how closely their success or failure was tied to global politics and anti-colonial discourses.  In the increasingly interconnected world of the 20th and 21st centuries, is it possible to separate nations from global or transnational contexts? What implications does this have for writing indigenous histories of this period?

MJ: Nationally-defined fields are still the norm in history departments and that is still how we frame many of our undergraduate classes. Of course, in the last two decades or so, transnational and global approaches to historical inquiry have been in the ascendant, so that those who work exclusively within a national framework may feel like they need to defend why they do so, which is interesting. I think few historians would write now without a sense of how the global impacts the local. Even if you frame a project within the context of a single nation-state, most historians are alert to how globalization––variously defined––impacts their study.

Indigenous history as a field plays a very interesting role in all of this. The fields of Aboriginal history and Māori history, for instance, emerged in part as a critique of settler national history. So historians involved in the construction of these fields such as Henry Reynolds here in Australia framed their projects in terms of the nation, but as a critique of the costs borne by Indigenous peoples in the making of that nation. They were critical nationalists. The effectiveness of the field of Aboriginal history in leveling this critique can be seen for instance in the infamous History Wars of the late 1990s and then in the development of another approach, that of settler colonial studies.

In the last few years, a new kind of critique has emerged, influenced by the work of historians arguing for transnational, trans-imperial, trans-regional approaches, which is that the frameworks of the nation-state really delimits, even conceals, Indigenous peoples’ agency. In response, some scholars are arguing for a focus on the mobility of Indigenous peoples both within nation-states and across them. This critique arises from different political circumstances, as a response to the effects of the legal claiming that I talk about in my book. As we well know in Australia, “native title” which, it was hoped in the early 1990s, would revolutionize Aboriginal peoples’ place and status has in fact led to new forms of inequality and constraint. In representational terms, there’s a lot of concern that the process of claiming native title has actually further intensified the operation of an “oppressive authenticity,” as Jeff Sissons calls it, in which Indigenous peoples are fixed in time and space. So, the argument for tracing Indigenous peoples’ mobility is in part I think a response to this distinctive legal process and political moment in settler states such as Australia, as well as broader trends in the historical discipline. As you can see, I am interested in the transnational, the global and the national. I think all these frameworks are important in thinking about the twentieth-century histories of Indigenous peoples.

Activists in these decades forced courts to accept indigenous testimony and to incorporate indigenous practices and oral traditions into western legal systems. Does indigenous engagement with the settler-state legitimise it? Is it possible to resist the state without engaging with it? 

Engagement with the state, or refusal of the state’s power, are two poles of Indigenous politics. These might be more significant than conventional distinctions between “Left” or “Right” politics that are used to define majoritarian politics in liberal settler democracies. Yes, to be a claimant in a settler court means that to some extent you are legitimizing state sovereignty, the state’s power to offer limited justice, to redistribute property, to mediate disputes. At the same time, I think for a lot of Indigenous claimants it’s certainly the case that while one might recognize the authority and the power of the state to make decisions about one’s future that this doesn’t mean you think that the state is morally legitimate. So a large part of what was at stake in the cases I talk about in my book was demonstrating this gap between law and justice, showing up the immorality of prior legal rulings and policy-making, to force a change. Of course, some Indigenous people would say that to engage at any level with state processes is to cede a degree of sovereignty and so they refuse to do so.

At the end of the book you suggest that the ‘fragile truce’ struck between indigenous polities and settler states has come undone in the face of neoliberal reforms that limit the commitment of governments to equality and social justice. Is there an implicit narrative of progress in many activist histories? What are the implications of this?

The Indigenous rights claims that I talk about in my book came to national attention in a period of heightened awareness of racial discrimination, of anti-colonialism, civil rights protests and so on. Aboriginal rights became a progressive cause in this context––the 1967 referendum was, for the majority of the population in Australia, an issue of equality and social justice. But Indigenous rights struggles were about more than equality; they were claims to the state for recognition of the distinct sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, often based in land rights. So they always troubled a progressive consciousness for it was never going to be enough to simply establish rights to equality; Indigenous peoples wanted something more than that. I think this claim is not very legible to settlers and yet at some level it registers and troubles them.

This trouble came more out into the open in the 1990s, post-Mabo, in Australia, and as claims to the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand increased in number and extent in the same period. Many white settlers began to feel that their rights to land, and their sense of identity and belonging, was under threat. At the same time, the old social contract was being pulled apart, as you say, through radical neoliberal reforms. Suddenly, I think it seemed to a lot of white settlers that Indigenous peoples were getting things that were being taken away from them, whites. So this particular and complex set of changing political conditions were what I was trying to allude to in saying that the “fragile truce” was undone during the late 1990s/early 2000s. And I think this breakdown of the brief consensus around the importance of recognizing Indigenous rights was really disheartening for many Indigenous activists and leaders, even if they also expected it. In the sense that in order to fight for change, you need to believe that change is possible, then certainly activist consciousness is progressive (or even radical in some instances); but I think for many Indigenous activists there is a critical awareness of the specific constraints and limits of how far one can get in a settler majority democracy.

Since the 1990s, the politics surrounding indigenous history in Australia have been intense and divisive. What are the challenges of writing indigenous histories in this climate? Does it affect the kinds of histories that are told? What attitudes do students bring to the study of indigenous history?

I see a lot of students come into my classroom who think that Indigenous issues are important but they don’t know why. As I’ve been briefly alluding to, the issues are incredibly complex and we don’t have a “go to” shared language for talking about these politics. So I feel like I need to teach a new language to the overwhelmingly non-Indigenous students I have, one that will take them beyond the guilt or shame or denial that still characterizes public debate about Indigenous issues in this country. This is one of the major challenges for writing or teaching Indigenous history here in Australia, establishing a useful, critical language for thinking and talking about the distinctiveness of Indigenous-settler state politics. Studying Indigenous history is hard, it is challenging intellectually, ethically, politically.

The (at times) thorny question of agency is crucial to histories from below. You describe The Land is Our History as ‘a rare story about the disempowered changing the status quo’, yet you never diminish the ability of powerful state institutions to affect indigenous lives.  Can an overemphasis on agency run the risk of obscuring the determining role these powerful forces can play?

Great question! In fact, this is the question I was wrestling with in writing this book; how far can I take the story of agency? Is structural oppression of settler colonialism really the true story? As you point out, I try to have it both ways because this is the reality that I perceive and that I have drawn out of the archives I used for this project. The story of a struggle, which this book is, is necessarily a dialectical one.

You argue in the book that for a variety of reasons - including shifting global political paradigms - there was a reversal of the 'relations of power' between indigenous peoples and settler-states in the 1960s and 70s.  As the modern neoliberal era is threatened by a new politics that promises a reclamation of national sovereignty, do you see opportunities for the creation of a new truce between indigenous peoples and states? What do relations of power between these two groups look like in 2017?

It really depends which Indigenous people you’re talking about and where. I think one of the things that is really different about 2017 from, say, 1967, is that there is now a recognition on the part of the state of a plurality of Indigenous representatives, political communities, voices (even if this is not necessarily well-represented in mainstream media). So there are multiple forms of relation, opportunities for compromise, negotiation etc. There is also a marked difference between and among Indigenous nations in terms of socio-economic wellbeing and so on. It’s hard to tell a single story about advantage or disadvantage because the reality is so complex. And yet, you have a fascinating and important story of unification in the making of the Uluru Statement recently. How that came about, and what it’s effects politically will be, is yet to be told.

What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started working on the book? 

That the hard part of bringing a major project to completion is the psychological game, the kind of faith that you have to maintain in order to get there but which, after many years, is often wavering because you think that what you’re saying is so obvious.

The Land Is Our History is published by Oxford University Press. Order it here

29 Jul

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A First Generation student is a student who is the first in their family to attend university; whose parents or guardians who have not completed tertiary study, or an equivalent qualification abroad. We also acknowledge students whose older siblings have gone to university, as well as staff and graduates.

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A few days ago I spoke at the annual conference for the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean. The University of Ghent was this year’s host, and the medieval trading city was a perfect setting for a group of medievalists.

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A view of St Nicholas' Church in Ghent, taken just around the corner from our conference HQ.

It was a wonderfully diverse set of attendees (Austria, Beligum, Canada, Cyprus, Czechia, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States … and Australia). The diversity was matched in the presentations, with sessions ranging from the Cairo Geniza to religious minorities in medieval Iberia, Islamic and Christian accounts of the crusades to the circulation of intellectual culture across Mediterranean communities. It was inspiring to see this idea of a ‘the medieval’ decentered.

Professor Marina Rustow (University of Princeton) and Professor Nikolas Jaspert (University of Heidelberg) both gave keynotes. Of course, I delivered my paper but I was not the only person from the University of Sydney to do so. Dr Jan Shaw (from the Department of English) spoke as did the Department of History’s own Dr Hélène Sirantoine.

During one of the lunch breaks, I chatted with Hélène about where conferences sit in a historian’s work, what advice she had for those new to the experience, and why medieval Spain (her field of research and teaching … with a unit this coming semester) is important to medievalists and historians more broadly.

First up, what’s your conference paper on?

My paper was entitled ‘The Emperor and his Muslims: Andalusí identity through Christian eyes under the reign of Alfonso VII (1126-1157)’.

Where do conference papers sit within a historian’s work? How do you find them most useful?

Well, a conference paper can sit at various points of the historian’s work timeline. It can be the occasion to pitch a new research project and feel how the audience reacts to it. It is also the moment when one will make contacts with other scholars in the field, and maybe create fruitful collaborations. However, in most cases, a conference paper will be the opportunity to divulge the results of an ongoing or almost finished project. In a way, it is a sort of declaration to the academic world: ‘Look, this is what I’ve been doing in the past months/years. Be prepared to read my next article/monograph!’. And the deadline set by an upcoming conference also works, for many of us, as an incentive to finally write down what we would have otherwise left lingering in the limbo of procrastination.

Just before you were here you were at Leeds International Medieval Congress, which is one of the larger medievalist conferences. I was watching the #IMC2017 feed on Twitter and it is almost like a festival for medievalists as well. How does a big conference like that compare to something more focused? What are the benefits but also challenges?

The Leeds IMC is indeed one of the annual grand-messes of medievalists worldwide, with a paper programme so heavy that it can easily jeopardize one’s luggage allowance on the way back home! This year, I heard that there were about 2400 of us, and the number of parallel sessions was so large that the organising committee had to request one more building than usual to accommodate us all. I recall very well how intimidated I was the first time I attended the IMC a few years ago. But you have to keep in mind that such events are primarily designed for scholars to network, so the more of us there are, the more connected we get!

In that sense, the Leeds IMC is hardly comparable to a more human-size conference, whose purpose will generally be to discuss a particular topic in deptH. At those conferences, both participants and attendees are expecting scientific results above all. There are no book fairs or medieval reenactments, but many new ideas at the end of the day.

What things should a postgraduate consider when choosing a conference?

Sometimes, the conference chooses you! It is not rare to receive a CFP (call for papers) that matches one’s doctoral project. It is then a good opportunity to make a name for yourself among the community of scholars in your field. In any event, before sending a paper proposal, I believe that a PG student should always consider how the conference will fit into his/her agenda. If it is leading you too far from the immediate demands of the dissertation, then make sure that it won’t put you in a delicate situation in terms of timing. Ideally, the closer you get to your submission deadline, the more you should prioritise papers that will directly feed your dissertation.

I find sticking to a twenty-minute limit a real challenge. We hold our topics close to our heart and spend a lot of time researching the field, so it can be tough. How do you deal with this challenge?

Ah… Quite badly in fact! I generally write an over-large first draft of my papers, and then spend the days and hours before it is my time to speak shortening my whole argument (with a huge dose of frustration generated in the process). But then I remember that: (1) it was not a waste of time, as I will use my over-detailed draft for a later publication; (2) my audience was probably very thankful that I did not enter into too much detail that would have made my paper hard to follow. A conference paper is a subtle exercise of communication, so a short but well organised argument will convey your point in the most efficient manner.

What is the most defining characteristic that sets a conference paper apart from other scholarly ‘outputs’, such as an essay or article?

Again, a conference paper is an oral performance, during which footnotes and lengthy sentences will not help you make your point. At the utmost, projected slides, if they are well done, will assist. Besides, we do not read in the same way that we listen. Have you ever heard someone reading out loud something that was clearly meant as a written piece of rhetoric? It is a very painful experience!

Medieval Spain is your specialisation and you’re about to teach an undergraduate unit, ‘Reconquest: A History of Medieval Spain’. What does this particular history of medieval Spain offer the the discipline more broadly? Why is it important/intriguing, not just to Iberianists, but historians generally? Has scholarship on intercultural relations in medieval Spain offered methodologies and frameworks for other histories of intercultural/interfaith relations?

The main theme of the Leeds IMC this year was ‘Otherness’, and the conference you and I attended in Ghent dealt with ‘Emotions, imaginations, and communities in the medieval Mediterranean’. In both cases, the medieval Iberian Peninsula represents a particularly rich domain of investigation, with its multi-faith and multi-linguistic communities. It is actually quite interesting to observe that, decades ago, the Iberian Peninsula was for most medievalists a periphery of Christendom and a guarantee of exoticism. Nowadays, it is rather considered a centre of interculturality and a case study to measure changes in historiographical practices. This is partly what I aim to convey to students in my course on medieval Spain. It is actually called ‘Reconquest? A History of Medieval Spain’. The question mark is very important, as the notion of Reconquest is highly problematic, though commonly used. After all, it expresses none other than a Christian point of view that makes the Islamic history of Spain a deplorable parenthesis. In the unit, we study the origins of that notion of ‘Reconquest’, and how it was a construct of Spanish nineteenth-century national-catholicism. We also examine the tensions that the debates surrounding the notion generated all through the twentieth century, and the social and academic anxieties that its use still reveals today.

What project are you working on at the moment?

When I first started to investigate the history of the past in my Honours year, I wanted to work on the relationship between Christendom and Islam through the specific prism of multicultural Spain. My PhD dissertation then led me quite far from this project, and I wish now to make it the centre of my attention, with research focused on perceptions of the Islamic world by Christians Spaniards. By examining how the Islamic world was depicted, named, and utilised in Christian Spanish documents of the early to high Middle Ages (9th-13th c.), the idea is to decentre traditional approaches to the field, which have privileged religious perspectives at the expense of polities, geopolitics, and history. The paper I presented in Ghent was directly linked to this project.

As an historian of early modern dress and material culture my research requires a wide range of documentation – wardrobe warrants, probate inventories and wills, visual sources such as engravings and paintings, popular literature like plays, didactic texts and broadside ballads, and even personal correspondence such a letters and diaries – in order to construct an accurate picture of a past material world. However, there are often still limitations to using only these traditional written and visual sources.

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Wardrobe warrants and probate inventories can tell the historian the economics of clothing production – who ordered what, how many and when, as well as information about the materials used in their production, however, they don’t outline patterns or methods of construction. Other texts like popular literature and personal correspondence can tell us information about how these items functioned socially – what people thought of them and how that influenced social and cultural norms, but many of these sources express just that: thoughts, both popular and personal, leaving the historian to pursue the relationship between ideas and everyday embodiment. Then there are visual sources that are not only valuable in their own right, but can help to interpret the written record, allowing the historian to decode sometimes complex technical terminology or to match descriptions of dress with a dated image. Surviving artefacts themselves also hold the key to vast amounts of information that has been lost to the printed or archival record, or is not discernible in visual representations. For example, sweat marks and continued wear and tear in particular places on the garment can tell us much information about the effect that dress had on the body or that the body had on dress. Yet whilst the life of the garment (and that of the person who wore it) may still be visible on surviving artefacts, some questions remain unanswered, and this is where historical reconstruction can be a valuable research tool for the historian.

Historical reconstruction has, until recently, not been seen as a concern of the serious academic, believed to belong to television, re-enactors or living history museums. Yet reconstruction has been used by archaeologists, curators and conservators for many years. More recently, Ulinka Rublack from the University of Cambridge has incorporated reconstructions into her work on Renaissance fashion, leading the field in early modern material studies. Pamela H. Smith, an historian of early modern science, has established the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University, which uses reconstructions of recipes from early modern texts to explore the intersections between artisan practices and scientific knowledge. Renown fashion historian and the figure to whom many of us now working in the field owe our gratitude, Janet Arnold, was also a pioneer of fact-based faithful reconstructions of historical dress, and institutes such as the School of Historical Dress run by Jenny Tiramani exist to teach both scholars and amateurs alike period-accurate construction techniques.

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Two years ago I was awarded a grant by the Department of History at the University of Sydney to make, using historically accurate materials and sewing techniques, some of the items that my research examines – an Elizabethan bodie (corset) from around 1603, a mid-seventeenth century bodie and two styles of farthingale (structured underskirts) – in order to learn not only about the historical production process, but also to interpret the often polemical and sometimes outrageous sources that often describe early modern women and their dress. We may never know exactly how a sixteenth or seventeenth-century woman felt when she wore these items, nor am I suggesting that we can use reconstructions accurately to recapture bodily experiences from the past; it would be anachronistic to place these garments on a modern body unburdened by years of wearing restrictive clothing to see how “we” would feel wearing them, as historical notions of comfort and other sensory experiences vary widely. However, faithfully recreating these garments allows modern historians to not only understand historical methods of construction, but also to gain a more nuanced view of surviving historical records.

My four reconstructions took about one and a half years (of non-continuous hand sewing) to complete. All of these garments utilised period-accurate materials that were found in surviving wardrobe warrants and tailoring bills such as silk taffeta, linen, silk thread, and wool. As whalebone (‘baleen’) is, for good reason, not available anymore I decided to use a modern plastic alternative that mimics baleen’s properties such as its strength and flexibility.

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The two ‘bodies’ were made to the exact size and dimensions as the original surviving examples, with the same sewing techniques employed in the originals to make the reproductions. Unlike the bodies, accessing an original or observation based pattern of either a French farthingale roll and French wheel farthingale was impossible as no examples of either style have survived anywhere in Europe. Instead, my reconstruction of these ephemeral garments was much more experimental and relied on archival material, visual images, as well as my own understanding of seventeenth-century construction techniques.

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The process of reconstructing these garments by hand has given me invaluable knowledge about not only how to construct early modern dress, but also how to analyse surviving objects in museum collections – a skill which some scholars of historical dress still lack. Most importantly for my research, however, is the fact that placing these reconstructions on models of different sizes and instructing them to sit down, bend over and walk has allowed me to assess the visible physical limitations that these garments placed on the modern female body and then apply those observations to my historical research. This is one of the main merits of historical reconstruction: it allows us to reconstruct lost objects of the past to examine often problematic surviving historical sources, whether it is in relation to sources on production, or the everyday social embodied acts of wearing. After all these items were real, and many women (and some men) spent their whole lives wearing different styles of various sizes and shapes, and so reconstructing them not only allows the historian to become closer to the sources of the period, but also to people and their real and lived experiences of these items.

If you would like to read in more detail about the step-by-step process of making my reconstructions please visit my
own blog.

Dr. Sophie Loy-Wilson’s new book, Australians in Shanghai recently featured in an ABC news story, and/or listen to the podcast on the Earshot program produced by Sophie and Tamson Pietsch.

Professor Mark McKenna's book From the Edge: Australia's Lost Histories has been reviewed in the SMH, ABR, Saturday Paper, Adelaide Advertiser, Telegraph, and the Monthly. Between October and December 2016, he did over 20 radio interviews (WA, SA, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, NSW, Northern Territory) about the book, and Radio National’s Earshot is broadcasting and podcasting a half hour documentary based on the book.

Professor Glenda Sluga's co-edited volume has just been published entitled Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History which the Chronicle succinctly describes as a collection of essays on internationalism as an idea and institutional phenomenon espoused by groups across the political spectrum.

Dr Marco Duranti was recently interviewed by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live (Radio National) about his recently released book The Conservative Human Rights Revolution. Marco has also published a commentary in The Conversation UK on how The Conservative Human Rights Revolution informs the controversy in Britain surrounding Theresa May’s calls for the UK to exit the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The book was also reviewed in Lawfare, where legal scholar Ed Bates concluded, “Duranti’s book is highly recommended....it should influence debates on how the ECHR is seen today.” And, in an unexpected twist, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange provoked a robust discussion on the book’s argument when he tweeted about the book.

For some other reviews of new books by members of the department, see: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2017/05/new_reviews_for_our_latest_pub.html

Dr Miranda Johnson discusses indigeneity and the sacred and what it means when a river is legally declared a person on the Social Science Research Council blog called The Immanent Frame, which publishes short invited essays about secularism and politics. Her creative and innovative teaching around The Pitcairn Project was also recently featured in Sydney University news.

Dr Chin Jou contributed an essay on historical precedents for protesting Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ for The Huffington Post, and also was a featured author in the Princeton Alumni Weekly

PhD candidate Marama Whyte recently published an article in History Today on women of the American press and their fight for equality in the 1960s and 1970s.

PhD candidate Sarah Bendall published a piece on using material culture to examine notions of gender in the early modern English world on the Journal for the History of Ideas blog.

PhD candidate Billy Griffiths recently contributed a piece to The Conversation on western Arnhem Land and the important work of Indigenous Rangers in caring for country and telling it’s stories to raise awareness of environmental threats to their land.

MA candidate Chris Maxworthy featured on ABC Radio Drive talking about the early Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres, and how the strait that bears his name between Cape York and New Guinea was 'plagiariased' by James Cook in 1770.

Professor Dirk Moses was interviewed by the Turkish Platform for Independent Journalism, platform24.org on freedom of the press and genocide denial. He wrote about the Australian press and its treatment of European affairs for the ABC Religion and Ethicssite, and on the historical categorisation of Donald Trump in the Washington Post.

Associate Professor Michael A. McDonnell was interviewed about enlistments in the Revolutionary War for the US public radio program and podcast BackStory. He also recently featured in a podcast on “The History of History Writing” for the popular Ben Franklin’s World in the US, and served as an NEH Visiting Scholar at a Summer Institute at the Library of Congress on the topic of "On Native Grounds."

Dr. Frances Clarke was interviewed by ABC’s Nightlife on April 9 2017 on the end of America’s Civil War, and recently wrote a blog post for the Australian Women’s History Network

Professor Glenda Sluga posted an article on the recent concern about the demise of the existing international order on E-International Relations, which was also published in German in the May edition of the German magazine Merkur, as part of her GeschichtesKolumn series. She also blogged on women in the long history of humanitarianism for the Australian Women’s History Network

Professor Mark McKenna took part in three events at the Sydney Writers Festival, appeared at the Writer’s Festival, South Coast, NSW in April, was interviewed by BBC and AAP Reuters regarding Uluru Statement on May 26, and contributed an article to the Conversation on ANZAC day and republicanism. He also published a major essay on Australian political biography in the Monthly in April, and was Interviewed on RN Late Night Live.
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In July, I head off to do archival research at the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) in Paris. The site is currently undergoing a large-scale renovation (although, thankfully, it doesn't look like it will interfere with my work there). Archival spaces like the BNF are second homes for historians and other researchers, so I thought it's a good opportunity to show one of France's great archival institutions undergoing renovation.

Built in the nineteenth century, the Richelieu Library is the 'historical cradle' of the BNF, before a new centre was built on the Seine banks under the Mitterand Government in the 1980s (hence, the François Mitterand Library). Today, it houses the BNF's special collections: performing arts, maps and plans, prints and photographs, manuscripts, coins, medals and antiquities.

The Richelieu Library is pretty spectucular. It's everything we imagine a grand library to be, from massive, book-lined walls to the banker lamps on the desks. From 2009/2010, it's been going through an equally spectacular staged renovation that is due for completion in 2020.

In December last year, one of the key stages was complete. The Labrouste Reading Room (pictured below) and Manuscript Room were completed as part of this stage.

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I believe work has started on the equally impressive Oval Room (pictured below).


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Source of above photo: Photographer Guillaume Dutreix (@guillaume_dx) on Instagram.

You can watch a short video documentary (14mins) about the renovation project. It is in French, but you can get the idea.


You can discover more about the Richelieu renovation project here: http://www.bnf.fr/en/bnf/renovation_work_richelieu.html


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