Richard Legay, C²DH, University of Luxembourg
15 October 2019
I had the chance – and pleasure – to take part in the IAMHIST Master Class, organized in New Orleans in January 2018, which was a fantastic way to start the year for a PhD student. I am working on the history of commercial radio stations and the experience of the event was, in my opinion, very fruitful. For me, a few elements explain this success: the way IAMHIST organised the Master Class, the benefits of having the National WWII Museum as a host, and the incredible chance of being able to spend some time in New Orleans. The whole trip, as a Public History lecturer at the time, took another dimension through the multiple experiences of Louisiana’s history and culture.
Streets of New Orleans
The Master Class is an event truly dedicated to young scholars who have the opportunity throughout the day to present and get feedback on their research. The main benefit, in my opinion, is that IAMHIST senior members who take part in the event have a wide range of interests and backgrounds. The heterogeneity of the group, with people coming from various countries and disciplines (archives, film studies, press history, etc.), is one of the most interesting features of the network. I see myself as a specialist of radio history, and I was thrilled to discuss with a colleague sharing my interest (the history of the BBC German Service), however getting feedback from scholars working in other neighbouring disciplines was very enriching. I consider it as a perfect way to broaden horizons and to confront your research material to new perspectives and ways to look at it.
My presentation focused on the early stages of my work. I introduced the audience to the actors I am focusing on: commercial radio stations, more precisely Radio Luxembourg (both the English and French services) and Europe n°1. Working on the ‘longer Sixties’, I am interested in the relationship between these stations and popular culture in a transnational context (France, Britain and Luxembourg mostly). At the time of the Master Class, I was still planning to have a wide range of research axes, however, I have now centred my research on the hypothesis that these commercial radio stations shaped a transnational imagined community of listeners. Furthermore, they did so through the development of a soundscape specific to them, and a transmedial radio culture, in which the stations’ own radio magazines (Salut les Copains and Fabulous 208 for example) played a key role by enriching the listening experience with textual and visual elements.
I learned a lot from the comments received, as they were very constructive. One example of how fruitful the Master Class was for me is a comment made on my use of ‘transnationalism’. It was pointed out to me that it might not be adequate to rely on that concept, as it does not really apply to my work – something I fundamentally disagree with. Even if I did not change my mind, I realise now the importance for me to explain and justify the use of such a term. I conduct my research at the C²DH and alongside two doctoral research groups (Docteuropa & PopKult60), in which my colleagues and I embrace transnationalism as a core concept due to the nature of our research. This might lead, as the Master Class revealed, to skip, sometimes, further explanation and definition of the conceptual tool. There will be, for my thesis, some work needed to present and justify my use of transnationalism in my research. I think this anecdote reveals one of the core features of the Master Class: the possibility to get out of some sort of ‘comfort zone’ by meeting new scholars who will bring new inputs and challenge some aspects of your work. Overall, the environment of the Master Class is very welcoming and supportive, something young researchers like myself can really appreciate. I will encourage, in the future, other early career scholars to attend the next editions of the Master Class if they can.
Another benefit of this Master Class was having the National World War II Museum, one of the biggest historical institutions of New Orleans, as a host. The museum really stands out by its size and its number of annual visitors. The galleries display an impressive number of artefacts and cover many aspects of the conflict. Even if one does not necessarily engage with the main narrative of the museum, it is rather interesting to notice the evolution of the exhibitions. Mostly focused on interviews of veterans at first, they now integrate difficult questions. Segregation and racism in the army for example, but also the role of women during the conflict and the existence of internment camps for American citizens of Japanese origins. The Public History enthusiast in me considered the visit to the museum to be a very rich experience. The museum seems to try to engage the audience in various forms, through the use of ‘dog tags’, little electronic tokens that tell you stories about a specific person of your choice throughout the conflict, or through an unusual 4D movie/documentary, starring Tom Hanks, that left me (and other IAMHIST members) rather puzzled. I did not necessarily approve of all choices made by the museum, but I cannot say I was not impressed by its displays. I truly think the museum staff came up with some very powerful ideas and they know how to engage with their visitors. I will certainly remember the experience for a long time, and have already used it in some lectures on Public History.
View from inside the museum
View from outside the museum
Spending a few days in New Orleans and discovering its charms was truly the cherry on the cake. It is likely that the benefits I mentioned above are true for every edition of the IAMHIST Master Class, but I think it will be hard to beat New Orleans in terms of location for the event. Not only the food is fantastic and the music omnipresent, the city is filled with history and its lieux de mémoire are numerous. Many colourful houses reflect the very complex architectural blend of the area, while the French influence is still strong in many aspects of the local culture, but something in particular marked me the most. My hotel was located on Lee Circle, where there used to be a statue commemorating the Confederate general. The City Hall took down the statue recently as part of a wider movement in the USA that triggered heavy discussions in the public sphere as well as interesting debates in Public History. I have been curious about these commemorative issues for a long time, and here I was, facing an empty pedestal, subject of so many controversies, right outside my hotel! I could not believe the odds of staying there.
View from inside the museum, with Lee circle and its empty pillar in the background
I think it is rather clear I enjoyed my experience of the IAMHIST Master Class, and, once again, I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering applying for the next editions. It helped me shape my research, but it was also enriching in other aspects, both socially and culturally.
Richard Legay is a PhD candidate who joined the C²DH in November 2016. He is conducting research on the Transnational History of Popular Culture and Commercial Radio Stations in Western Europe in the 60s, with a focus on Europe n°1 and Radio-Luxembourg in France, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.