Category Archives: Pasts in the Present

Report on AHRC/LABEX Franco-British Research Workshop 1

Northcott 1Fondation Royaumont, Val d’Oise, France 16-17 January 2015

By Michael Northcott, m.northcott@ed.ac.uk

A Franco-British Research Workshop of grant holders from the AHRC’s Care for the Future grant call and LABEX’s (Laboratory of Excellence) grant call ‘Les passes dans le present: histoire, patrimoine, memoire’ was held at the former Cistercian Abbey of Royaumont 20 miles north of Paris in January 2015. The Abbey was built in the thirteenth century and patronised by Louis XIV. It is situated in a large walled enclosure of gardens, water features and stone buildings. Over the centuries the monks instituted some remarkable hydrological features. The abbey is situated between two lakes on raised ground Northcott labex 2and water from one lake flows through the Abbey grounds and buildings and out to the other lake, Along the way it was stone and sand filtered for drinking water, its flow was used for a mill, while separate channels combined with settlement pools and small weirs were used to separate and cleanse waste water. The resultant water use and supply was very advanced for its era while at the same time the channelling of water around the site considerably enhances the beauty of the buildings and grounds. I was reminded of the similar use of water in the Alhambra at Grenada and indeed the Abbey is an interesting example of Islamic influence on French ecclesiastical aesthetics. This influence is acknowledged in the commentaries provided by the Royaumont Foundation – who are the present owners of the Abbey – on the gardens in which it is pointed out that until 1100 monastic gardens were working gardens providing foodstuffs, herbal medicines and beverage related plants to the monasteries. Northcott labex 3But under Islamic influence the uses of gardens as places of contemplation, and for aesthetic appreciation, became more prominent and vestiges of this turn can be seen income of the restored gardens at Royaumont. The Abbey also had managed woodlands for fuel which can still be seen to the North of the present site.

The title of the workshop was ‘Delving back into the past to look into the present and future’ and the main aim was to explore interconnections between the AHRC Care for the Future and LABEX Pasts in the Present research calls. Both grant themes sponsor modes of representation of the past from interdisciplinary perspectives. A number of the presentations raised issues relevant to the AHRC Environment and Sustainability theme, and I will just highlight these. A fuller Northcott labex 4discussion of presentations is available in the blog by Lucy Veale athttp://careforthefuture.exeter.ac.uk/blog Sophie Richter-Devro, from the University of Exeter, in her presentation on her research into the oral history of Bedouin women in Palestine highlighted the difficulties of writing or documenting flexible, ever changing oral traditions, and the dangers of ‘freezing’ narratives and communities. Paulo Jedlowski, from the University of Calabria, in a philosophical presentation on ‘Memories of the Future’ drew on the work of Koselleck in examining portrayals of ‘future presents’ and ‘present futures’, for example in science fiction novels and films, and discussed how such past imagined futures might underwrite intergenerational connections. Intergenerational connections were also addressed by Richard Haynes, from the University of Stirling, whose presentation on sports heritage in Glasgow demonstrated the use of archival research, geo-referencing and mapping activities with school children to engage with communities across generations. The presentation of Carry van Lieshout from the University of Nottingham on the ‘The Power and the Water’ project linked historical with contemporary research around water management, access and the environment, and revealed conflicts and solutions of the past that may be useful today. Lucy Veale of the University of Nottingham gave a presentation on the Extreme weather project in which she highlighted the importance of archive, datasets, memory and narrative in framing present-day responses to extreme weather. Northcott labex 5Religious understandings of temporality, and specifically deep time, was tackled by Michael Northcott, of the University of Edinburgh, who described the way geological time – as invented by James Hutton and Charles Lyell -displaced human intergenerational history from earth or natural history, a displacement that the new geological epoch of the Anthropocene reverses in ways that are generative of cultural imaginaries of climate change and species extinction. A presentation by Carlos Lopez Galviz, School of Advanced Study, University of London, compared the nineteenth century development of the urbanscapes of London and Paris, and the role of futuristic imaginaries in their respective shaping. In a helpful summative comment Andrew Thompson observed the importance of recognising the multiplicity of imagined todays, tomorrows and yesterdays in our respective projects.

Northcott labex 6The joint workshop was an excellent example of Franco-British cooperation and a new initiative for AHRC and LABEX. Andrew Thompson and director of the LABEX theme, Marie-Claire Lavabre, in their concluding remarks also indicated their clear and joint intention to launch a joint funding call between AHRC and LABEX for research projects involving collaboration between researchers from the Care for the Future theme and the LABEX ‘Les Passes dans le present’ theme.

 

Between cultural and natural heritage

marianna-dudleyby Dr Marianna Dudley, University of Bristol. Cross-posted from The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures blog

Between cultural and natural heritage

Dudley 1 chateau

“Fairytale castle”, chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Chenonceau is a chateau worthy of a fairytale princess. It has turrets and gardens and galleries – and a river running through it. Built between 1514 and 1522 on the site of an old mill, it became the home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II. Diane loved the chateau, and built the bridge over the river. On Henry’s death in 1559, his widow Catherine de Medici demanded that Diane exchange Chenonceau for her chateau Charmont. Catherine built the galleries upon Diane’s bridge, and ruled France as regent from the building. Renaissance intrigues, not fairytales, brought this building to life.

Foundation Royaumont, a former abbey. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Foundation Royaumont, a former abbey. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

I was in France following an AHRC-Labex Franco-British workshop, where Care for the Future project members were brought together with French Labex counterparts, to discover each other’s research and discuss possibilities for future collaboration. The 2-day workshop was held in a former abbey transformed into a cultural centre – the Royaumont Foundation – to the north of Paris, a stunning setting for the ‘Delving Back into the Past to Look into the Present’ workshop.

The workshop was the result of an initiative by Andrew Thompson, director of the Care for the Future programme for the AHRC in Britain, and Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes, director of Les Passés dans le présent (the Laboratoire d’excellence based at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Defense, France). The two funding schemes had such close themes – Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past, and The Past in the Present: History, Patrimony, Memory – as well as an emphasis on working with external heritage partners, and supporting early career researchers, that Andrew and Ghislaine have taken the opportunity to forge collaborative links between the two. Future funding will allow members of the two schemes to connect and apply for funding for joint research projects.

Carry van Lieshout and I were there to represent ‘The Power and the Water’, describe our research and be alert for potential links with French researchers present. My paper, ‘Between natural and cultural heritage, and human and natural archive’, discussed the importance of placing environments and natures at the heart of our understandings of heritage – as they have been historically, for example in the conservation movement in the UK and the global national park movement. It suggested that the language of heritage acquires new meaning when situated in a public sphere with many and multiple ties to place and nature – heritage breeds, heirloom vegetables, and keystone species are just some of the vocabulary used to add value to things by invoking heritage both cultural and natural. I suggested that, as historians and heritage professionals, we should be alert to the natural archive as a source and site for history, in addition to the cultural archive, and continue to place importance on landscapes, animals, ecosystems, natural cycles – and the histories and cultures they inform – in our discussions of heritage. In her paper ‘River or Ruin? Connecting Histories with Publics’, Carry explored how different valuations and understandings of an intermittent river and its heritage are playing out in the Peak district, and suggested that to widen our understanding (and expectations) of heritage-in-place to accommodate both natural and human interventions might allow contestations between past, present and future use to move forward.

Splendour of the interior of interior of Chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Splendour of the interior of interior of Chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

After an intense two days of workshopping, I took some time to see more of French heritage in situ. Thus, I ended up at Chateau Chenonceau on a bitterly cold January morning, fully absorbed in the Renaissance splendor of the house, from the kitchens down below to the roaring fires that brought life (and much-needed warmth) to bed chambers and sitting rooms. This was cultural heritage at its best.

But then, in the gallery exhibition, a quote from Marguerite Yourcenar stopped me in my tracks, and brought the natural heritage of the chateau, somewhat hidden beneath the weight of tapestries and brocades and copper pans, back to the fore:

Let’s look at it from a new perspective, leaving aside these very well-known figures, these silhouettes on the magic lantern of French history… let’s think about the countless generation of birds that have flocked around these walls, the skillful architecture of their nests, the royal genealogies of animals in the forests and their dens or their unadorned shelters, their hidden life, their almost always-tragic death, so often at the hands of man.

Take another step along the paths: let’s dream about the great race of trees, with different species taking over in succession, compared to whose age four or five hundred years means nothing.

Another step further on, far from any human concerns, here is the water in the river, water that is both older and newer than any other form, and which has for centuries washed the cast offs of history. Visiting old residences can lead us to see things in a rather unexpected way. (Sous bénéfice d’inventaire (1962)

Yourcenar, the French writer and first woman to be inducted into the Académie Française (in 1981), looked beyond the materiality of the chateau to connect its history with that of the surrounding lands and waters that supported it, and suffered for it.[1] Her words spoke to me as an encouragement for environmental historians to raise the profile of the natural archive, and as a reminder that we are far from the only ones to seek and value natural heritage alongside other manifestations of history. I look forward to the opportunities that the initiative between AHRC and Labex presents for us to connect with French scholars with similar convictions and research interests. Sincere thanks to Andrew, Ghislaine, and the AHRC/Labex staff for bringing us all together, and starting conversations that are sure to develop.

[1] ‘Becoming the Emperor: How Marguerite Yourcenar reinvented the past’, The New Yorker (February 14, 2005)

Delving back into the past to look into the present and future

by Dr Lucy Veale, University of Nottingham, cross-posted from the Weather Extremes project blog lucyveale

AHRC and LABEX – a new partnershipRoyaumont-1-420x210

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to represent the Weather Extremes team at a Franco-British Research Workshop organised by our funders AHRC, and LABEX (Laboratory of Excellence), a similar funder in France. The title of the workshop was ‘Delving back into the past to look into the present and future’ and the main aim was to explore connections between research funded under the AHRC’s Care for the Future theme and LABEX’s ‘Les passes dans le present: histoire, patrimoine, memoire.’ Both initiatives seek to explore representations of the past from multiple perspectives and disciplines, and have shared priorities and commitments. The programme from the event lists all of the talks and presenters but I thought I would use this blog post to summarise some of the research themes that were considered. If you attended please do add your thoughts or links to project websites etc, and please accept my apologies if I haven’t mentioned you in person.

Royaumont

The location for the 2-day workshop was the beautiful Royaumont Foundation, a former Cistercian abbey built between 1228 and 1235, located near Asnières-sur-Oise in Val-d’Oise, approximately 30 km north of Paris, France. The church of Royaumont (pictured below) was destroyed in 1792 when  the new owner of the Abbey, the Marquis of Travanet, used the stones to build workers’ quarters in the park after turning the Abbey into a cotton mill. At the beginning of the 20th century the Abbey was bought by the Goüin family, who established the Royaumont Foundation in 1964. The impressively restored Abbey is now a venue for a wide variety of cultural activities, particularly summer concerts, and events like the one I attended!

Franco-British conversationsRoyaumont-2-169x300

The first speakers drew on personal research experience to review the challenges and opportunities of working on Franco-British projects. Franck Collard spoke on assembling teams, and the requirements to acknowledge different ways of thinking about history. Herve Inglebert highlighted the problems of finding a genuinely shared approach, and the importance of taking seriously the different contexts and backgrounds that people have, the language(s) of publication, and translation requirements. Jacob Dahl and Bertrand Lafont drew on examples of historical French and British archaeologists of Mesopotamia to demonstrate how  rivalry between the two nations contributed to success. Berny Sebe also identified similar figures in the two countries, this time in relation to processes of decolonisation, and the new ways that imperial heroes are being used, and given a new lease of life in the former colonies. Jacob and Bertrand’s Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative raised some issues relating to our database of extreme weather, relating to access and digitisation, the use of specialised language, the loss of knowledge in information, and demonstrated how their publications hyperlink back to the source materials, maintaining that important connection. Later speakers also highlighted the changing needs and nature of research in the digital age, and the role of building datasets to answer new questions also came up in the final discussion. Jacob and Bertrand also spoke briefly about their investigations into the modern history of some of these ancient artefacts and the impact on understanding. Some of the documents that we’ve consulted I’m sure have been taken on interesting journeys before ending up in the archive, and it would be interesting to explore more, as well as considering the uses to which they have been put within the archive. Sophie Richter-Devro ‘s paper highlighted the difficulties of writing or documenting the flexible, ever changing oral traditions of the Naqab Bedouin women, and the dangers of ‘freezing’ narratives and communities. Our records of extreme weather have also inevitably lost something of the multi-sensory experience of weather in being written down, but some nevertheless retain genuine emotion. Paulo Jedlowski helpfully drew on the work of Koselleck in discussing ‘future presents’ and ‘present futures’, memories of the future, and imagined futures of the past that might be used to link generations. Our project title uses a Koselleck quotation ‘Spaces of Experience and Horizons of Expectation’ so Paulo’s talk inevitably got me thinking in more detail about what predictions, visions, or imaginations of the future, particularly future weather, our archival accounts contain…

The remainder of the talks detailed projects funded by AHRC or LABEX. I sadly wasn’t able to attend them all as they were structured in parallel sessions so can’t name all of the speakers but will draw out a few points of interest. Charlotta Hillerdal detailed the tricky terminology of archaeology (nunalleq.wordpress.com), whilst traceology on stone tools as revealed under the microscope was discussed by Isabelle Sidera. We are definitely dealing with traces that are left behind in relation to extreme weather events. Sarah Gensburger focussed on memory as a public issue, tracing memory policy in relation to specific organisations and political parties, whilst Arman Sarvarian considered apologies by the state, specifically their timing and language. Marianne Cojannot-Leblanc and Emmanuel Chateau demonstrated the importance of considering future uses of the digital resources in order to ensure future usage and to meet future need, with reference to the Paris Guides. Memory, and specifically intergenerational memory, was the subject of Richard Haynes’ project on sports heritage in Glasgow which successfully used archives, alongside geo-referencing and mapping activities with school children, to engage with communities across generations. Richard’s talk for me, also highlighted the important role that individual biographies and life stories can play in these historical projects – discovering more about the authors of our weather narratives definitely brings the stories to life, and other speakers brought up the possibility of place or building biographies. Another link was that sport, like weather, is something that most people have something to say about! Carry van Lieshout of ‘The Power and the Water’ project detailed the contribution that a historical study could make to contemporary issues around water management, access and the environment, showing conflicts and solutions of the past that may be useful today. Similarly we hope that be exploring perceptions of extreme weather in the past, and time and place specific vulnerabilities, that we could perhaps better understand contemporary impacts of and reactions to extreme weather, addressing themes like resilience and risk. In summing up the first day Andrew Thompson emphasised the multiplicity of todays, tomorrows and yesterdays that are possible. We have already found that our weather data is very messy, offering multiple narratives.

Jean Allain looked at anti-slavery of the past and present, emphasising the importance of definitions, and historical lessons to link the rich past to the present in order to shape the future. Baptiste Buob’s main concern in his film-making was representing the artisan – a violin maker – the influence that the presence of the film maker has, and also the invisible public. During the talk I remember thinking that I  could have watched much more of the fascinating film and fortunately it’s available here: https://vimeo.com/22691598. Religious understandings of temporality, and specifically deep time, were tackled by Michael Northcott, and I really liked that he drew on figures like James Hutton and Charles Lyell in setting up his consideration of ‘deep time’. There are more parallels here with our weather narratives, and the often complicated interplay of religious and scientific understandings of particular events. Carl Lavery took us to Hashima Island in Japan, once the base for Mitsibushi and the most densely populated place in the world, closed and abandoned in 1974 as coal gave way to petroleum. Carl detailed a variety of strategies for soliciting memory, particularly ‘thinking like a ruin’. Carlos Lopez Galviz detailed a comparative history of London and Paris, considering the envisioning of the futures of both cities in the nineteenth century, and the paths not taken. Finally the insight that Sandra Kemp offered into the Royal Society soirees was fascinating, particularly the representations of the future that are emerging from the archive, the new inventions and ideas that were showcased at these multisensory events that offered equal promise for science and the arts – again a theme that I think our weather narratives speak too.

 

Royaumont Foundation

This partnership activity was a new initiative for AHRC and LABEX, but a successful and informative one, in a very pleasant location with lovely people and delicious food! As a team we look forward to exploring avenues for research within the partnership. We’d be very pleased to hear more from any of the other project teams that attended the event that can identify links with the work we’ve been doing, or from other research teams exploring extreme weather in France.