Indo-European Thought in Twentieth-Century France update 12: working in some UK archives; Benveniste’s EPHE teaching; some talks on the research

After the last update a friend contacted me with some valuable information – about an archive which was already on my list of ones to try to visit when in the United States next year, but should certainly now be a priority.

I’ve not been able to get back to Paris this month, so have been mainly working at home or UK libraries and archives that can be day trips. One was the University of Reading, to look at the George Allen & Unwin archives they have in the Museum of English Rural Life. This gave an interesting insight into how some of the work I’m looking at was first translated into English or in many cases not translated, as there were several projects declined. All were translated eventually. The trip was more complicated than I’d initially thought – as the train line between Coventry and Reading was part-closed. It was only a few documents to consult, so I spent more time travelling than looking at things, but still worthwhile.

I must have walked past hundreds of times, but I finally walked through the door of the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. It has extensive collections for trade unions and political associations, but no obvious collections relevant to my previous projects. I made an initial visit to look at some French correspondence in the Eric Hobsbawm papers, and may go back for some other things. (I’ve read Richard Evans’s biography of Hobsbawm recently.) Somewhat tangential to my project, but it’s minutes from my office, so it seemed worthwhile to at least have a look. They also have Gillian Rose’s papers, and her library is part of the main Warwick collection. Given the number of books I’ve looked at which come from her library, I’d be surprised if there was nothing useful in her papers. So, that’s hopefully something for a future visit.

I also made an initial visit to two archival collections in Cambridge – one University, one private. John Brough’s papers are the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies library, and Harold W. Bailey’s at the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Both were professors of Sanskrit at the University, Brough succeeding Bailey. Bailey’s papers were the more useful, and I’ll try to go back for another visit. The main thing I was looking at is the correspondence between Bailey and Émile Benveniste. Benveniste examined Bailey’s DPhil in 1933, before he had his own doctorate, but they kept in contact for decades. Brough is most of interest to me for some critical pieces he wrote on Georges Dumézil.

I also had a few days in London, mainly working at the British Library, but also going back to UCL’s library for the first time in years, as they have what I think is the only UK copy of a book by Dumézil in Italian – Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus. What’s interesting about this is that it is not a translation of a single book – Dumézil wrote four books in a series of that title – but contains most of the first two books of that series, a sizable part of another book outside that series, and a part of volume IV. I say a bit more about what it contains here, though I still have a couple of questions which I’ll need to check on a future visit.

In the wider work, one interesting thread I followed was the story of what Émile Benveniste did during the second world war. He was mobilised at the start of the war, became a prisoner of war two days before the surrender, but escaped the Frontstalag, moved to the free zone, and later crossed into Switzerland, where a former student, Jean de Menasce, helped find him work as a university librarian. One question is which ancient language he used to correspond clandestinely with the student, now a Catholic priest. Sogdian is one possibility, Pahlavi another. Sogdian would be almost too perfect, given the way I begin my discussion of Benveniste, but Pahlavi seems much more likely. Looking into this story has suggested some more archives which I’d like to consult, one in Paris, one possibly in Switzerland, and perhaps one in the USA.

I also spent some time working through the records of Benveniste’s teaching at the École pratique des hautes études. Reports on the courses taught in both of his subject areas (Comparative Grammar and Iranian languages) are provided in the Annuaire, which is all available online, but I’ve compiled all of these into a single document which will be a useful reference tool. It’s particularly useful when working in the archives to have a place with all this information.I’d already done this for Dumézil, and for both of them with their teaching at the Collège de France. (I say a bit about that in an earlier update.) It helps me to see connections to publications, and it’s also interesting to see the names of those who attended their classes. It also clarifies the periods during the war when both were not teaching, for very different reasons.

One of the benefits of a research fellowship is that I can follow interesting leads where they take me, rather than having to be more restrictive in focus. But it can also take me down long detours – reading about one person, and their relations with another, so read about the other, and follow up on their connections to another person, and so on, taking me further and further away from what I was, or should be, doing. The most recent example of this was that Benveniste gave the first series of Ratanbai Katrak lectures in Paris in 1926, delivered in French, but published only in English as The Persian Religion According to the Chief Greek Texts. The next two Paris lecture series were given by Henrik Samuel Nyberg and Arthur Christiansen. De Menasce gave a series after the war, as did Dumézil’s former student Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin. But the lectures were also given in Oxford, with the first by Louis H. Gray, and then by Harold W. Bailey and Walter B. Henning. I don’t know much about Gray and Christiansen, but all of the others feature in at least a minor way in the story I’m telling. But it took a bit of digging around to find out the early sequence of lectures, especially the year delivered and title, and they are all published but often in quite obscure outlets. Some of the books are available at or similar, but others are a bit harder to find. The lectures still take place, with the ninth Oxford series by Alberto Cantera currently underway.

I say a bit about the work of Marie-Louise Sjoestedt on Celtic languages and mythology here, and about Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Fondation Loubat lectures here.

I also spoke a bit about this research at the Translation and the Archive in the Continental Tradition workshop in London on 19 May, though there I mainly spoke about Lefebvre and Foucault. The talks were supposed to be recorded but unfortunately there was a technical problem which means that didn’t work. I did record my own talk on my phone so I’ll try to clean up the recording and share if anyone is interested. I’ll next be speaking about the Indo-European research to the Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies on 31 May. The focus will be on the period immediately after the war. It’s an online event, open to anyone interested, and details are here.

Previous updates on this project can be found here, along with links to some research resources and forthcoming publications, including the reedition of Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna. There is a lot more about the earlier Foucault work here. The final volume, The Archaeology of Foucault, is now out worldwide. The special issue of Theory, Culture & Society I co-edited on “Foucault before the Collège de France” is available open access for a limited time. There are some video abstracts here.

This entry was posted in Claude Lévi-Strauss, Emile Benveniste, Eric Hobsbawm, Georges Dumézil, Gillian Rose, Henri Lefebvre, Indo-European Thought, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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