Arrivals – Sunday 26th July
Nous sommes arrives!
After an uneventful Eurostar trip (less than two hours from Ashford International to Paris’s Gare du Nord station), the twenty-nine students and staff of the School of History’s first Summer School arrived in the capital of Europe.
We were welcomed by traditional British weather, which somewhat put a damper on our walking tour of the usually-wonderful Jardins du Luxembourg:
Thoroughly soaked, we had a reprieve from the weather at the Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop, an enclave of British literature on the banks of the River Seine, before heading across the river to see Notre Dame and the Memorial of the Deportation.
Thus arrived, we looked ahead to a week of special sessions on French and European history, stretching from the French Resistance in the Second World War to the medieval art on display in the Saint-Chapelle, and visits to museums and sites such as the French National Army Museum, the Louvre, and the aforementioned Saint-Chapelle.
Day 1 – Monday 27th July
After an evening exploring the restaurants and cafés of Montparnasse, students and staff arrived at Reid Hall raring to go, and the History Summer School begun in earnest.
After a short introduction from Prof. Ulf Schmidt, the School’s Director of Internationalisation, the day began with Dr Juliette Pattinson discussing the activities and image of the French Resistance during the Second World War.
We went from one lively session to another, as Prof. Schmidt led a discussion on France and the Holocaust. It was an engaging and informative ninety minutes, as Prof. Schmidt and the students discussed and challenged some of the assumptions that surround so emotive a subject.
After lunch (a rather nice selection of baguettes and desserts from a local patisserie), we headed up to the Musée de l’Armée at the famous Les Invalides. For some, the impressive and well-presented array of exhibitions in the museum, covering France’s martial history from the thirteenth century up to the First and Second World Wars, were overshadowed by the enormous Dôme des Invalides, which houses the tomb of Napoleon I.
With their respects paid to the Emperor of France, everyone went their separate ways, taking advantage of the long summer evening to head off and explore the sights of Paris. A thoroughly good way to start the Summer School proper!
Day 2 – Tuesday 28th July
Thoroughly into the swing of the Summer School, we headed into the second teaching day of the Summer School. It should be noted that the programme of sessions for the week took a slightly unusual approach, in that we began in the twentieth century and steadily worked our way back in time.
Thus, Dr Ambrogio Caiani spoke about the development and changing relationships of the French aristocracy and nobility in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and their relationships with the different honours systems of France. Prof. David Welch followed with an engaging talk comparing the images and edifices commemorating the lives, deaths and achievements of Admiral Lord Nelson and Emperor Napoleon.
These two talks complemented one another nicely, and ensured that we were all in a symbolic mindset for the visit in the afternoon to the Musée de la Légion d’Honneur. The formal home of the French Order of the Legion of Honour, it houses an incredible collection of awards and medals of chivalric orders from across the world.
Day 3 – Wednesday 29th July
The third day of the Summer School picked up from the day before, as we gathered beneath the Column de Vendome (unfortunately boarded up for restoration work) to continue our consideration of imagery and pageantry of Napoleonic France. From there, we headed through the spectacular Tuileries Gardens, to two of Paris’ most impressive treasures.
Neatly skipping the queue (a tip for anyone who is planning to visit Paris – just about every museum admits EU citizens under the age of 26 if you show a passport, and this will also often allow you to jump what might otherwise be a daunting queue), we headed to the nineteenth century wing of the museum, to view a number of the most important and, from the perspective of a historian, useful images of Napoleon.
Following an opportunity to look around the Louvre for ourselves (the crowd at the Mona Lisa is exactly as large as you have heard), we headed back to Reid Hall for lunch, and Dr Julie Anderson’s session on the trade of ‘freaks’ amongst the European nobility in the sixteenth century.
To wrap up the day, a number of Dr Anderson’s PhD students spoke about the various opportunities, challenges of postgraduate study, including studying out at Reid Hall itself for a term as part of the School’s MA in Modern History at Paris (see our website for more information on all the postgraduate study options available with the School).
Day 4 – Thursday 30th July
The final day of formal teaching at the Summer School was run by two of the School’s new members of staff, Dr Amy Blakeway and Dr Emily Guerry. Dr Blakeway’s specialism is sixteenth century British political history, and students were treated to an engaging examination of the ‘auld alliance and the ‘auld enemy – the complex relationship between England, Scotland, and France during the Renaissance.
Dr Guerry’s talk took us back to the late medieval period, with a fascinating overview of art history from the Romanesque to the Gothic art styles. Dr Guerry’s talk set up our afternoon visit to Saint-Chapelle, Louis IX’s private chapel on the Île de la Cité.
As astonishing as Saint-Chapelle was, it interestingly tied into a theme raised by Dr Caiani and Prof. Welch earlier in the week – buildings and artwork as political statements. Saint-Chapelle was built by Louis XI to house Jesus’ crown of thrones, along with other Christian relics. The statement, as Dr Guerry explained, is clear – Louis XI wanted Paris, and particularly the Saint-Chapelle, to be the centre of Christendom in Europe.
As this was our final night in Paris, all the staff and students of the Summer School gathered in the evening at a restaurant near Reid Hall to enjoy a fine meal, and one or two fine glasses of wine.
Final Day – Friday 31st July
The final day of the Summer School was a relaxed affair, as we headed a little way outside the city for a trip to the Palace of Versailles, and its vast, stunning gardens.
It was a day for relaxing, for wandering the halls of French royalty, and, for some, trying their hand at rowing on the Grand Canal.
But all good things must come to an end, as they say, and we trekked back to Reid Hall to collect our luggage, and make our way to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar home.
It was an excellent trip, and a wonderful way to spend a week in the summer. Everyone appeared to enjoy themselves, to learn a lot from the teaching sessions, and to take the opportunity to explore a fascinating city. I’m pleased to say that the School has decided to make the History Summer School in Paris an annual event, and information about next year’s trip will be circulated later in the year.