TU’s Department of History is excited to welcome Assistant Professor of European History Nicole Bauer to the team. Stanley Rutland Professor of American History Andrew Wood interviewed Bauer for the history newsletter CLIO.
CLIO: How did you get interested in history?
I studied English and French literature as an undergraduate [at U.C. Berkeley] but I always enjoyed reading historical novels and found myself always gravitating to that sort of thing. I started taking history classes on the side, and I realized that I always loved them.
When I graduated as an English major, it seemed that everyone I knew was applying to law school, and I didn’t want to go in that direction. So, I thought “hey, I’m good at school so maybe I’ll apply to graduate programs.” I looked around and liked what I imagined to be the academic lifestyle—this was very appealing to me. What a great life, you get to read books and talk about them and teach what you love. I had a very romantic notion of what a professor’s life was like! Even still, once I had begun my graduate training, I was fascinated with historiography and all the different ways that one could approach the study of history.
CLIO: Why French studies?
Interestingly, I have no family connection but nevertheless, have a real passion for France. My mother migrated from the Philippines, and my dad is from the Midwest. They met while working in Southern California. When I was growing up, my mom became a huge Francophile—she was really into French culture! She loved the language, liked to travel when she could and just loved everything about France. She made me take French lessons, and being kind of a bookworm already, I began to reach French novels. Maybe that was got me started. Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame was an early influence. Even Alexander Dumas’ popular workThe Man in the Iron Mask inspired me with ideas of a government not being transparent, committing abuses and the need for revolution. I was able to take these works—the creepy dungeons, languishing prisoners and all that fun kind of stuff to begin to shape my own ideas about French history.
CLIO: Talk about Paris as a historical subject in your work.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the city quite well. I have my favorite spots and certain areas that I associate with different periods of history. I used to romanticize Paris but don’t so much any longer. The Paris I know now is not the Paris tourists necessarily see. Nevertheless, the more time I spend there the more I realize how history actually informs life in the city. A lot of Paris has been lost with neighborhoods and streets destroyed to make way for large boulevards. Still, art movements, the world wars, the 1968 student uprising, even the fashion industry are to be celebrated and examined. I might consider a comparative study between Paris and another part of the country for my next project.
France, like everywhere else, struggles with racism, nativism and any number of contemporary social problems, even though they talk about these things quite differently than we do in the United States. The French are better at seriously considering class politics than we are.
Needless to say, a wide variety of social and historical themes are on display in Paris at any time!