Dr Emile Chabal

Reader in History

Background

I completed my BA, MPhil and PhD in History at Cambridge. I was also a visiting student at Rice University in 2005-6, a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University in 2008-9 and a pensionnaire étranger (overseas scholar) at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 2010-11. My doctoral thesis - completed in 2011 - was awarded the Cambridge History Faculty's Prince Consort and Thirlwall Prize, and Seeley Medal for the best dissertation across all periods.

Shortly after finishing my PhD, I took up a position as a Departmental Lecturer in Modern European History in the Faculty of History and Balliol College, Oxford. In 2012, I returned to Cambridge as a Research Fellow in French Political History at St John's College. I came to Edinburgh in September 2013 as a Chancellor’s Fellow in History. I served as director of the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History from 2017-2020, and I was promoted to Reader in 2018.

You will find more details about my publications and research on my personal homepage.

Responsibilities & affiliations

Editor, Contemporary European History

Advisory Panel, H-France

Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, Discipline+ Catalyst representative for history for the University of Edinburgh

Arts and Humanities Research Council, Peer Review College

Undergraduate teaching

  • Making of the Modern World 
  • Themes in Modern European History
  • Historical Skills and Methods I (pathway: 'Nations and nationalism'
  • Historical Skills and Methods II (pathway: 'Race, immigration and colonialism in French film')
  • Undergraduate dissertations
  • France since 1940 (option course)
  • The Marxist Imagination in Europe, c.1950-present (option course)
  • Dreams and nightmares: the culture and politics of postwar Europe (special subject)

Postgraduate teaching

  • Writing History: Theory and Practice
  • Historical Methodology (pathway: 'Writing contemporary history')
  • Historical Research: Sources and Skills (pathway: 'Interpreting film')
  • Revolutions in the Twentieth Century
  • An Uncertain World: the West since the 1970s

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?

Yes

Areas of interest for supervision

I am very happy to supervise Masters and PhD students. I will also gladly consider co-supervision with other schools (Social and Political Sciences, French etc.) and/or cross-institutional supervision (including co-tutelle with European universities). Please contact me if you have an idea or are thinking of applying to study at Edinburgh.

I welcome applications in any of the following fields:

  • any aspect of 20th and 21st century French history and politics 

  • French imperial history in the 20th century, especially the legacies of empire 

  • post-war European intellectual history, especially the history of Marxism

  • theoretical and historical approaches to the study of neo-liberalism

  • nationalism, national myths, and national narratives

Current PhD students supervised

  • Emma Flanagan (PhD started in 2022, secondary supervisor): 'Spaces, Places and Modes of Resistance: Uncovering Women's Anticolonial Resistance between French North and West Africa, 1940-1962' [Student website]
  • Marina Moya Moreno (PhD started in 2018, primary supervisor): 'Representation and memorialisation of the Spanish transition: the construction of Spanish democratic identity in the representation of history' [Student website]
  • Qingrou Zhao (PhD started in 2022, secondary supervisor): 'Counting in, counting out: A history of census-making in Shanghai, 1840s-1949' [Student website]
  • Annaëlle Prugneau (PhD started in 2017 at Université de Savoie-Mont-Blanc, France, secondary supervisor): 'Quand identité rime avec sécurité. La démocratie devant le défi nationaliste en France et au Royaume-Uni: 2010 – 2020'. [Thesis information (French)]

Past PhD students supervised

  • Fanny Cornu (MScR, completed in 2021, secondary supervisor): 'Personal, cultural and political implications of French soldiers in the Boshin War'
  • Joe Gazeley (PhD completed in 2020, joint supervisor): '“They have many chains to bind us”: state formation, foreign policy and the colonial pact in Mali, c.1958-present' [Link to thesis in ERA database.]
  • Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz (PhD completed in 2022, primary supervisor): 'The political commitment of Eric Hobsbawm: the passion for communist politics in a transformed world (1977-2012)' [Link to thesis in ERA database.]
  • Charlotte Krass (PhD completed in 2018, joint supervisor): 'Challenging the Republic: French Roma Policy in the Enlarged EU' [Link to thesis in ERA database.]

Research summary

1. Eric Hobsbawm and the history of global Marxism

Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) was one of the most important British historians of the twentieth century. In my work, I bring out different aspects of Hobsbawm's intellectual trajectory – from his interest in jazz to his commitment to Communism – and place these within a broader narrative of intellectual engagement, political responsibility and global Marxism.

This research will lead to the first intellectual biography of Hobsbawm, to be published by Harvard University Press. It will combine close reading of Hobsbawm's published work with an examination of personal papers, institutional archives, oral history, and ethnographic material. The aim will be to explore key themes in twentieth-century political history, including the role of the intellectual in European public life, the global imagination of Marxist activists, and the stylistic foundations that underpin successful historical writing.

Alongside the book project, I recently launched the Eric Hobsbawm Bibliography, which is the first comprehensive, text-searchable bibliography of Hobsbawm's published and unpublished works.

I received a Carnegie Trust of Scotland Research Incentive Grant in 2015 to support the early stages of this project. I was subsequently awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellowship in 2017 and a Royal Society of Edinburgh Personal Research Fellowship in 2023. Both of these fellowships have given me substantial research time and additional funds for fieldwork, archival visits and dissemination.

2. French and European politics

My first monograph, entitled A Divided Republic: nation, state and citizenship in contemporary France (Cambridge University Press, 2015) examines political culture in France through a series of key debates about the meaning of the nation, the definition of the citizen, the reform of the state and the interpretation of modern French history. Contrary to the widely-held view that political participation and engagement have atrophied in France since the 1980s, I suggest in my book that contemporary French politics has been defined by a struggle between an explicitly 'nationalist' language of neo-republicanism and a more 'open' language of liberalism.

I developed some of these themes further in an edited book, entitled France since the 1970s: history, politics and memory in an age of uncertainty (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014). The contributors to this volume offered new perspectives on contemporary political issues in France, ranging from neo-liberalism to the rise of the far-right.

I synthesised much of my early research in my book France (Polity Press, 2020), which is a short introduction to French history since 1940. The book starts by considering France as a "paradoxical" country, in which grand ideals and abstract values have repeatedly run up against the hard realities of a bitterly divided country. Over the course of six chapters, I look at a number of contradictions within recent French history, including the tension between defeat and resistance, state and citizen, and colonialism and anti-colonialism. Starting with the calamitous defeat by Hitler's armies in 1940 and ending with the spectacular gilets jaunes protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, the picture that emerges is one of a nation struggling to reconcile its history with the competing demands of an increasingly diverse society.

Most recently, I have launched a new project on the history of identity politics in Europe, which looks at the way "identity" has reshaped political mobilisation and democratic norms since the 1970s. In 2023, I was awarded a collaborative and interdisciplinary Knowledge Frontiers grant from the British Academy to look specifically at identity politics and its interaction with race-based mobilisation in France and the UK.

I continue to write about France and French politics, both for an academic audience and increasingly in essays, blogs, interviews and op-eds for international media outlets.

3. Migration, immigration and state rationality

My third area of interest is migration and citizenship in Europe. I was a co-investigator on a large ESRC-funded project entitled 'Seeing Illegal Immigrants: state monitoring and political rationality' with fellow investigator Christina Boswell.

The aim of the project, which ran from 2016 to 2018, was to understand better how and why European states gather data about 'illegal' migration and how this has changed since the 1970s. The project team was made up of three postdoctoral researchers from the US, France and Germany. The book that brings together the empirical and theoretical material from the project will be published by Cambridge University Press in early 2024.

Current project grants

Royal Society of Edinburgh Personal Research Fellowship: ‘The Marxist Imagination: an intellectual biography of Eric Hobsbawm’ (£61,019.36, grant number 3240, Sep 2023-Sep 2024). Principal investigator.

British Academy Knowledge Frontiers 2023: ‘A New Democratic (Dis)Order: Race, Identity, and Political Mobilisation in France and the UK, c.1970-Present’ (£195,058.71, KF7100258, Apr 2023-Apr 2025). Principal investigator.

Past project grants

AHRC Leadership Fellowship: ‘An intellectual biography of Eric Hobsbawm’ (£141,152, AH/P008720/1, Dec 2017-Dec 2019). Principal investigator.

ESRC Research Grant: ‘Seeing Illegal Immigrants: state monitoring and political rationality’ (£525,817, ES/N011171/1, Aug 2016-Aug 2018). Co-investigator.

Carnegie Trusts of Scotland Research Incentive Grant: ‘An intellectual biography of Eric Hobsbawm’ (£5,030, Jan 2015-Aug 2016). Principal investigator.

Additional small grants from the John Fell Fund, the Society for the Study of French History, the Society for French Studies, and the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France.

Please note that a complete and updated list of publications (with weblinks) is available on my website.

Books

  • States of Ignorance: Governing Irregular Migrants in Western Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2024) (co-edited with Christina Boswell)
  • France (Polity Histories) (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020)
  • A Divided Republic: nation, state and citizenship in contemporary France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)
  • France since the 1970s: history, politics and memory in an age of uncertainty (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014) (edited)
  • Britain and France in Two World Wars: Truth, Myth and Memory (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013) (co-edited with Robert Tombs)

Articles and book chapters

  • 'Between neo-liberalism and the nation: France’s political landscape in 2022' in Modern and Contemporary France (Vol. 30, No. 4, 2022) (co-authored with Michael C. Behrent)
  • 'Anticolonialism' in The Cambridge History of French Thought, eds. Michael Moriarty and Jeremy Jennings (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019)
  • 'Big data, small concepts: histosophy as an approach to longue-durée history' in Global Intellectual History (Vol. 4, No. 3, 2019) (co-authored with Luis de Miranda)
  • 'Historians of the world, unite! Eric Hobsbawm and the Communist Party Historians Group, 1946-1956' in Mundos do Trabalho (Vol. 10, No. 19, 2018)
  • 'Les intellectuels et la crise de la démocratie' in Pouvoirs (No. 161, April 2017)
  • 'From the banlieue to the burkini: the many lives of French republicanism' in Modern and Contemporary France(Vol. 25, No. 1, 2017)
  • 'French Political Culture in the 1970s. Liberalism, Identity Politics and the Modest State' in Geschichte und Gesellschaft (Vol. 42, No. 2, 2016)
  • 'The Agonies of Liberalism' in Contemporary European History (Vol. 25, No. 4, 2016)
  • 'Capitalism and its critics: anti-liberalism in contemporary French politics' in In Search of the Liberal Moment: Democracy, Anti-totalitarianism, and Intellectual Politics in France since 1950, eds. I. Stewart & S. Sawyer (London: Palgrave, 2016)
  • 'Managing the postcolony: minority politics in Montpellier, c.1960-c.2010' in Contemporary European History (Vol. 23, No. 2, 2014)
  • 'Le Président? Georges Frêche and the making of a local notable in late 20th century France' in Place and Locality in Modern France, 1750-present, eds. P. Whalen & P. Young (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)
  • 'The rise of the Anglo-Saxon: French perceptions of the Anglo-American world in the long twentieth century' in French Politics, Culture and Society (Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 2013)
  • 'Just say non? France, Britain and the European Union since the 1980s' in National Identities in France, ed. B. J. Sudlow (London: Transaction Press, 2011)
  • 'De 'New Britain' à la 'Big Society': l’innovation sociale à l’anglaise' in Chantiers Politiques (No. 9, Summer 2011)
  • 'Writing the French national narrative in the 21st century' in The Historical Journal (Vol. 53, No. 2, Summer 2010)
  • 'La République postcoloniale: making the nation in late 20th century France' in France’s Lost Empires: Fragmentation, Nostalgia and la fracture coloniale, eds. N. Frith & K. Marsh (London: Lexington, 2010)
  • 'Uses and abuses of history: memories of the République in late 20th century France' in Historicising the French Revolution, eds. I. DiVanna, D. Dodds & T. Blanning (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008)

Long-form writing, essays, op-eds, and other media

For examples of long-form writing and essays, see here.

For examples of my media work, including radio and television, see here.