Amy Graves: Historian links 16th-century French documents to modern propaganda

Historians in the News

The Humanities Institute's fellowship lecture and seminar called "Trauma, Time, and Writing: How Historical Narrative Radicalized Huguenot Resistance Theory," presented assistant professor Amy Graves' theory linking methods used to record early-modern history to modern-day propaganda in journalism in the Center for the Arts screening room this past Monday.

The talk featured Graves, a member of the department of romance languages and literatures, and her recent research on the subject.

"My project seeks to capture the spirit of a history that sticks close to public tastes and circles of politico-religious activism during the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598). To support their cause, Calvinists published collections of documents that they called mémoires," Graves said. "What they were, in fact, was nothing more than recently published pamphlets and political tracts that compilers recycled, placed in chronological order, and annotated with extensive commentary on current events."

Graves studied two collections of mémoires — one published in the mid-1570s and the other in the 1590s. Supposed unbiased accounts of the violence of the French Wars, both were written with the purpose of furthering the cause of the Huguenots in their struggle for legitimacy.

Huguenots, who during the French Renaissance and Wars defied the Catholic Church, struggled in the 16th century to gain independence and escape persecution.

"Mémoires promised to tell the story of the present day contemporaries and to serve as a resource for posterity and future historians. They are contemporary history, but they are also propaganda," Graves said. "What my research will make clear is that the tension between contemporary history and journalism, as well as the problem of bias and engagement that still plagues them both."

Graves' paper is the first to examine the relevance of historical documentation of the mid-to-late 16th Century France to the current issue of bias in reporting events. ...
Read entire article at Spectrum (University of Buffalo)

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