A Historic Journey – St Andrews Undergraduates in Paris (MO4962)

This spring vacation, as part of a course on ‘France and its Empire in the Twentieth Century’ (MO4962)Dr Stephen Tyre led a group of undergraduate historians on a trip to Paris. Here, two of his students report on their eye-opening experience.

Paris1You can read a hundred books but as Isaac Asimov once drily observed, there is no education for a historian as challenging or fulfilling as actually walking the ground he or she studies. Paris is a post-colonial city, and for young historians of imperial history, in the midst a course focussing on France and its Empire, the opportunity to see the ethnically diverse and culturally vibrant metropolis that is modern Paris provided the capstone to our engagement with the topic.

Paris was enjoying the first throes of spring when, on our first day in Paris, we headed to the site of the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in the Bois de Vincennes. The old exhibition hall, formerly the home of the National Museum of African and Oceanic Art, has recently been renovated into the National Museum of Immigration. Its stunning Art Deco facade and allegorical murals, devoted to high imperialist themes and the mission civilisatrice, provide a striking contrast to the curated displays honouring France’s ethnically diverse present. With the sun shining brightly and the trees in blossom we continued through the park to the pavilion built to house the delegation from Togo and Cameroon in 1931, now home to France’s national Buddhist organisation.

Our next stop was the Paris Mosque, built in 1926 in the heart of the Left Bank. The orientalised architecture provided an unexpected if artificial escape into the imperial mindset of interwar France. Since we could not enter the mosque, we enjoyed mint tea in the courtyard. Those who had previously spent time in  Paris noted that the mosque felt distinctly un-Parisian. Only a few blocks away we found dinner outside the Pantheon and experienced the contrast between the exotic mosque and France’s shrine to its secular ideals.

Paris2On the second day we met outside the Invalides, lounged on the grass and discussed the issue of public memory and history. Our sceptical knowledge of de Gaulle was put to the test in a lavishly state-sponsored museum celebrating and even venerating the father of the Fifth Republic. The ugliness of colonialism, especially the issue of torture in the Algerian War of Independence was glossed over while France’s universalist ideals were exalted. We followed this disjunction between historical reality and public memory with a visit to the Algerian War memorial. The controversial memorial produced emotive responses from the class, as it seemed to express neither contrition for the dead Algerians, nor a willingness to acknowledge the sacrifice of French soldiers. This garish twenty-first century memorial, composed of digital names on columns, arguably lacked the permanence necessary to honour the tragedy of war.

Only a short distance away, the Musee du Quai Branly (Chirac’s €400 million presidential project) gathered the anthropological artefacts and world art previously scattered through the dusty museum basements of France to a single location honouring the artistic achievements of the non-Western world. Housed in a controversial Modernist structure, the staggering presentation disorients the visitor, using dim lighting and amorphous geographical boundaries to deliberately decontextualise the imperial plunder of France, instead of celebrating it for its aesthetic beauty. We finished off the trip with dinner at an Algerian cous cous restaurant—the culinary highlight of the trip and an immersive learning experience.

By Olympia Severis and Nat Pendleton.

Spotlight on Kate Ferris

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr Kate Ferris researches and teaches modern European history, with a particular focus on Italy and Spain from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century.  She came to the University of St Andrews in 2009, following a lectureship at the University of Durham and seven years of doctoral and postdoctoral work at University College London.  She also spent a year as a Marie Curie doctoral fellow at the Università Ca’Foscari in Venice where she spent most of her time holed up in the library on St Mark’s square, emerging periodically to enjoy the delights of Venice’s art and architecture, cicchetti and spritz.

Kate is principally a social and cultural historian whose research and publications to date fit into two main strands of interest.  The first stems from her interest in the sometimes gap between the intended intrusions of dictatorships into the everyday worlds of the people they ruled over and the realities of the ‘lived experience’ of these regimes.  Her recently-published book Everyday Life in Fascist Venice (Palgrave, 2012) explores  the Italian fascist regime’s efforts to infiltrate and dictate Venetians’ lives  from what they ate and wore to how they spent their free time, from how they celebrated personal and city-wide festivities to how they moved about the city (gondola or motorboat – not a question most present-day visitors to Venice have the financial means to worry about…).  It then examines how these corresponded with the ‘lived experience’ or realities of fascism on the ground (or water), highlighting along the way some of the opportunities that Venetians were able to take to eke out some limited autonomy of action and choice in their everyday lives, despite the all-encompassing intentions of dictatorship.

Kate Ferris book coverThe second strand picks up the theme of the gap between intentions and realities but this time transplanted to nineteenth-century Spain and the process of ‘becoming modern’.  Here, she is interested in the processes by which latenineteenth-century Spaniards thought transnationally about modernity.  She has published journal articles and chapters in edited collections on this theme and spent summer 2013 writing a book which looks at how a group of ‘self-consciously modern’ Spaniards in the late nineteenth century imagined the USA as the epitome (and sometimes anti-model) of modernity and in turn tried to imagine themselves as citizens of a modern Spain.


Kate is happy that her research requires her to spend extended amounts of time in places like Venice, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona and Seville but wholeheartedly refutes the suggestion – made by some colleagues and friends – that her research choices have been guided principally by the offerings of the local culture and climate.  She has not made things easier for herself in this respect by opting to focus her next research project on the production and consumption of alcohol in fascist Italy.  She also has plans to write a comparative history of everyday life under dictatorship in Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain and a transnational history of anti-fascism in mid-20th century Europe.  She’s looking forward to dragging her young daughter around the cultural and archival capitals of Western Europe as she carries out the research for these projects.Kate Ferris venice

Kate teaches on modules at all levels of undergraduate and postgraduate study.  She offers honours modules which relate closely to her research interests, including MO3423 Everyday Life in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union and Franco’s Spain, MO3328 Making Italians: region, nation and empire in Italy from unification to fascism, a special subject (MO4939) on Civil War and Dictatorship in Spain and, a new offering for next year, MO3336 Mediterranean Colonialism (co-taught with Dr Stephen Tyre).  For more on Kate, please see her staff page on the School of History website.

Spotlight on Stephen Tyre

Stephen Tyre Dr Stephen Tyre came to St Andrews in 2002. He did his undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh and a Masters degree at the LSE, before returning to Edinburgh for his PhD after a spell in France teaching at the universities of Rouen and Paris. His research interests focus on modern imperial and French history: since completing his PhD his research has mainly examined the crises that accompanied French decolonisation in Algeria, as well as the lasting effects of the Algerian conflict and debates about the colonial past in France.


French AlgeriaStephen is now working on a project entitled French Imperial Futures 1945-1962, which will examine the attempts to revive, promote, and ensure the permanence of overseas imperialism in an era that is more commonly thought of as one of European retreat from empire. Research for this project takes Stephen to the French colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence as well as several tropical sites in former colonies. He finds that these arduous trips elicit little sympathy from friends and colleagues. He’s also active in the school’s Centre for French History and Culture, of which he will be Director from this summer.

1931 colonial exhibitionStephen teaches at all levels in the school. He offers honours modules on The French Civil Wars of the Twentieth Century, French Algeria, Postcolonial Europe and, with Kate Ferris, Mediterranean Colonialism, and a special subject entitled France and its Empire in the Twentieth Century. Last year, he enjoyed spending some time in Paris with his special subject students on a tour which offered an insight into colonial and post-colonial Paris, visiting the site of the 1931 colonial exhibition, the new and somewhat controversial museums of immigration and of non-western arts, and of course a couple of establishments in off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods serving cuisine from the former colonies. He also coordinates the ID4002 module which offers students the chance to gain experience teaching History in a local school during the first semester of their final year. Beyond St Andrews, he has recently been appointed as representative of the Scottish universities on the Higher Education Academy’s History Forum which aims to support the teaching of history in universities and influence policy and practice in relation to history in higher education.

Undergratuate Research Internship (URIP) awarded to third-year honours student Olympia Severis

Olympia SeverisThe School of History is delighted to congratulate our second undergraduate student to be awarded a Undergratuate Research Internship (URIP) for summer 2013. Olympia Severis, a third year student on the History degree programme, will undertake a ten-week research project on ‘A Reinterpretation of Jacques Soustelle‘. This project will be supervised by Dr Stephen Tyre.

Olympia writes:

“Last semester I took a module on twentieth-century France and was especially interested in the decolonization of Algeria. Upon reading Dr Tyre’s work on Jacques Soustelle, the Governor-General of Algeria in the mid-1950s, I was surprised to hear that there was very little research on Soustelle and his work during the decolonization crisis. I think that Soustelle is a fascinating example of an intellectual in politics engaging in liberal imperialism and look forward to researching this topic for ten weeks over the summer.  My project seeks to explore Soustelle’s policy of integration and its social, legal, and political implications. This policy was extremely ahead of its time as it aimed to incorporate Algerian-Muslim identity into a French identity allowing for equality and tolerance. I also wish to explore the public’s reaction to this policy through an analysis of the media’s reaction. Spending time in the French National Archives will be a great opportunity to work with primary sources in French, which I’ve never been able to do before. I hope that this analysis will aid my understanding of the broader process of decolonization especially as this relates to my upbringing in Cyprus, a country which also went through a war of independence.”

Olympia joins fellow third-year honours student Hazel Blair and sub-honours student Alasdair Grant in continuing the successes of undergraduates in the School of History in gaining the coveted and highly-competitive University Research Internships.