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Response to Review no. 196

I would like to thank Paul Lawrence for his very generous comments on Nationality and Citizenship in Revolutionary France. He makes some intriguing remarks on the relationship between the problems which arose during the period covered by the book (1789-1799) and issues such as immigration, national identity and citizenship in the twentieth century. While the book does seek to relate the experience of the 1790s with these questions in the late twentieth century, Dr. Lawrence makes an interesting reference to the interwar period. After the First World War, foreign immigration, initially fed by demand for labour, stirred tension, xenophobia and then legislation once the economic crisis of the Depression bit in the 1930s. The twentieth century certainly does provide interesting parallels with the French Revolution, such as the tension between cosmopolitan ideals and nationalism and the conflict between the practical demands for foreign labour and expertise on the one hand and xenophobia, the impulse for surveillance and demands for the protection of living standards on the other. In particular, the forces of xenophobia, immigration and surveillance during the First World War offers interesting comparisons with the revolutionary experience of the 1790s. Albert Mathiez noted the similarities in his own book on foreigners, published in 1918, La Revolution et les etrangers: cosmopolitisme ou defense nationale. More recently, Jean-Jacques Becker, in his Great War and the French People (trans. 1985), discusses the xenophobia, racism and violence which erupted against Chinese workers manning the war industries in France during the conflict. The similarities (and indeed differences) raise interesting questions about how, in different times, societies and governments beleaguered by war and economic and social crises treat foreigners as they seek to resolve the conflicting demands for human resources, domestic security and, in the propaganda terms of cosmopolitanism, the moral high ground. How, then, do these practical considerations influence the development of national identity and access to citizenship? To what extent have different French governments, separated by decades or by centuries from 1789-99, been at all conditioned or predisposed by the cosmopolitan and nationalist claims of the French Revolution to behave in certain ways towards foreigners? If they have been so predisposed, how does this distinguish France from other countries? How, if at all, did this ideology play on the practical considerations of economics and demography? What combination of all these factors, for example, ensured that, in proportion to her size, France was second only to the United States in her reception of immigrants before 1920 and, after 1920, that she was top of the league? Some interesting work already published may permit such a broader, comparative exercise (for example, the collective effort edited by Yves Lequin, Histoire des etrangers et de l’immigration en France, Larousse, 1992), but there is clearly still a lot of interesting writing to be done on this subject.

Dr. Lawrence also makes some very fair, if minor (as he says), criticisms of the structure and some of the content of the book. I accept the point that the structure of the book is rigid and a little repetitive, but it is probably worth explaining the reasons behind it here. A thematic approach (in which, for example, the general treatment of foreigners, foreign troops, clergy, ‘patriots’, and those who contributed to French economic life might each have been the subjects of different chapters) might certainly have avoided some overlap, but then the chronological and narrative thrust of the book might also have been lost, I fear. Instead, the chapters each deal with the successive phases of the Revolution and how the rapidly-evolving circumstances affected, on the one hand general legislation and its application (naturalisation, passports, surveillance, arrests), and, on the other hand, different types of foreigners in France. This permits, I feel, a more nuanced comparison between the way different types of foreigners were treated, highlighting similarities, differences, exceptions and explaining why these arose in particular circumstances. Otherwise, the full significance of the manner in which different types of foreigners were treated could only be weighed in any substantial way at the very end. My attempts, instead, to weave the comparisons throughout the book, I hope, also allow more space in the conclusion for general ruminations about citizenship, nationality and the contemporary significance of the Revolution’s contribution to the development of both. But perhaps most importantly, I simply wanted to tell a story – and a story in which the Revolution itself drives the narrative. (This, of course, is why I always get rumbling guilt pangs when I tell my students the Golden Rule: do not narrate!)

I also accept the fair observation that most of my evidence relates to the wealthier sections of society. Besides the pages already highlighted by Dr. Lawrence, other sections do discuss poorer foreigners, for example in the Section de l’Unite during the Terror (pp. 195-197); the working poor and prostitutes after Thermidor (p. 311). Other pages consider workers and artisans under the old regime (pp. 72-75), and during the Terror, (pp. 248-252). Catalan fishermen get moaned about by their French rivals on pp. 128-130. Discussion of the migrant poor and beggars is certainly, as Dr. Lawrence states, fuller in the chapter on the Ancien Regime. I admit, however, that most of my evidence relates to main groups discussed: foreign troops, clergy, patriots, manufacturers, financiers (and artisans). There is certainly far more work to be done, not just, as suggested above, on the broader historical sweep to the twentieth century, but also on the detail of different types of foreigners in the 1790s, particularly the migrant poor and artisans. Anyone interested in these subjects might find useful material for the former in the Archives de la Prefecture de Police in Paris and, for the latter, in Series F12 of the Archives Nationales (which I consulted, but certainly did not exhaust).

Dr. Lawrence is also quite right in saying that my archival (if not my printed) sources were Parisian. A detailed study of foreigners in the provinces, based on research in departmental and communal archives, would certainly be interesting and helpful. The Nord, for example, with its communities of foreign clerics and colonies of political exiles, might be a particularly rich area to examine, as might any frontier or maritime department. As I say in my note on sources (p. 345), there is still plenty of room for more research on foreigners – and the material certainly exists for such work.

Dr. Lawrence’s review made some very constructive and stimulating observations about my book, for which I thank him.