Posts Tagged ‘France’

After a long gestation period, I’ve finally published my very first article in my native tongue, Dutch. Many thanks for Floris Meens for his thorough editing. After 15 years abroad, I needed some help getting my grammar back up to par.

My contribution

Een tweestrijd om de tijd? Cultuurkritiek en beschavingsapologie in dialoog

(A Conflict over the Times? Cultural Critique and the Apology of Civilization in Dialogue)

considers the interaction between the discourses of decadence and progress. Building on French debates of the late eighteenth century as a case study, I argue for a new, dialogical understanding of discursive change. Focusing on the question of how positions crystallize and develop in interaction with each other opens new perspectives on polemics as a dynamics of discursive development.

The essay is published in the volume Ten strijde tegen het verval. Cultuurkritiek in diachroon en internationaal perspectief, which is available from Amsterdam University Press.

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I’m glad to announce that my article

Auftritt durch Austritt: Debattenboykotts als parlamentarische Praxis in Großbritannien und Frankreich (1797-1823)

[Performance by Means of Withdrawal: Debating Boycotts as a Parliamentary Practice in Britain and France (1797-1823)]

has been published in the 58th volume of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, a special issue under the title “Practising Democracy. Arenas, Processes and Ruptures of Political Participation in Western Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries”. At a workshop held in Berlin in November 2017 (Call for Papers, Program), the preliminary drafts of the contributions were discussed and prepared for the publication now available from J. W. Dietz Verlag.


My contribution asks under what circumstances the refusal to participate can itself become a mode of political practice.

Participation is often understood to be a fundamental value of democratic politics. But under some circumstances, the conditions of given opportunities to take part in political decision making processes are structured in ways that prohibit their de facto effectiveness. In such cases, political groups may choose to exit from established platforms and institutions in order to symbolically express their disapproval of the given situation.

Taking the example of oppositional groups’ parliamentary boycotts in the context of the changing systems of early parliamentarism, my contribution argues that the refusal to participate can itself be a forceful mode of democratic practice. Cases from the Irish, British and French parliaments shed light on the specific logic and political relevance of these boycotts in the historical context of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The volume’s introduction, written by Anja Kruke and Philipp Kufferath, may be found online here. The other contributinos are available in print.

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The latest issue of French History includes an article I wrote on the role of silence during the French Revolution, titled

Le silence du peuple: The Rhetoric of Silence during the French Revolution

French History, 31, Issue 4 (2017), p. 440–469.



In July 1789, a phrase was introduced into French political discourse that would quickly become a standing expression: le silence du peuple est la leçon des rois. Taking this political bon mot as a starting point, the article traces the uses of and responses to collective silences during the French Revolution. It is argued that silence cannot be reduced to just the lack of ‘voice’ indicating suppression or political impotence. Rather, it must be understood as a mode of political action with a rhetoric of its own. Sketching this rhetoric not only highlights the nature and functions of a mode of political communication too often disregarded. It also shows how the controversies surrounding these silences reflected some of the major political questions of the day, playing a key role in the renegotiations of the communicative spaces of politics set off by the Revolution.


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The recent issue of the Dutch journal De Negentiende Eeuw published my review of Henk te Veldes new study

Sprekende politiek: Redenaars en hun publiek in de parlementaire gouden eeuw

[Speaking Politics: Orators and their Audience in the Golden Age of Parliamentarism]


The book, which analyses the history of parliamentary rhetoric in Great Britain and France throughout the ‘long’ nineteenth century, comes highly recommened, both to scholars of the period and to a wider public.

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On April 6 to 7, I will participate in a conference organized by the History of Parliament research group in cooperation with Prof. Christopher Reid of Queen Mary University London.

The conference program may be found here.

My own paper, titled

“A Rhetoric of Silence: Silent Members in the July Monarchy Chamber of Deputies (1830-1848)”,

will be concerned with the rhetorical role of the silent members in the parliamentary debates of the July Monarchy. As I will argue, these silent members were anything but passive. Rather, they developed a complex rhetoric of their own, playing a significant role in the development of debates.



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The conference proceedings of a workshop I participated in two years ago have now been published under the title:

Denis Diderot und die Macht / Denis Diderot et le pouvoir

My own contribution considers Diderot’s discussion of power, sexuality and colonial rule in the Supplément au voyage de Bougainville and is titled

Stimmen der Natur. Diderot, Tahiti und der homme naturel

Voices of Nature. Diderot, Tahiti and the homme naturel

Summary (in German):

Im Supplément au voyage de Bougainville setzt sich Diderot am Beispiel Tahitis mit Fragen der Macht, der Sexualität und der Kolonialherrschaft auseinander. Der Text gilt als Paradebeispiel für die exotistische Verklärung eines fremden Naturvolkes als Kontrastbild zur Verkommenheit abendländischer Zivilisation. Und tatsächlich gibt es Stimmen im Text, die einer solchen Idealisierung und einem ‚Zurück zur Natur’ das Wort reden. Aber es gibt auch andere. Erst die Auflösung der Stimmenvielfalt des Textes zugunsten der Identifikation einer eindeutigen Grundaussage lässt bestimmte Äußerungen im Text als Elemente einer systematischen ‚Naturtheorie‘ Diderots erscheinen. Jedoch muss eine solche Lesart nicht nur eine konstitutive Ebene des Textes – seine multiperspektivische Form – außer Acht lassen, sie verstrickt sich auch auf inhaltlicher Ebene in Widersprüche. In diesem Beitrag wird versucht, die verschiedenen Positionen im Text in ihrem Zusammenhang zu betrachten. Aus diesem Blickwinkel zeigt sich, dass Diderot sich keineswegs als autoritatives Sprachrohr der Natur aufführt. Im Gegenteil. Indem er die Vielfalt der Stimmen, die sich auf die ‚natürliche’ Ordnung als Legitimitätsbasis ihrer jeweiligen Autorität beziehen, miteinander kontrastiert, zeigt er performativ, was es heißt, sich auf die Veränderlichkeit der Natur einzulassen, ohne den Anspruch zu erheben, sie ein für alle Mal festlegen zu können.

I’m very grateful to the volume’s editor, PD Dr. Isabelle Deflers and the team at the Frankreichzentrum (Center for French Studies) of Freiburg University for making this publication possible.

Edit: A digital file of the article has now been made available here.

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Summer break is coming to an end and soon the winter term will start again. As usual, I will be offering an intensive ‘Seminar’ course as well as a smaller ‘Übung’ or reading course.

The Fourth Estate: Press and Politics in Germany and France (1789-1914)

Whereas the constitutive role of the press in any well-functioning democracy stands beyond doubt today, at the same time its power in modern ‘mediocracies’ is often the target of criticism. The origins of this tension lie in the 19th century – when the press developed an unprecedented importance to political processes. In this seminar, these developments are traced from a comparative viewpoint, focusing on the French and German cases.

The Power of Language: Introduction to Historical Semantics

Since the emergence of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in the 1970s a variety of new theoretical and methodological approaches in the field of historiography have stressed the role of language not only as an indicator, but also as a factor in historical processes. This reading course offers an introduction to the different theoretical research models developped in this context as well as to their empirical results.

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This summer semester I will be teaching one master seminar and an exercise course on the reading of French sources. As usual, I have assembled a ‘pearltree’ for each of these courses with weblinks to the specific themes.

A History of Time – Changing Cultures of Temporality (ca. 1750-1850)
(Pearltree – websites on this topic)


Politeness – Sources on the History of Manners in France (ca. 1700-1850)
(Pearltree – websites on this topic)

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Since the general meeting of January 24th, I am officially an associated member of the Center for French Studies (Frankreichzentrum) of Freiburg University.

The Center was founded in 1989 as an autonomous interdisciplinary institution bundling the university’s  research and teaching with a focus on France. It offers master programs in  economics, journalism and intercultural studies and strives to intensify interdisciplinary cooperation between various fields – especially economics, law, French language, history and communication studies. Moreover, the center functions as a catalyst of German-French cultural exchange


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