- Popular culture, and specifically oral cultures (songs, tales, legends, riddles, proverbs, memories, histories..)
- Rural and maritime communities
- Women workers, especially servants and lacemakers
I research the social and cultural history of the poor, the illiterate and the working populations of modern Europe (18th to 20th centuries), that is most people in the past. I used to focus on France and its borderlands, but my attention has switched now to Italy and the Low Countries. My particular field is oral and popular culture (ballads, stories, dance, street theatre...). I explore historical communities through the stories that they told about themselves.
My first book, Soldier and Peasant in French Popular Culture, examined the relationship between rural communities and the army, as displayed through popular prints, conscription rituals, songs and tales. It was awarded the Royal Historical Society's Gladstone prize in 2003. A continuing interest in war and the collective culture of soldiers also led to project with two colleagues in France, Yann Lagadec and Stéphane Perréon, on Brittany’s experience of the second hundred years’ war (1688-1815) with Britain. But mostly I have left military matters to turn to other social groups, such as fishermen and servants. Their cultures, expressed through oral traditions, were the subject of my second monograph Voices of the People in Nineteenth-Century France. This won the Folklore Society's Katharine Briggs Prize in 2012.
I currently hold a Leverhulme Fellowship to research the working lives of lacemakers in France, England, the Low Countries and Italy. Lacemaking was introduced to several regions of Europe between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, and wherever it travelled it brought elements of a common material and oral culture with it. The themes of this transnational culture were poverty, a particular vision of Christianity, and the violence enacted by men on women.
With Éva Guillorel (Caen-Normandie) and William Pooley (Bristol), I have just completed an edited collection on how memories of Early Modern revolts in Europe were maintained and used in oral cultures in succeeding generations. The examples dealt with in the book focus primarily on songs as a vehicle for historical traditions. This work forms part of the French Agence nationale de recherche project, hosted at Caen, on Cultures des Révoltes et Révolutions. Alongside this project I have been working on a particular theme: how rural societies remembered feudalism and its abolition around the time of the French Revolution, and how those historical traditions affected social and political practices in following centuries.
As I am interested in oral and popular culture, I have to be interested in how these sources came to be preserved, and thus also in the history of folklore and anthropology as disciplines. One fruit of this was the edited volume (with Tim Baycroft, Sheffield) Folklore and Nationalism in Europe during the Long Nineteenth Century. I have also worked with European colleagues on this topic, especially with the Centre de recherche bretonne et celtique and the BEROSE team in Paris. I am currently writing a chapter on ‘Folklore and Regionalism’ for a project led by colleagues at Leiden and Munich.
In 2014-15 I held a Knowledge Exchange grant with Nicolette Makovicky (Central and Eastern European Studies), working with local museums and other heritage bodies on 'By the Poor, For the Rich: Lace in Context'. website: http://laceincontext.com