Glucksman Symposium and Library Exhibition on Napoleon

Posted on: 22 June 2009

 ‘Napoleon, Empire and Europe’ was the theme of the Lewis Glucksman Memorial Symposium hosted by  the Trinity Long Room Hub at Trinity College Dublin on June 18th last where three internationally renowned scholars came  together on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo to discuss Napoleon’s life and debate his contribution to the creation of modern Europe. An exhibition ‘Napoleon, Emperor of the French’  also opened on the same day  in the Long Room which  includes some of the riches of the Trinity College Library in contemporary books, prints and caricatures relating to the period.  Highlights of the exhibition include a biting satire of Napoleon’s coronation as emperor, a cast of the Rosetta Stone found during Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt that led to the development of Egyptology, as well as proclamations issued during the occupation of Lisbon among other items.

Nearly two centuries after Napoleon’s Empire finally came to an end at Waterloo, the image of ‘the little corporal’ from Corsica continues to fascinate.  Described by some as a visionary reformer and denounced by others as the first modern dictator, Napoleon’s career embodies all the contradictions of Europe’s modernity.  Modern Europe was shaped by Napoleon’s quest for glory and by the alliances that were forged to defeat him, and we cannot begin to grasp its history without attempting to understand the man who defined it. Napoleon remains a contested figure, as contentious today as he was for his contemporaries.

The Public Symposium explored critical aspects of his extraordinary career, the legacy of his memory and his impact upon Irish affairs. Speakers included:

Professor Hugh Gough.  Hugh Gough is Professor Emeritus of Modern European History at University College Dublin and has published extensively on the history of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.  Professor Gough’s lecture on ‘Napoleon and Empire’  charted Napoleon’s meteoric rise to power as first Consul and then Emperor of France, and explored his military career and its impact upon the evolution of modern Europe.

Professor Gough says: “Admired by many for his success in controlling the dynamism of the revolution and imposing political order in France, he has been criticised by others for his authoritarianism and insatiable military ambition. This lecture offers an overview of the achievements and failures of a man who was born in obscurity on one island, died as a pariah on another, but left an indelible mark on mainland France and the continent of Europe.”

Professor Tom Barlett. Tom Bartlett is Professor of Modern History at the University of Aberdeen.  His work on the political and military history of eighteenth-century Ireland, Britain and Europe is internationally regarded and he is the author of many works, including the forthcoming Concise History of Ireland (Cambridge, 2009).  Professor Bartlett’s lecture on ‘Napoleon and Ireland’ examined the Napoleonic wars and assessed their impact upon Irish life in a time of rebellion and rising. He specifically considered Napoleon’s relations with the United Irishmen in the 1790s and later. He  briefly considered Napoleon’s Irish Legion, formed in 1803, to accompany his proposed invasion of Ireland.  Professor Bartlett also offered some reflections concerning the popular image of Napoleon  –  based on ballads, plays and folklore – and on the place of Napoleon in later Irish history.

Dr. Sudhir Hazareesingh. Sudhir Hazareesingh is a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford and the author of The Saint-Napoleon: Celebrations of Sovereignty in 19th century France (Cambridge, Mass., 2004) and the award-winning The Legend of Napoleon (London, 2004).  Dr Hazareesingh’s lecture on ‘The Legend of Napoleon and its Legacy’ explored the ways in which Napoleon became a cult figure in French political culture after 1815. The Emperor was celebrated as a military hero, as a law-giver, as an incarnation of popular sovereignty, and as a symbol of the French Revolution. This Napoleonic myth flourished in popular rumours and folk tales, in revolutionary and bonapartist political agitation, in the celebration of Napoleonic anniversaries, in a range of literary and poetic works, and in the memories of veterans of the imperial Army. The lecture also focused on the transformation of this cult over time, and the ways in which Charles de Gaulle has today inherited Napoleon’s mantle as France’s most sacred political myth.

Although  Napoleon’s  career was marked by almost incessant warfare, he also made significant improvements to civil life in France and the influence of his reform of law, the Code Civil, was widespread elsewhere in Europe as well as in South America. The exhibition ‘Napoleon, Emperor of the French’ in the Long Room, Trinity College Library  features some of the riches of the Library in contemporary books, prints and caricatures relating to the period.
Particular highlights are:
– The series of 157 proclamations issued by Marshal Junot when he occupied Lisbon in 1807 and 1808 which are vital to an understanding of the life of the city under French occupation.
– The Code Civil, later called the Code Napoléon, published in Paris in 1804 which completed the process begun in the 1790s to have a uniform administration of law in France. The code dealt with civil and property rights and the acquisition of entitlements. It copper-fastened many of the rights achieved under the Revolution such as personal liberty, and equality before the law. The Code was put into force in many parts of Napoleon’s Grand Empire and became the basis for modern law in Belgium and Luxembourg.
–  James Gillray’s biting visual satire on Napoleon’s coronation as emperor, as well as a contemporary French print which emphasises the nobility of the occasion.
– A cast of the Rosetta Stone. Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798-1799 led to the development of Egyptology. Napoleon took a number of scientists and engineers with him with a view to making scholarly discoveries. Among the important objects found was the Rosetta Stone which is inscribed in hieroglyphics, demotic characters and Greek. Its deciphering was the foundation of the study of hieroglyphic writing. The stone was taken to the British Museum in London after the French surrendered to General Hutchinson in 1801. Hutchinson had an intimate link with Trinity College Dublin as his father, John Hely-Hutchinson, was provost from 1774 until 1794. One of three casts made soon after the stone arrived in London will be on display.

The exhibition in the Long Room, Trinity College Library opening on June 18th will continue until November 1st next.

The Lewis Glucksman Symposium is a bi-annual public event hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub; it brings together eminent academics, authors and artists to speak on matters of public interest.

About the Trinity Long Room Hub:
The Trinity Long Room Hub is a research institute which aims to foster and develop world-leading research in the arts and humanities at TCD. The Hub is funded by the Irish Government through the Higher Education Authority under the PRTLI IV programme.
The Trinity Long Room Hub aims to cultivate and facilitate a new generation of researchers through the fuller exploitation of the College’s outstanding research collections.  The Hub initiative will enable scholars to access the College’s Library’s rich resources of materials and collections. The Hub will stimulate individual and collaborative research in existing and new disciplines.
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