University should hire historian to cement link with French ancestory

Kevin Young, Staff Writer

The following is an opinion piece, and does not reflect the views of the Tulane Hullabaloo

Tulane University’s Department of History has a wide array of scholars, studying areas from Medieval Europe to Colonial America, and Modern China to Africa. Tulane, however, unlike most elite research universities, lacks a French historian. This is a phenomenon of the last decade which should be addressed.

It is first important to understand how this situation arose. Up until Hurricane Katrina, Tulane had a French historian. After Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures, the scholar left the school after claiming his New Orleans home was destroyed. In reality, the professor and his wife were convicted of stealing relief funds, and he was sentenced to a prison term.

Despite this troubling history, Tulane needs to recognize the importance of having a French historian, and acquire at least one. Recently, the Department of History has asked for funding to hire a historian. It is crucial that the department gets the funding to do so. If funding is granted, the department plans to search for a tenure-track hire during the 2015 to 16 academic year who would then start work the following year. 

Most universities have at least one French historian. This is certainly a logical enough argument, as France was a major world power with similar strength to the British and the Germans, both of which Tulane has specialized historians for. There is something more to the argument at Tulane: New Orleans. The city and the Greater Louisiana Purchase territory make up a former French colony. It is not only important for Tulanians to have the chance to study French history because it is the backbone of Western civilization, but additionally because French culture, tradition and heritage permeates daily life in New Orleans — whether in street signs and cuisine or Francophone communities. French history is the history of where we live and who we are.

In addition to hiring a French historian, it is also key to suggest what specific type of French historian the university should hire. Tulane should consider hiring a political, diplomatic or imperial historian of modern France. Tulane only has one historian who is solely a political historian and few that cover the history of European imperialism, arguably one of the most important aspects of history to study. Further, modern France will be an easier sell to students given the more relatable nature of Napoleon over King Louis XVI and his regime. Ultimately, however, the most important thing is that Tulane hires a tenure-track French historian of some kind.

Kevin Young is a sophomore in the Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]