Owen Stanwood, assistant history professor at Boston College, spoke Friday to students about the Huguenots — French Protestants who fled France in the 16th and 17th centuries due to religious persecution — as part of the history department’s Early Modern and Global History Seminar.
Allison Games, Dorothy M. Brown distinguished professor of history and Stanwood’s first history professor at Grinnell College, facilitated the seminar, during which Stanwood spoke about his recent paper on Huguenots.
“I actually recently came across some papers I wrote for [Games’] class,” Stanwood said. “My first paper, I got a B minus; my second paper, I improved to a B. I’m hoping this one is even better.”
Stanwood began his research two years ago and has been writing a 40-page paper for six months; he plans to complete it within a few months. He is also considering submitting the paper as an article for The American Historical Review, and he attends three to four seminars a year to explain and revise his paper.
Games sent Stanwood’s paper to event attendees before the seminar so that they could read and evaluate the work.
Stanwood spoke briefly on the background of his paper before opening discussion up to questions, criticisms and comments. Stanwood was receptive to constructive suggestions, often writing down notes in response to audience remarks.
Stanwood noted that his interest in the Huguenots stemmed from a desire to visit Switzerland.
“It all started because I really wanted to go to Switzerland. I was invited several years ago to a conference in Italian Switzerland on this resort overlooking Lago Maggiore, and it was about Huguenots,” Stanwood said. “I knew some things about Huguenots in colonial America from my first book — but frankly, not that much — and I was terribly unqualified to give a paper, but I really wanted to go, so I decided to put something together.”
The widespread academic interest surrounding the Huguenots fascinated Stanwood.
“I’ve found it’s true that there weren’t that many Huguenots in colonial America, but lots of contemporaries were writing about them all the time and seemed to be speculating about Huguenots constantly,” Stanwood said. “So that became the big question that I had as I started this project, which was why everyone was talking about Huguenots when they seemed to be not very important at all.”
Stanwood then began to research the Huguenots’ role in political economy and began to see that while small in number, the Huguenots played a substantial role in economic networks around the globe.
Stanwood’s paper is also part of a larger book on the Huguenots that he hopes to complete in two or three years.
“What I’m really trying to do here is to test who’s holding the power in Atlantic global history by using the Huguenots as a case study,” Stanwood said. “I’m hoping in this larger project not only to elucidate the history of Huguenots globally in the early modern period but also to talk about how states develop globally in this period … the definitive period of imperial states.”
History students said that Stanwood’s article and discussion were helpful to their own research.
“I got a lot out of the discussion because this is a similar topic to one I’m writing about,” Dan Ludington, a doctoral candidate at George Mason, said. “It’s a really unique opportunity to be in the Washington area with all of these other institutions from [the University of ] Maryland, American and Catholic [Universities]. It’s something special that doesn’t happen in a lot of areas to bring in big-name scholars and important people here and create unique conversation.”
Stanwood also appreciated the chance to further develop his paper.
“The discussion was helpful,” Stanwood said. “I got a lot of great comments.”