Posts Tagged ‘Silence’

Den 24sten [1785]. Heute schrieb ich an meine Freunde in Teutschland und Bourdeaux und eilte dann Nachmittags zu Herrn Bachmann, um den Einzug der Königinn nicht zu versäumen […]. Es waren in allem 20 Kutschen, jede mit 8 Pferden bespannt. […] Aber kaum hatte ich in mir diese Bemerkungen gemacht, so beobachtete ich an Männern und Frauen auf dem Balcon neben mir eine Art Staunen in ihren Blicken auf einander, und endlich ein leises Fragen: Was ist das? alle Strasen voll Menschen, und niemand ruft: Vive la Reine! Die todte Stille war auffallend im Vergleich des Rufens beym Einzug des Königs. Ein Mann von vielem Geist sagte mir: Sie sehen einen Zug des Volks, welches den Muth hat, sein Misvergnügen zu zeigen. Es trägt Lasten, aber es kriecht nicht, wie die Grosen: Man hat etwas gegen die Königinn, und zeigt ihr, daß man nur der Pracht des Zuges zu liebe kam, nicht für ihre Person. Die Verbindung des Vergnügens der Neugierde und das Schweigen des Widerwillens in so viel tausend Menschen, wie abgeredet, dünkte mich traurig; ich wünschte nicht heute Königinn zu seyn.

[Sophie von La Roche]: Journal einer Reise durch Frankreich, Altenburg 1787, p. 369-371.

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Lady Kinnaird was in the boulevards the day Napoleon entered. Several carriages came in, but no Emperor; then came his regiments crying, “Vive l’Empereur” – not a word from any one. They tried “Vive Buonaparte“; still silence. Then Lady Kinnaird says the dragoons galloped into the people, and, holding out their pistols, cried, “Donc vive l’Empereur“; yet not a word was said. The shops and windows were shut; not a genteel person showed herself – none but the bas people; no waving of handkerchiefs.

John Cam Hobhouse, Baron Broughton: Recollections of a Long Life. With Additional Extracts from His Private Diaries, ed. by Charlotte Carleton, Baroness Dorchester, vol. 1, London 1910, p. 247 [diary entry of April 13, 1815].

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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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Gandhi works more effectively upon the country when he is silent than when he talks, when he is out of the Congress than when he is in. People may have forgotten the fact that at Cawnpore in the year 1925, he took a vow of political silence which he broke at Gauhati in December 1926. But to him such periods of silence, physical or political, are periods of incubation when huge plans mature in his mind and are, after full gestation, given birth to as well-thought-out programmes and formulae. One such long interval was the period between the Cawnpore Session (1925) and the Calcutta Session of 1928 which were followed by the Lahore (1929) challenge on the ticket of complete Independence. Gandhi resists his own following and tries their mettle as much as he does his opponents.

B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya: Gandhi in His Many Aspects, in: Mahatma Gandhi. Essays & Recollections, Mumbai 1998, p. 220.

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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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Taking a short break from my research in the London archives and the British Library and the many interesting workshops at the German Historical Institute, I am returning to Germany for a short visit to present my research at the

Colloquium of the Chair of Modern and Contemporary History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (Prof. Dr. Thomas Etzemüller, substituting for Prof. Dr. Margit Szöllösi-Janze) on November 12th

as well as at a workshop of the

Arbeitskreis Geschichte und Theorie in Berlin on November 14th.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to discuss my project in these very different contexts.


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From October 2014 to March 2015, I will be a fellow at the German Historical Institute London with a grant funded by the Max Weber Stiftung. Besides finishing the archival research for my research project about the uses of silence in nineteenth-century political communication, I will have to opportunity to start the writing process of my ‘habilitation’.





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