Jennifer Milligan

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20022003 Forum on The Book

Jennifer Milligan

Modern European History

Ph.D., Rutgers University, 2002

The Library and the Archives: The Place of the Author in History and the Nation-State in France, 1850-1900

Who gets to make claims about the “truth” of a nation’s past? Dr. Milligan examines the (re)writing and accessing of documentation related to French national history in the latter part of the 19th century. The French National Library and the Archives Nationales sit at the center of the relation between the citizen, nation, and state—an institutional constellation of politics mediated by reading and writing. Deeper fears about the power of the book and/or document to empower the citizen as reader and potential author, and thus agent, of national history engendered friction between these institutions. While documentation about the nation was contained in both, these two institutions filled different educative roles—the Library concerned with arts, science, and history and the archives being explicitly more political in nature. Given its political role, the Archives were all but inaccessible to the public in practice if not in law until the opening of a reading room in 1847. In the 1850s, historians pressured the Archives for access as the voice of history contained within its wall was considered to be the voice of the state. This modernization of the Archives allowed the institution to negotiate between state and scholar, authenticate political documents, and establish a hegemonic grasp over history’s writing.