Student Voices

SITG Dispatch from Paris

by Josh Sulkin, ’23 (Summer 2022)

Bonjour from Paris! My name is Josh, and I am a rising fourth year majoring in History with minors in French and Geographic Information Science. Thanks to the wonderfully generous Summer International Travel Grant, I am conducting archival research for my BA Thesis in History! I am researching how the French Government persecuted homosexuals during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) to learn how the state, the Church, and homosexuals adjusted to the idea of homosexuality as it transformed from a principally Church-regulated sin to state-regulated medical and social identity. In light of the extreme backlashes against LGBT+ rights particularly in Europe, I could simply not perform this timely research if not for the SITG. Traveling to Paris has allowed me to learn how to conduct archival research outside the US, learn directly from French archivists and historians, digitize thousands of previously undigitized sources, and discover how the Franco-Prussian War—one of the greatest defeats in French military history—continues to exert a unique, troubling vex on nationalist histories of France.

One of the archives I have spent most of my time in is the Service Historique de la Défense at the Château de Vincennes just outside Paris. The archives are held within a fourteenth-century castle that covers several hectares. I have spent several weeks finding, reading, and taking pictures of thousands of original documents from the Ministry of Defense and soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War in the Louis XIV Reading Room. I have since been trying to understand the minuscule French cursive on the documents, which is a challenge I am excited to continue trying to master.

I am deeply grateful to the University of Chicago, UChicago’s Study Abroad Office, Professor Peggy O’Donnell, Professor Elizabeth Chatterjee, Professor Leora Auslander, Professor Austin Carson, and the SITG for the opportunity of a lifetime to spend the summer using my French to explore the history, culture, and language of this beautiful city and nation!