A weekly history podcast that will cover France from 3 million years ago to present. Presented by Gary Girod, with contributions by numerous scholars.
A weekly history podcast that will cover France from 3 million years ago to present. Presented by Gary Girod, with contributions by numerous scholars.
Intelligent Speech 2020 (audio only)
Intentional Wandering: How to find Hidden History
Hello everyone, this is Gary Girod from the French History Podcast. The theme of this year’s conference is Hidden Histories & I’m sure by now you’ve heard quite a bit about little-known historical stories. In the short time I have I want to explain how you can uncover the past and discover hidden history. If you’re a podcaster looking for an uncovered topic, a history major scrambling to pick a thesis or dissertation or just a history buff who wants to learn how you can go where no one else has gone, then this is the talk for you. I argue that we as historians can’t have too rigid a focus on a topic and instead we need to go down the rabbit hole, go off on every tangent and follow every loose thread because if we dive deeper into obscurity the stories that we find can be world-changing.
Most major events have already been thoroughly covered, and each has its own Wikipedia page. Modern historians have the task of uncovering unknown episodes of history or presenting a unique take on history. As historians there is almost no way to tell what topic will be ground-breaking. Two of the most famous examples are from Robert Darnton and Fernand Braudel.
Robert Darnton is an American historian of Revolutionary France. Darnton’s early career examined publishing on the eve of the French Revolution. After working at this for a while, Darnton realized that a lot of contraband literature entered France through publishers in Switzerland. For most historians the great Enlightenment thinkers were far more important and interesting than the publishers themselves, and so these were largely ignored. But when Darnton visited the archives in Switzerland he found stacks of scandalous materials by hack writers who were just as published as the great Enlightenment thinkers, if not more so. Darnton discovered that the entire literary corpus of pre-Revolutionary France wasn’t Voltaire, Rousseau and high-minded intellectuals. Instead, the average Parisian was reading what was essentially smut, that slandered the French aristocracy, gossiped about illicit affairs and other low-brow material which aimed to discredit the Ancien Régime. His discovery formed the basis of his book, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime, which is one of the all-time great books on Revolutionary France and is on every French history graduate student’s comps list. Darnton was researching the publishing process of 18th century writers and by going down this tangent he radically altered a century of historiography on the social history of the French Revolution.
The next person I want to talk about is Fernand Braudel, a French historian and arguably the greatest of the Annalistes, one of the most prestigious groups of historians ever. Braudel was in graduate school and looking for an interesting topic and supposedly told his advisor he was going to write a dissertation on Philip II of Spain and the Mediterranean world. His advisor then suggested that instead of writing about Philip and the Mediterranean world, why not write about the Mediterranean world and Philip. This suggestion led Braudel to write a three-volume magnum opus that is among the greatest works of historical inquiry of the 20th century.
As is the case with most great books, many historians have their own copy which collects dust on a shelf. If you haven’t read it, what makes it so incredible is that Braudel was writing a novel history, wherein he flipped the script on previous historiography. Most historians looked at human activity, either in the form of great individuals, the masses, institutions, organizations and nations. Braudel researched how the world impacted people and his findings were truly incredible. Some of the highlights were the difference in culture between valleys, hills and mountain towns. Braudel showed that places with
France in Occupied Berlin with Iain MacGregor
Gary: Hello, everyone. Quick reminder, June 27 at 145. I will be presenting a talk at the Intelligence Speech Conference 2020, which is all online this year. Tickets are online at their Web site. And you can listen to me and dozens of other top podcasters talking about hidden history. My talk is how you can find hidden history. How you can develop original ideas and discover things that no one else has discovered before. Whether you’re a podcaster looking for a new interesting episode, a history major looking for a thesis, dissertation or article topic, or whether you’re just a history buff that really wants to find something unique and original. Be sure to check it out.
Today’s special episode is an interview with noted author Iain MacGregor. As an editor and publisher of nonfiction, Iain has over 25 years experience working with authors such as Bruce Springsteen, Simon Schama, David Grann, Bob Woodward and Max Hastings, to name but a few. He is currently a publisher for the Hachette Publishing, one of France’s biggest media groups. A cycling fanatic, Iain is also the author of To Hell on a Bike Riding Paris Roubaix; The Toughest Race in Cycling. Today, we’re talking about his newest book, Checkpoint Charlie, The Cold War, the Berlin Wall and The Most Dangerous Place on Earth. Iain’s exhaustive work examines the daily life in Berlin from interviews with Berliners, allied soldiers and officers and members of the press. Since we are French history podcast, we are focusing on the French sector and how France administered the capital of its European rival. All while it was caught between two contentious superpowers. Additionally, we look at daily life in French controlled Berlin, which was anything but ordinary as some areas, notably Bonner Strause, where the most dangerous on earth. Please enjoy.
Thank you very much for sitting down with me Iain to discuss your new book, Checkpoint Charlie, The Cold War, The Berlin Wall and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth.
But before we actually jump into that, I couldn’t help but notice your previous book was about France. The book to Hell on a Bike Riding Paris, Roubaix, The Toughest Race in Cycling. Details a French race that is among the hardest bike races on Earth that even some people from the Tour de France will avoid. Care to tell us a little bit about the book?
MacGregor: Yeah, sure. Thank you. And thank you for having me on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Yes, well, I’m I’m actually, if I’m not taking up my passion for history, my my other passion, which I’ve had since I was a teenager writing for Cycling Club is obviously cycling. I’ve done lots of different routes and touring holidays. I’ve done a Tour de France (ATAP,) which was hell on earth, as it were. But nothing’s as bad as Roubaix. If you’re if you’re a cyclist that loves European cycling, you love Paris, Roubaix, and there’s no kind of ifs or buts. It is the oldest one day cycling race that still is on the calendar. And obviously it’s northern France going into Belgium. And the Flemish speaking areas is really hard core cycling at his best, in my opinion. So I’ve always, since I was a student, I’ve been fascinated, obsessed with Paris-Roubaix, always watched it every year. And I mean, for the pros, I mean, it’s just an incredible race. I mean, they obviously ride a far greater speed than us amateurs. But, is it roughly around for there for the pros is about 230, 240 kilometers of which fifty eight of those kilometers are on cobbles. And that’s what you have nowadays. There was more cobbles back in the day, especially before the first and second world wars, but with with the use of modern farming and things like that, lots of sections of the Pavé(4:59), as it’s called, have been lost. So I just wanted to rediscover it and do it in a kind of travelogue way and be ab
37 – The Medieval Transformation Part 2: The Birth and Spread of Monasteries
Episode 37: The Medieval Transformation Part 2: The Birth and Spread of Monasteries
During the first four centuries of Christianity’s history, believers were frequently tortured and killed. If they remained true to their beliefs they became martyrs. Martyrdom was the greatest spiritual act, and most early saints were martyrs, including Saint Peter and many of Christ’s Apostles. In the next few centuries the Romans and the Germanic invaders adopted Christianity, effectively ending martyrdom across the former Roman Empire. Those Christians who were persecuted for their beliefs were more often the Arians, Pelagians and other heretical sects. It is a supreme irony: Christianity’s ideal was the crucifixion of Jesus and the martyrdom of his faithful. From Nero to Caligula and beyond, Christian martyrs amazed their fellow Romans as they sang praises even while being tortured and killed, and led to the conversion of the empire. But by the early medieval period, Christianity was the state and majority religion and its holiest act, couldn’t be performed.
While most Christians celebrated not being fed to lions, zealots were disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to have their faith put to the ultimate test. These zealots inferred that they could live a martyr’s life through continual self-denial. Rather than being quickly killed, these men and women would sequester themselves from the world, reject earthly pleasure and material wealth, and engage in continual acts of piety, including prayer, praise and service. At the time there wasn’t a religious institution that addressed these religious compulsions, and so the very first people to remove themselves from society became the desert hermits of Egypt and the Levant in the third century. The most famous hermits attracted followers and developed their own communities, creating the first monasteries.
So, what is a monastery? It’s a question you probably think you know the answer to, but it’s also more complex than you think. From their beginning, Christian monasteries have had to balance two paradoxes: first, there is the paradox of solitude and community. Early faithful went to monasteries to escape from the sins in their hometowns and from the corruption in the established church. While monasteries are sequestered from the population at large, they are not isolated. Monks provided education for noble families’ children, they maintained shrines for pilgrims and their localities, they engaged with priests from the Catholic bishopric. Moreover, within the monastery time was usually divided between individual prayer and communal activity. From their earliest foundations to present, monasteries have struggled with how much they should separate from the corruption and sin of the greater world and how much interaction to have with it.
Connected to the first paradox is the second paradox: what should monasteries’ relation to the church be? In modern times, we tend to think of monasteries as one part of a religious hierarchy because they are currently very interconnected. One of the purposes and appeals of monasteries’ is to escape from corruption, which includes that of the church. Churches were invariably political and communal institutions as priests had to serve their communities. Many monks believed that in their attempt to serve the communities priests engaged in corruption and sinful practices. Yet, because monks were untainted by worldly corruption this meant they were, theoretically, the ideal spiritual leaders. As we shall see, some monasteries became training grounds for bishops. As monasteries engaged with the church they risked being sucked in to the same political and financial quandaries that they faced.
These two paradoxes defined monastical development as institutions, as cultural phenomena, and they defined much of the lives of the individual monks themsel
Louise Michel & the Radical Women of the 19th Century with Dr. Steve Shone
Louise Michel & the Radical Women of the 19th Century with Dr. Steve Shone
Gary: Today’s episode is an interview I conducted with Dr. Steve Shone on his new book, Women of Liberty. Dr. Shone received his Ph.D from the University of California, Riverside, in 1992. He has taught at a number of colleges, including Winona State University, Gonzaga University and the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.
He is the author of Lysander Spooner, American Anarchist and was a contributor to the Sage Handbook of Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery. His new book examines the lives and ideas of ten radical feminist and anarchist thinkers from around the world. This episode focuses on French anarchist Louise Michel, who lived an incredible life of protest and revolt. Born out of wedlock in a small village in 1830. She became a teacher and opened a school in Paris. She taught underprivileged children while participating in women’s rights groups and developing a philosophy of civil disobedience. She became a leader during the Paris Commune and advocated for women’s equality. After the commune was suppressed, she was exiled to New Caledonia for ten years. Upon returning to France in 1880, she traveled across Europe lecturing about anarchism and feminism. On one of her trips. She was shot by a disgruntled clown, yet still managed to finish her speech. She died in Marseilles in 1905, and her funeral was attended by perhaps tens of thousands of people, if not more. Michel influenced many feminists and anarchists around the world. Among them, Noe Ito, a Japanese feminist of the post Meiji Period. While this interview focuses on Michel and who she influenced as this is a French history podcast, the book includes nine other major women thinkers and activists, including Noe Ito, Rose Pasada, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Katie Stanton, Molly Steimer, Lewis Waysbroker, Mercy Otis Warren and Victoria C. Woodhull. Please enjoy.
Gary: So what inspired you to look at anarchist and radical women during this period?
Shone: Well, I think there’s a problem with political theory and political science in general that we don’t seem to take a look at feminist and political science research and we don’t take a look at anarchism either. And, you know, a lot of people think political theory is finished. So, it doesn’t fit well with the rest of political science. But part of the problem is when we teach the history of political theory, it’s called the old white guys from the US and the UK, from Greece and Rome. There is not really any attempt to look at different factors. So that’s the motivation. That was the motivation for, that was the inspiration for another book called American Anarchism. And, you know, the I’m doing the same thing, which is looking at people who’ve been forgotten. Is it worth thinking about? And also this time I decided just to focus on women. So there are nine people in American Anarchism. Two of them were women. And this time there are ten women and women of liberty. So that’s really, it’s partly because I feel that political theory doesn’t function properly anymore. And it’s part of political science which is obsessed with voting as if voting had something to do with democracy. I’ve never noticed them explaining why voting is all about democracy. It seems like political science is a dead discipline.
Gary: All right. Well, hopefully you can revive it. You did do an incredible thing, which is you looked at ten women from all across the world. There’s European women. There’s women operating in North America. And also, you deal with radicals in Japan. Because you deal with women from all across the world. Was looking at such a broad topic. A challenge for you? And how did you deal with it?
Shone: Well, you know, obviously it’s going to take a long time. It took four years to do the research, and if you t
36 – The Medieval Transformation Part 1: Cults, Miracles and Saints
Hello everyone. Quick reminder my debut novel The Maiden Voyage of New York City is out through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you are looking for a character-driven, speculative science-fiction story, please check it out and support yours truly.
Second, the Intelligent Speech Conference is happening this June 27th. I and other top podcasters will be giving talks and hosting panels on hidden figures throughout history. For $10 you can get a virtual ticket and watch the hosts of the History of Ancient Greece, Wittenberg to Westphalia and myself present in our fields. There’s an incredible lineup that you don’t want to miss so check out Intelligent Speech Conference 2020.
Today’s episode will be the first in a series examining the transformation of society from Antiquity to the early medieval period. The Gallo-Romans left behind a number of traditions that continued or were copied by the Franks, but the fall of the Roman Empire and the triumph of Francia led to major changes which had a ripple effect that transformed all of society to one degree or another.
The two most immediate and large-scale differences between antiquity and the medieval period were the composition of the army and the organizational division of society. First, the Roman Empire had a professional army. Even at its lowest point, Rome maintained a professional military that was paid through taxation and could be sent anywhere within the empire and even beyond its borders. The barbarian kingdoms could not reliably raise the funds required to sustain professional armies due to their poor organization, and lack of records; itself caused by their own illiteracy. Instead, Frankish armies were assembled on the spot when a lord ordered the local healthy, adult males to assemble into their militias. These local forces usually refused to march too far beyond their hometowns since they had crops to harvest and families to care for. Because of this, medieval society was much smaller in scope, as everyone but the elites lived, fought and died within 50 miles of where they were born.
These irregular armies weren’t paid through taxation but by plunder. As such, wars in the medieval period were always devastating. As you’ll recall, Roman wars were often brutal, but the worst Roman atrocities were committed against non-Romans; in medieval society Frankish cities regularly plundered their neighbors as was the case with Orléans attacking Blois, while Châteaudun fought Chartres.
Every healthy, adult male was expected to fight, and naturally everyone had weapons, even if it was just modified farm equipment like axes. This meant life was more brutal. Localities could fight against each other whenever one of the numerous Merovingian kings died, or when tensions between cities reached a boiling point. Likewise, murder became much more common.
The second major difference between antiquity and the medieval period was the division of society. The Roman Empire was divided between civilian and military spheres. The barbarian kingdoms were divided between the secular and religious. The political leaders of Francia were the Merovingian kings, who issued laws, administered justice, defended the realm and collected and distributed taxes. Beneath them were the duces, with individuals having the title dux; these were the precursors to ‘dukes.’ Each dux ruled over a region and beneath him were the comes. ‘Comes’ has often been translated as ‘count,’ and while they occupied a similar space in the secular hierarchy beneath duces, comes had very different roles from counts and usually heard lawsuits. Kings and duces commanded the loyalty of leudes, the only professional fighters in Francia, who were sworn to their lords. The leudes were the precursors to knights. Nearly everyone outside of the political hierarchy was a peasant or lowly merchant and were the subjects of
35 – The Last Saints of Gaul
Episode 35: The Last Saints of Gaul
A few quick announcements before we get started. First, I did a 90-minute-long episode with History’s Most about what caused the French Revolution. It is a fascinating conversation wherein we talked about the many possible causes of one of the world’s most important political and social upheavals. So go check it out at History’s Most Podcast.
Second, my debut novel is now officially out! The Maiden Voyage of New York City is a near-future sci-fi epic about New York in a flooded world, through the perspective of six different characters as they navigate the floating metropolis and uncover a dangerous plot that could send the city crashing into the ocean. If that sounds interesting to you check it out on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or whichever site you use to buy your books.
Third, I will be participating in the Intelligent Speech Conference 2020, June 27th. This will be an online conference of top history podcasters, such as the hosts of The History of Ancient Greece Podcast, The History of Byzantium, Wittenberg to Westphalia and many more. Viewers who purchase a $10 virtual ticket will be able to tune in to their favorite podcasters and participate directly in conversations with us. For more information, check out their website. I hope to see you there as it will be a blast. Now, on with the show.
Today’s episode examines the last Gallic saints from the late fourth century into the early sixth century. The proliferation of saints was important as they converted the population to Catholic Christianity. Moreover, after their death these saints gave spiritual power to the churches and abbeys they founded, the relics they left behind, and the bishops who took up their positions. Just as the Romans developed an identity of themselves from the foundational myth of Romulus and Remus these saints’ stories shaped the identity of the people of Gaul and Francia as the Roman Empire collapsed. Thus, these saints served many purposes in life and in death. They provided new foundational myths which their followers used to create identity and community. Their legends provided spiritual authority to localities as pilgrims flocked to their shrines and visited their relics. They also set a precedent for future Catholic leaders.
There are quite a few problems the historian faces when researching saints from this time period. First, these records are almost always written by Christian chroniclers, who had a vested interest in making these people seem, well, saintly. Second, many of these records come from second-hand accounts, relayed through letters that are now lost, though, this isn’t always the case, and in fact most of our knowledge of Avitus of Vienne comes from his own writing.
Third, since the chroniclers were medieval-era Christians they embellished the texts with supernatural stories. Now, I’m not saying these stories aren’t necessarily true, but that we don’t know the exact context these take place in, nor do we know what is metaphorical and what is literal. An example of this would be the story of Saint Denis. As you’ll recall, Saint Denis supposedly had his head cut off, then picked up his own head and preached the gospel for days. It’s possible that the original writer did mean that this literally happened. Or, the writer could have been using a metaphor, that even after his death his words lived on. Often when we read these fantastical stories from medieval chroniclers we interpret them as fairy-tales and nonsense because, well, they aren’t exactly the sort of thing you see in everyday life. Yet, what we must understand is that the Christian chronicles were simultaneously both historians and proselytizers of the Christian faith and thus their work is a blending of both. Thus, when we read these stories we need to keep in mind that we have to read them in multiple ways,