Colin Jones is the Principal Investigator on the Elbeuf project. Fellow of the British Academy, he is Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London and Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. He is the author of many books and articles on French history, particularly on the eighteenth century and the French Revolution. He writes:
I discovered the Elbeuf letters quite by chance when working through police records in France’s National Archives in Paris looking for something else. The densely-written pages and the quite appalling handwriting stimulated me to look more closely – and to find a rare and almost entirely unknown archival gem. One of the things that puzzled me then and which I hope to clarify in the course of the research is how someone with her aristocratic credentials and unashamedly counter-revolutionary views managed to maintain a running commentary on the Revolution even at the height of the Terror, when her home was only a few hundred yards from the offices of the Committees of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security. What does this reveal about the character and the limits of policing and repression and the transmission of news and rumour in Revolutionary Paris – and the continued scope for freedom of opinion?
Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley is Senior Lecturer in European History at the University of Exeter, and he is the Co-Investigator on this project. He is the author of a number of articles on the French Revolution, and is currently finishing a book on revolutionary justice during the French Terror of 1793-1794. He writes:
I am looking forward to combining forces with two fellow historians of the French Revolution on a truly cooperative research project, and to the challenge of converting a delicate (and somewhat illegible!) manuscript source written more than two hundred years ago into a modern scholarly edition. I am intrigued to see how following events through the eyes of the duchess of Elbeuf will cast fresh light on familiar events and provide new avenues of inquiry for important topics within my field, such as counter-revolution, gender and the dynamics of hope, fear and violence present in the everyday lived experience of revolution. I will be running the Project Blog so I am also excited about promoting this project and sparking interest in other people (in particular, anyone reading this from outside the academic bubble of university).
Simon Macdonald joined Queen Mary University of London as a Research Fellow in 2019, and he is the Postdoctoral Research Associate on this project. He previously held teaching and research positions at Université Paris-VIII, the Institut d’études avancées de Paris, and the European University Institute. Simon is a cultural and social historian whose research revolves around the French Revolution in international and transnational perspectives. He writes:
This project centres on a letter-book or diary written in revolutionary France by an elderly noblewoman, the duchess of Elbeuf, between 1788 and 1794. Hers is a lively and opinionated first-person record from revolutionary Paris. For a text like this to survive, continuing even into the time of the revolutionary Terror, is highly unusual. And it raises many interesting questions regarding both her diary’s contents and its contexts. How was the revolutionary upheaval recorded and critiqued in the duchess of Elbeuf’s account, and did the Revolution itself change the way she wrote? How was the production of such a text possible in the first place, despite the Terror? How did the manuscript come into the possession of the revolutionary authorities in 1794, and how did this relate to the revolutionary state’s larger efforts to police texts it deemed suspicious? In parallel to detailed study of the duchess of Elbeuf’s manuscript, this project will also be interested in looking beyond this document in isolation so as to seek out comparable cases of written material the revolutionary government adjudged dangerous. This will both help to understand the text at the centre of our project, and may itself throw up some more surprises.
The team is also working with a range of other individuals and institutions, which you can find out about via the Partners tab.