My Trip to the Paris archives: Introductions

IMG_3676.JPG Hi there! My name is Darren and I’ve just started my PhD in history at the University of Sydney.
That’s me on the right and if I’m looking a little daunted, it’s for two main reasons. First, I’m still very much a selfie amateur. Second, I’m soon to embark on my first research journey into the archives in July.
In the months leading up to my research trip and on the trip itself, I’ll be posting about my experiences on the History Matters blog: my planning, hopes, trials, and tribulations. Hopefully, I’ll provide an insight into a postgraduate’s first trip to the archives. I’ll also try to share some good tips and useful resources. I’ve already received great advice from my supervisors and scholars elsewhere (including where to get the best coffee near the Paris archives … very important detail for many of us postgrads!). Perhaps I’ll even be able to interview an archivist or scholar along the way! I do promise good photos tho (hoping to have access to some splendid Persian manuscripts).
Before I tell you where I am going, let me tell you about my thesis. I’ll be brief. In the 1530s, the first formal relations were established between France (king Francis I) and the Ottomans (sultan Suleyman), with the result of France’s first embassy in Istanbul. I’m looking at the way the concept of ‘the Turk’ and Islam figured in the French imagination from 1530 to 1630, and how that diplomatic presence took shape. My current supervisors are Associate Professor Nicholas Eckstein and Dr Hélène Sirantoine.
My project means visiting the archives in Paris to access a range of primary sources. These include correspondence from the French diplomats and missions in Istanbul (and the broader Ottoman world), manuscripts brought back from the Orient, and printed news pamphlets about the Ottomans that were circulating in France at the time.
Many of these sources sit in collections at the Bibliothéque nationale de France. The BnF has an incredible online platform called Gallica, which hosts over four million digitised documents from across the centuries (as at 24 October 2016). Some of my sources have been digitised and are available on Gallica, but many haven’t been and so I need to consult them on-site.
So, what’s my itinerary?
As it turns out, I’m presenting my first international paper at the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean annual conference in July. It’s held in Ghent this year, so I’ll be spending some time in Belgium first. In Brussels, I hope to drop into the Pirenne Archives (Université libre de Bruxelles) for some research I’m doing on medieval historian Henri Pirenne (see my 2015 post about Pirenne). I’ll then head to Bruges to visit the archives of the Adorno family, a medieval Brugeois family that travelled in the Islamic world and even built a chapel in Bruges modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. You can check them (and the chapel) out here.
After Belgium, I head to Paris. The BnF is a big institution with several sites. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Richelieu and Arsenal sites, as well as the Department of Manuscripts. There has been a huge renovation work underway at Richelieu which is both exciting (it’s a beautiful library) and concerning (renovations could throw up some challenges for my research). More on that renovation later because it’s such an impressive library.
Anyway, that’s it from me for the moment. Very soon I’ll post about budgeting and planning, as well as introduce you to the Richelieu library.

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