Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Agrégation interne demain mercredi

 M Morel est souffrant et il n'y aura pas de cours de traductologie demain matin.

Vous pouvez bien sûr venir au cours de thème.

Week five L3 Popular culture in Britain since in 1945: visual art part one

 You can find chapter 9 here


And chapter 10


This is the pop song written about L S Lowry


If you are interested in modern art, the BBC produced a series some years back: here is one of the episodes


Sunday, October 18, 2020

This week’s classes


11am L3 civi Programme C A208

Half of you ( you know who you are - the half I did not see last week).

For the other half, the most important parts of the class will be on video here shortly afterwards.


This class is cancelled, because I have a medical appointment. The most important parts of the class will be available here on video. 


9am M1 MEEF amphi 2

I will be presenting the UK press. Videos available afterwards.

10h30 Thème agrégation préfabriqué 2

15h historiography ww1 amphi 2. Vidéos available afterwards.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Agrégation anglais 2021 civilisation britannique La BBC et le service public de l'audiovisuel. Post 31 Quality and BBC documentary





Dans le domaine de la télévision, les défenseurs de la BBC ont toujours voulu démontrer que les productions du service public étaient de meilleure qualité que celles issues des chaînes commerciales. De cette manière, l’utilisation de l’argent public peut être justifiée. L’argument est parfois délicat, dans la mesure où « la qualité » est affreusement difficile à définir avec précision. Si on peut penser que la surveillance de près par les annonceurs du nombre de téléspectateurs pourrait limiter la créativité et le courage des producteurs d’un réseau privé, il n’est pas difficile de démontrer que  les chaînes privées produisent parfois des émissions de grande qualité.

C’est le domaine du documentaire qui constitue, pour les défenseurs de la BBC, une des meilleures bases de leur argumentation. La série documentaire notamment, plutôt que le documentaire d’une heure seulement, semble avoir trouvé une tradition BBC solide.

Des séries telles que 

The Great War (1964, sur la Première Guerre), 

Ways of Seeing (1972, analyse de l’art), 

The Ascent of Man (1973, histoire des sciences), 

Fall of Eagles (1974, la chute des grandes empires 1848-1914), 

Shock of the New (1980, histoire de l’Art moderne) 

The Celts (1987, l’histoire de la culture celtique) 

People’s Century (1995, histoire populaire du XXe siècle), toutes des séries BBC, semblent avoir peu d’équivalents sur les réseaux privés - avec de rares exceptions telles que The World at War, (1973, histoire de la Seconde Guerre).

On peut trouver des épisodes de quasiment toutes ces émissions sur Youtube, alors n’hésitez pas. Même visionner quelques minutes peut vous donner une idée de l’intention et de la qualité.

Friday, October 16, 2020

MEEF : mock exam with comments and suggested answer


John Mullen  Université de Rouen

You will find here a set of documents given as a homework assignment for M1 MEEF in 2019, in the form of a mock CAPES exam exercise, but done at home with access to research resources. First there is the set of documents, then a series of methodological comments, then a draft proposed commentary, and finally remarks about a few of the mistakes and weaknesses found.

Study this carefully, and come to the next class with any questions you have, or send them to me by email.


In the documents I have highlighted some of the elements it would be good to show you knew something about.

Document A

Why Blair deserves bouquets for Famine apology

The Irish Times   Thu, Jun 5, 1997, 01:00



TONY Blair has taken a lot of flak - and received precious few bouquets - for his statement on the Famine, read by Gabriel Byrne at last week's commemoration concert in Millstreet. While falling short of a formal apology. this was the first time that a British Prime Minister publicly acknowledged the fact that his predecessors in government had failed the people of Ireland in their hour of greatest need.

The Labour Party leader spoke of a "defining and dreadful event in the history of England and Ireland" and of the deep scars that bad been left by politicians in London who had stood by and allowed "a crop failure to turn into massive human tragedy". He also paid tribute to the courage and resilience of those Irish men and women who had triumphed in the face of this catastrophe, and said that Britain in particular had "benefited immeasurably" from their skills and talents.

Mr Blair has been roundly criticised by sections of the British media for the tone of the statement, and his political judgment has been called into question for making it at all. Yet, there has been very little reaction on this side of the Irish Sea. The Taoiseach welcomed Mr Blair's comments, saying that he had confronted the past in a way which laid a basis for healing in the future. But, as far as I can ascertain, there has been no public response from Bertie Ahern. Two years ago, the Fianna Fail leader said that "a frank acknowledgment and expression of regret about the shortcomings of the then British government (at the time of the Famine) would contribute to a much better climate of relations".

[…] FOR many years Irish people have asked for some official acknowledgment by the British that a great wrong was committed 150 years ago. Now that the Prime Minister has tried to respond to that demand, we seem strangely reluctant to admit that something important has happened.

The statement has been noticed in Britain, of course. It isn't easy for any country to admit that it has behaved badly in the past and there are particular problems for the British in accepting that they may have been less than generous in their treatment of Ireland. The comments have ranged from the sneers contained in letters to the newspapers, asking if it might now be appropriate for the British government to seek an apology from Denmark for the actions of the Danes during the reign of King Alfred, to more serious criticism of Mr Blair.

The Prime Minister was reprimanded by the Daily Telegraph for encouraging "the self-pitying nature of Irish nationalism". There was a real danger, the paper warned, that Mr Blair's letter would simply feed "the grievance culture which allows Nationalist Ireland to place the blame for all the country's ills at the door of the Brits, ultimately justifying terrorism". It was a theme taken up in the London Independent, which referred to the Irish "culture of victim hood". There were dire warnings that this could start a flood of demands for apologies for perceived grievances. Bloody Sunday in Derry was quoted as an example.

HISTORIANS also voiced their disapproval, albeit in more measured terms. The argument was made that the Famine like many great tragedies of history, flowed from immensely complex political and economic causes and that it was simplistic to lay the blame for what had happened on a callous or indifferent British government. To do so was to undermine the work done by professional historians in seeking out the more complicated truth.

Several writers suggested that it was wrong to judge what happened then by the standards that would probably be applied now to such a disaster. But it is one of the most refreshing aspects of Tony Blair's government that it does seem prepared to confront the gross injustices that have been committed in the past, and where possible, to put them right. The decision a couple of weeks ago to pardon soldiers, including young Irishmen, who were shot for cowardice in the first world war is another example of the kind of generous imagination which has already been brought to bear on old griefs.

[…] We have seen from our own experience in the North that an expression of obviously sincere contrition for having inflicted suffering can make trust seem possible in even the grimmest situation. No one who saw it is likely to forget the announcement of the loyalist ceasefire in October 1994. What quickened hope that a quite new kind of leadership had emerged from the world of the loyalist paramilitaries was the way Gusty Spence offered to "the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past 25 years, abject and true remorse". And, in spite of all that has happened since, the brutal resurgence of loyalist violence in recent weeks and the almost unbearable images of grieving innocents, that hope has never quite died.

Admitting responsibility for what has happened in the past is the first step towards creating a better future. That is true of personal relations and of public life. Tony Blair has made a brave and generous attempt to lay part of our shared and painful history to rest. Perhaps, when the general election is over, the new government should respond to what he has said.



Document B                  2018




Document C


Bloody Sunday: PM David Cameron's full statement

15 June 2010, source : BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/10322295

This is the full transcript of the statement Prime Minister David Cameron made to MPs in the House of Commons on the day the Bloody Sunday report was published.

"The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville inquiry - the tribunal set up by the previous government to investigate the tragic events of 30 January 1972, a day more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. We have acted in good faith by publishing the tribunal's findings as soon as possible after the general election.

Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.

Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of the support company who went into the Bogside did so as a result of an order which should not have been given by their commander. He finds that, on balance, the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army. He finds that none of the casualties shot by the soldiers of support company was armed with a firearm. He finds that there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries but none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties. And he finds that, in no case, was any warning given by soldiers before opening fire. He also finds that the support company reacted by losing their self-control, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training and with a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline. He finds that despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers, none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. And he finds that many of the soldiers - and I quote knowingly - put forward false accounts to seek to justify their firing. […]

Mr Speaker, these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth. There is no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal's authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.

I know that some people wonder whether, nearly 40 years on from an event, [if] a prime minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry. […]

Mr Speaker, while in no way justifying the events of January 30th, 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday. Since 1969, the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly. Three days before Bloody Sunday, two RUC officers, one a Catholic, were shot by the IRA in Londonderry, the first police officers killed in the city during the Troubles. A third of the City of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army. And in the end, 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland's bloodiest year by far, with nearly 500 people killed. And let us also remember, Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969-2007. This was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, spanning 38 years and in which over 250,000 people served. Our armed forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible. And over 1,000 members - 1,000 members - of the security forces lost their lives to that cause. Without their work, the peace process would not have happened. Of course, some mistakes were undoubtedly made, but lessons were also learned. And once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude we all owe to those who served in Northern Ireland. […]

Mr Speaker, this report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times, no matter how difficult, to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, they do not make us weaker, they make us stronger. That is one of the things that differentiates us from the terrorists. We should never forget that over 3,500 people from every community lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists. There were many terrible atrocities. Politically-motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from. And it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to draw Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who contine to seek to destroy it. But neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville, what happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland. Those are words we cannot and must not ignore. But I hope what this report can also do it is mark the moment where we come together in this House and in the communities we represent to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us. And come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland's troubled past. That is not to say we should ever forget or dismiss the past, but we must also move on. Northern Ireland has been transformed over the last 20 years and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future. And it is with that determination that I commend this statement to the house.”


Proposition de commentaire composé

(The elements in blue of course would not appear in your commentary, they are simply there to remind you that all these points need to be covered, sometimes briefly, sometimes more at length).

There are many, many ways of commenting on these extremely rich documents - certainly you would not be expected to include all the elements I am including here, by a long way. However, it is always best if you have at least something to say on almost all the following questions

Who ? (is expressing themselves),

To whom ? (are they trying to communicate)

When ? (what is important about the fact that it was at this date and not at another)

What ? (is the essential content of the document),

Why? (are they saying all this),

How (do they express themselves, or try to persuade people ?)


What difference did it make ? (Where does this document or incident fit into the long history of Anglo-Irish relations).


Everybody makes mistakes and omissions, but which ones are dangerous? For this piece of work I would say it is dangerous 1) not to show that you know who was fighting whom in Northern Ireland and why, and when and how the military conflict started and was stopped. 2) not to show that you understand that these histories are strongly contested and controversial 3) not to show that you can explain more than one point of view in these ideological conflicts.

It is also essential to identify and comment on the point of view in each document. The journalist Mary Holland is giving an opinion – you must say what it is. David Cameron, also. Even the author of the picture which is document two is giving an opinion, although it is a little more difficult to identify.

A central element of documents 2 and 3 is the conflict between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, so if you define the question as simply international relations between countries it will be impossible for you to explain.

References which it would be good to show you are familiar with.

The Irish Times is a respected Irish newspaper, and naturally will tend to give an opinion whose main priority is an Irish point of view. Within Irish public opinion, there is a general consensus that Britain was partly to blame for the tragedy of the Irish famine. The most radical speak of genocide. In Britain, there is no such consensus.

The Daily Telegraph is the most conservative of the serious daily newspapers published in the UK. It is unsurprising, then, to see that they have very little sympathy with those who emphasize the negative legacy of British colonial domination.

The Taoiseach is the equivalent, in the Irish Republic, of the Prime Minister. If you knew that, that is good, but if you knew it and did not show you knew it, that is a pity. You should write “ the Taoiseach (equivalent of the Prime Minister in the Irish Republic “).

The Irish famine. Again, you can show in a very few words that you know what is being talked about. “The article deals with an apology for the famine” gains you no marks – your reader is waiting for you to say something interesting. However, “the article deals with an apology for the Irish famine (a tragic event of the mid-nineteenth century during which a million Irish people died and two million emigrated)” is infinitely better. It is important to not speak of the Irish famine as if it was just one more sad thing that happened in the past. The population of Ireland did not recover, in numbers, for more than a century. The mass emigration much accelerated by the famine sent Irish people around the world, in particular to the USA and to Australia, where Irish diaspora communities have had an important effect on local society. The Irish famine is one of the founding myths of Irish society, and Tony Blair’s change of attitude compared to previous UK governments was an important political event.


Pardons for First World War soldiers: The article in the Irish Times mentions this. During the First World War, a number of British soldiers were executed by their own army, for questions of discipline (sometimes sleeping on duty, sometimes running away etc). These executions, from today’s point of view, are rather shocking, and for many years there was a campaign for an official pardon for these soldiers. For decades different governments said this was impossible, but finally it was declared in 2006. (A similar campaign exists in France, but so far the French parliament has not agreed to a pardon). The pardon is an example of an attempt, many years later, symbolically to redress injustice, and the writer uses it to compare with the “apology” for the famine.

A hard border: we see the expression frequently, but you must show you know what it is. It is simply a border at which you must stop and show your passports, and at which all goods vehicles must show what they are carrying and prove that they have paid the required customs duties if any. A “soft border” is like the border between France and Belgium today, or France and Germany, at which the only reason you know you have crossed into another country is that you receive a message on your mobile phone from your phone operator telling you that you are abroad, but that everything is fine.


The city of Derry was renamed Londonderry in the 17th century, as a symbol of colonial domination. For a very long time nationalists (generally Catholics) called the town “Derry” and unionists (generally Protestants) used the name “Londonderry”. The use of one or the other name was rich in political signification. It is certainly no accident that Cameron alternates between the two names in his carefully written speech. He is attempting to showcase equal respect for the two sections of the population. In recent years in Northern Ireland, one often sees (on the front of buses or trains, for example) the double name “Derry/Londonderry” leading to the humorous local nickname for the town: “slash city”.


Suggested commentary

These three documents all deal with aspects of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the island of Ireland. Two speak of apologies, and one of an acute political problem. In all three cases, the history of Ireland (The Famine, Bloody Sunday, and the conflict between loyalists and republicans in the North) has a strong effect on political life today.  They can then easily be linked up with the theme of “le passé dans le présent” as in all three cases we can see the exploration of an attempt to mitigate the effects of past injustice or conflict.

[Notice that in this case the link between all three documents is not too difficult to establish - all deal with Ireland and conflict. This is not always the case, and sometimes you have to choose a very general and distanced viewpoint in order to group all three of the documents together. Note that writing about only two of the three documents, because the third is difficult, is absolutely forbidden].

The first document is a newspaper article from the Irish Times, in which the author praises and defends[1] Tony Blair’s controversial “apology” for British government action (or indeed lack of action) during the famine in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. The “apology” and the article both date from 1997, a crucial year in the development of the conflictual situation in Northern Ireland.

The second document is an image in the form of a mathematical puzzle, summarizing in a humorous manner the dilemma of Theresa May’s minority government in 2018-2019 in its attempts to find a commons majority for an orderly withdrawal from the European Union. The illustration is still very relevant today in 2020, as negotiations are continuing between the UK and the European Union concerning a number of issues including customs borders in Ireland.[2]

The final document is a speech in parliament by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron from ten years ago, in which,  more or less obliged by the publication of the Saville report, he officially apologizes for the killing by the British army in January 1972 of unarmed demonstrators, at the same time as presenting this event as exceptional and not typical, and praising in general the actions of British troops in Northern Ireland during the 30 year period after 1969.[3]


In what way are they about le passé dans le présent?


Two of the documents are concerned with apologies, in each case for actions of a dominant power towards a subaltern group at a moment relatively distant in the past. Both of the events referred to – the famine and Bloody Sunday, left much bitterness against the British, in particular among Irish nationalists, for whom such cruelty was considered typical of British imperial crime.

In the first case, Tony Blair suggests that the British government should have done more to alleviate the effects of the famine.

(1 WHO)

It might be considered unsurprising that it should be Tony Blair who volunteered this apology. Tony Blair’s premiership was characterized by a series of measures and policies intended to modernize institutions and turn the page on old ways of doing things (which went in parallel to the use of a new, personal style very much more informal than Prime Ministers had traditionally been). For example, the House of Lords was thoroughly overhauled, and the vast majority of hereditary Lords were excluded. A Freedom of Information act on a North- American model changed the relation of the state to the media. On inner-party issues, Blair changed the name of his party (to “New Labour”) and changed its constitution and policies.  Thus, a new attitude to the history of the Irish famine and to Britain’s colonial past in general might be seen as just one more novel approach brought in by Mr Blair. In addition, since the Labour Party did not exist during the famine, it is uncomplicated for Blair to be critical of the governments of the time.

(1: When, and what difference did it make?)

This first “apology” took place in 1997, shortly after the election of Tony Blair. Irish nationalists were hoping that the new Labour government, elected after 18 years of Conservative government, might mark a change in attitudes to Ireland, even though John Major’s government had already been working on negotiations between nationalists and loyalists. Margaret Thatcher’s time in office, for 1979 to 1990, had been marked by the death of ten Republican prisoners on hunger strike, but in the 1990s, the British Army, the IRA, and the loyalist paramilitaries all seemed to be coming to the conclusion that a military victory was impossible. This “apology” by Tony Blair for an old historical injustice might have helped an atmosphere of negotiation which was to lead up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which managed to end the military conflict in return for work on Catholic human rights in the North, and increased cooperation between the North of Ireland and the Republic.

(How and what)

Nevertheless, the form of the apology is to be noted. It was not (unlike document 3) an official government apology given formally in the House of Commons, but a statement sent to be read out at a commemorative concert for the victims of the famine.  The article only uses very short quotes of less than a sentence from Blair’s words, but the full text includes the words “Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by”. Holland welcomes this expression of regret at the failings of previous British governments and feels it is an important step forward in the respect it shows for Irish feeling on the still burning  question of the famine. One scholar has underlined its historical significance in that “Blair’s rhetoric was one of the first examples of a collective apology issued by a post-Cold War era political.”

Indeed, the famine, whose immediate cause was a disease affecting the potato crops, began in 1847 and lasted several years. More than a million died, more than a million emigrated, and population levels in Ireland did not recover for over a century. Although some government aid was forthcoming from Westminster, it was severely limited by “laissez-faire” politics in this period long before the welfare state. The ideology of conservative elites considered that the Irish people were no doubt to blame for the famine, or even that it was punishment come directly from God. Ireland’s people were often represented at this time as inferior and even animal. We should remember that until 1829 Catholics in Ireland had not been allowed to sit as Members of Parliament.

As the famine continued, soup kitchens and “public works” were organized, but the latter was often forced and humiliating labour, rather than useful work, in keeping with attitudes to the poor at the time. Even more shocking was the fact considerable quantities of food (which the poor did not have the money to buy) were exported from Ireland during the famine, and the government was not prepared to reduce taxes on foreign wheat which might have helped the situation.

The famine became, in subsequent decades, something of a founding myth of Irish identity. The fact that the British helped so little was considered by many to be typical of colonial domination, and some nationalist historians have even referred to the British government’s attitude at the time as “genocidal”.

Mary Holland is disappointed that Irish politicians have not received with more enthusiasm this expression of regret. Although the Taoiseach (the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic) made positive comments about it, Bertie Ahern, leader of Fianna Fail, a centre right political party and one of the two main parties in the Irish Republic,[4] has not yet reacted, despite his earlier interest in seeing Britain express regret. She underlines the fact that conservative forces in the UK have denounced Blair’s statement. For example, the Daily Telegraph, the most conservative of the serious daily newspapers, had objected, and Holland suggests that Blair’s political courage should be praised. The Daily Telegraph had expressed a common conservative complaint in cases where  historical injustice is the target of modern political campaigns: it said that this was a case of “grievance culture”, people enjoying playing at being victims,[5] suggesting that the dark past is better forgotten rather than re-hashed. For the Daily Telegraph, far from providing the basis for a future of mutual respect and peace, apologizing in this way would tend to encourage terrorism.

To strengthen her argument in favour of this apology, Holland gives two examples of apologies which she feels have been positive. One is the decision in 2006 by the British government to accord a posthumous pardon to British soldiers executed by their own army in the First World War, the result of a very long campaign, and a pardon which resulted in official statues to the executed being set up in official places of military commemoration. The second was the ceasefire declared by the loyalist paramilitaries opposed to the IRA. The expression of apology by loyalist leaders, she felt, led to real progress in the peace agreements.


The third document is also connected to apology: it is the official statement of Conservative prime minister about the report from the Saville inquiry.[6] Although it is David Cameron who makes the apology, it is the result of a long process in which he himself had little influence, as indeed he underlines, saying that the 1970s was a period he had read about but had not lived through (Cameron was six years old in 1972, and became Britain’s youngest  Prime minister since the early 19th century when he took office in 2010.)

After British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in 1969, in a situation where inter-community violence was at a high level, and Catholic parts of town in particular were in danger, their reputation among Catholics rapidly deteriorated, as it became clear that they did not have the same attitude to nationalist Catholics and to loyalist Protestants. Imprisonment without trial was brought in for paramilitary suspects in 1971, but only used systematically against Republicans. At one point, Britain was denounced by international organizations for the use of torture.

In January 1972, an unarmed political demonstration took place in Derry. Fourteen young men were killed by the British Army, in front of hundreds of witnesses. Several of them were teenagers, and one of them was shot dead while he was waving a white handkerchief in sign of peace. An inquiry, the Widgery inquiry, set up by the Conservative government of the time in the days following the events concluded that the soldiers had acted in self-defence, and both houses of parliament approved the report of the inquiry, despite misgivings being expressed even in establishment circles.

The events of Bloody Sunday strengthened the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. It was well-known in Northern Ireland that the men killed had been unarmed, and often shot in the back in cold blood, and this fact, along with government and media insistence that the shooting was done in self-defence, made it seem to many that only a military or paramilitary option was open for defending Catholic nationalist interests in Northern Ireland. In his speech, Cameron confirms this, saying that Bloody Sunday “strengthened the provisional IRA”.

Twenty five years later, when it had become apparent to all sides that a military victory was highly unlikely, there were the beginnings of negotiations for a peace agreement. The question of Bloody Sunday came to be very important. Many Republicans were not prepared to negotiate as long as the official position of the British government was that these killings were justified. The whole future of the very fragile peace negotiations might have been threatened.

There had been a campaign for justice for many years by families and supporter of those killed, but there was a technical problem: it is not normally possible to open a new inquiry once an inquiry on a given event has reached its conclusions. A special dispensation was obtained to open a new inquiry, under the leadership of Lord Saville. The inquiry lasted twelve years, partly because hundreds of witnesses had seen the people shot (since the events took place below blocks of flats). The result showed that the people killed were not armed and were not threatening the soldiers in any way.

David Cameron had inherited this situation, and his priority was, naturally, damage limitation. There are still very small paramilitary groups uninterested in the Good Friday process, and any attempt to block the conclusions of the inquiry could have been dangerous. He decided on a formal, public apology, hoping thus to close this chapter in history. The apology did not, in fact, quite close the chapter, in that there are campaigns for the soldiers who carried out the murders to face criminal charges.

Cameron’s position was unenviable, since the Saville Report made it clear that the victims of Bloody Sunday were executed in cold blood, and the question must therefore be raised as to how it was possible for the first inquiry under Lord Widgery to exonerate the soldiers involved. Cameron concentrates then on presenting the events of that Sunday as wholly exceptional. British troops he says are “the finest in the world”, and over the thirty years or so that British soldiers were in Northern Ireland, they deserve “honour” not reprobation. They showed, in general, according to Cameron, “enormous courage and professionalism”. He further argues that it is the work of the large number of troops who were in Northern Ireland which made the peace process after 1998 possible.

By mentioning the large number of deaths resulting from the “Troubles”, in particular in the 1970s, he aims at contextualizing, perhaps even minimizing, the scandal of Bloody Sunday. He carefully does not mention the specific responsibility of the Conservative government in 1972.

In this way, Cameron replies in advance to the arguments that will be put forward by Irish nationalists, who will consider that Bloody Sunday was certainly an extreme case, but that the logic was wholly typical of British forces in Northern Ireland, backing up anti-Catholic racism and a Northern Irish statelet which the nationalists consider to be illegitimate and temporary.

Cameron ends his speech by expressing the hope that this clear  apology will  “mark the moment where we come together in this House and in the communities we represent to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us.” That is, he expresses a wish that truth and reconciliation can be attained, and that the Good Friday process can continue, and relations improve. In 2020, there are still a number of Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Northern Irish cities divided by “peace walls” so it is clear that there is still work to do to unite Catholics and the Protestants who the British army was aligning itself with.


(1, 3 context)

The first and third documents also fit into a series of events and initiatives within Britain and indeed other countries- actual or proposed apologies for past injustices. One of the best-known cases is the decision of the Australian government a few years back to apologize for the treatment of Aboriginal children of “the stolen generations” when racist policies involved the taking of children from their families and placing them, often secretly, with White families. In Britain there have been such examples as the apology by the British State for the mistreatment of gay mathematician Alan Turing, and the apology some years ago by the Church of England for their involvement in the slave trade.


The second document is quite different in form. It is a mathematical puzzle, presented as a “paradox”. How can one follow the instructions? It is mathematically impossible to do so. Because of this, the intention of the diagram is no doubt humorous.[7]

The diagram refers to the dilemma facing Theresa May and her government in their negotiations for withdrawal from the European Union after the referendum decision of 2016. This problem has still not been solved today. There are political reasons for each one of the instructions, and, as we shall see, they do have a strong  connection with “le passé dans le présent”. We will take them, not in order.

Why must there be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Although the military conflict has almost completely ceased, the Irish nationalists in the North and in the Republic still wish, by political means, to work for the eventual reunification of the whole Ireland, since they see the 1920 partition as a colonial carving up of the island, caused by colonial settlements going back centuries, in a process which imposed Protestant domination on an island which held a Catholic majority. The lack of a real visible border at the moment is very important to nationalists, seeing that the militarized border before 1998 was felt as an insult to Irish national aspirations.

Loyalists also are not keen for a hard border (with customs barriers, passport controls etc) to return. From a practical point of view, many thousands of people cross the border every day simply to go to work, and also, if  a hard border were to encourage those nationalists who have not abandoned armed struggle, this would be a negative.

There must be a hard border between France and Britain. The UK has decided to leave the European Union, and thus no longer be part of the single market nor the free movement area, nor, eventually, the customs’ union. The European Union has true, hard borders all around its exterior, and it would be illogical for this not to be the case for Britain.

These two imperatives lead to a contradiction. How can there be no hard border to the North of the Irish Republic, and yet a hard border between the EU and the UK?

One idea which has been floated to solve this dilemma was to have some kind of border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain: that is, to allow Northern Ireland, although it is part of the United Kingdom, to have a special relationship with the European Union, on a tariff-free principle. This would no doubt be complex to put into place, but it would have, in theory, solved the political problem. There would have been customs checks on items entering England Scotland or Wales if they came from anywhere on the island of Ireland.

However, there was an “accidental” complication. This solution would have been unacceptable to many, very influential, unionists, who are firmly opposed to Northern Ireland being treated in any way differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, because they see any such difference as the beginning of a dangerous slope leading to the reunification of Ireland. Rule from Dublin has been the nightmare of unionists since the very beginning of the 19th century, when Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom by the Acts of Union, passed in Westminster and in Dublin. At the end of the 19th century Home Rule for Ireland, a plan for partial autonomy for Ireland, was fiercely fought against by unionists, through such actions as the Curragh mutiny. After the First World War, the determination and force of unionists allowed the division of Ireland and the formation of a Northern entity of which the majority of the population was Protestant.

It might have been possible for the British government to ignore these unionist feelings, or compensate them by making concessions on other issues, had it not been for an unfortunate political coincidence. The British Conservative government of Theresa May did not have a majority in the House of Commons (always an uncomfortable position for any government). The only way they could have decisions voted in by a majority is by relying on the ten or so MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party, a hard-line unionist organization, often considered to be anti-Catholic, and which campaigned against the Good Friday agreement when it was put to a referendum in 1998.

The DUP Members of Parliament would never accept that Northern Ireland be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, leading to the dilemma illustrated in the diagram. Although this is above all a question of twenty first century politics, the link with memory and heritage is clear, in that the partition of Ireland almost a hundred years ago, a compromise intended to solve the problem of the conflict between the nationalist population and the unionists created by earlier settlement and by religious and social divisions, has come back to haunt today’s politicians.


All in all, the three documents highlight past injustices and conflicts, and the use of the government apology in processes connected with Truth and Reconciliation. The two apologies are interventions in delicate situation – the first voluntary, the second constrained.[8] The diagram, a more factual presentation rather than a rhetorical one, illustrates the dilemma inherited from past conflicts and bitternesses.




General questions of methodology


Here are some general points on writing a text commentary in civilization, which is completely different from in literature. Many thanks to the teachers from the University of Paris 7: this section is made up of extracts from their document, which I have slightly adapted.


This is one suggested method. Others are possible, but they will tend to draw in the same questionings. The two main grave errors are a) paraphrasing the document and b) reciting your history classes without linking them to this particular document and what the document is trying to do.




(Their document is online here https://fr.scribd.com/document/362914625/Brochure-Externe-2016-17-Site-Ufr-2 )


Objective of the commentary

In a text commentary, your role is to determine the historical significance of the text. In order to do so, you must discuss the perspective given by the author on the historical issues presented in the text. You must determine what his or her objectives are and how / to what extent he or she achieves them. This implies that there needs to be 3 levels to your analysis:


Level 1: define, explain, highlight the events, developments etc mentioned in the text, using your knowledge of the period; demonstrate that you know your history, understand what the author refers to, and that you are able to make the text comprehensible to people who do not know the period or have not read the text.


Level 2: comment on the intentions of the author, on how they present the issues at stake, and why.


Level 3: what difference did it make? What is the role of this particular document or incident in the long trends of historical development?


Preliminary work on the text

1. Look at the “margins” of the text: title, source, date (situate it within your period), author (see whether it’s anonymous / anybody famous; if the author is known to you, gather in your mind the elements you know about him/her)


2. Read the text carefully, at least 3 times. When you read the text for the first time, do not make any notes or write on the text; do not make assumptions and keep a clear and open mind until you have read the last word of the text: texts can be deceptive and the key to the interpretation may be at the end of the passage – it’s always difficult to get rid of wrong assumptions.


3. Once you have perceived the general idea of the text, look closely at the following elements:


a. nature of the text (official report / letter / petition / speech). The specificity of the text will have to be taken into account in your analysis.


b.  period analysed in the text + date when the text was written. They may be the same or they may be different, in the case of memoirs for instance - the retrospective aspect of a document should never be ignored. Place the date(s) within your period + is it immediately before/after a major historical event, reform etc. Before you start your analysis, you must be clear on the

context in which the text was written, or the speech delivered 


c. author (or multiple authors); if you know who they are, determine whether they are likely to have a particular perspective / events they describe and why.


d. readership / audience: this is essential to help you analyse the objectives of the author, who they intend to convince and what means they will use to do so.


e.  tone/ literary qualities… because they are markers of subjectivity and will help you determine the intentions, means and perspective of the author.


f. structure of the text: uncover the internal logic of the text, the argumentative dynamic of the author’s demonstration, (if it is an argumentative text, as texts chosen for exams often are) looking closely at repetitions/progression…


Detailed analysis of the text

One of the main challenges here is to distinguish the main arguments from the more minor points. This does not mean of course that details are to be overlooked: but they should not obscure the central dynamic of the text, which should be at the heart of your commentary. A linear analysis of the text will first enable you to choose the terms, dates, concepts, events, etc that need to be defined, explained, and commented on. Select the quotes that you will include in your commentary. But the objective of your analysis should be to go towards the most problematic elements, towards what is implicit, what is left unsaid, what is hidden (consciously or unconsciously) by the author.


You should uncover whether the author is being influenced (and by whom or what), to what extent they are partial, and to what extent they are trying to influence the readership/audience. It is on these points that your commentary should provide a critical (which of course means constructive assessment) perspective on the text. Compare the way the author presents events to what you know of these same historical events, to ultimately determine why the author writes as he or she does, what the motives are and what, therefore, is the historical interest of the text. Once you have completed this detailed analysis, you will be able to organise the main themes of the text into a logical, detailed outline and determine a “problématique”. Remember that this is not an essay and that the  problématique should be based on the historical interest of the text and the intentions of the author, not on the topic in general.




1. Begin with the context: select relevant historical developments that will lead to the issues raised by the text.


Select the context critically: the historical long-term perspective is only interesting if relevant: avoid equally superficial and naïve comments, such as “England has always been/ For centuries…”

The introduction should remain dense, concise, to the point: it is not the place to cram in knowledge, so do not give a vast panorama of events on the subject at stake in the text.


2. Present the main idea/theme of the texts (brief but to the point), the objective of the author, the date, the readership; show that you have understood the context in which the text was written or the speech delivered and that you will reflect on its significance.


3. Introduce a clear  problématique, focused on the text (not simply on the general topic of the text) and on its interpretation. Once again, the essential elements in a commentary are the interpretation that the author gives of the period concerned, and your own informed interpretation of the author’s perspective. You need to reflect on how the text should be read in order to be properly understood, in its explicit and implicit elements.


Development: argumentation

Do not hesitate to draw comparisons between the document you are asked to study and other documents you have read that would highlight the interest of the text and help you build a critical analysis. Interpretations are central in history and the quality of your analysis will be improved if you can use briefly and selectively other documents that may be relevant to fully understand the significance of the text you are to study. Similarly, do not hesitate to use the historiography on the period to support your analysis. Referring to books and/or articles by historians of the period will give weight to your own analysis and demonstrate that you have a broad and informed perspective on events.



The conclusion should not be a summary (neither of your development nor of the text itself). You must reflect on what you have demonstrated and pull together the threads from your main arguments, conclude on the historical interest/significance of the text, the objectives of the author and his/her degree of subjectivity. Needless to say, you must provide a response to the problématique given in the introduction. Include your reflection in a broader historical context (without giving the impression that it is a mere “what happened next”.


To be avoided at all costs

1. Paraphrase and reformulation: this will be avoided if you remember the 2 levels that your commentary must include (cf above). 2.


Essay rather than commentary: (cf above: never provide an analysis that is not closely linked to the text and its specificity; this should also enable you to avoid any

 placage de cours).


3. Literary commentary: style, rhetorical devices etc are only useful if they support your analysis of history; if not, they are irrelevant.

[If you want to talk about lexical fields, anaphores and cataphores, you should probably wait until you are working on a literary document].


4. Judgment on the author, pseudo-psychology on his/her feelings and intentions. Bold statements (particularly if unfounded): valuable comments generally come from the confrontation between several interpretations of the same event/process.


[e.g. Do not write “The author’s presentation does not fit with the facts.” Write instead: “Other commentators such as X have seen these events in quite a different way, claiming that ….”.]


[9][1] http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/lab74oct.htm

[10][2] The full manifesto can be found here: http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con74oct.htm



Questions of language

1. No contractions in university work when not quoting dialogue, ever.

2. A few people have problems translating the « conditionnel de conjecture » (“des tragédies dans lesquelles le Royaume Uni aurait sa part de responsabilité “). This is not translated with “would”.

3. Be careful with infinitive and gerundive structures. The correct form with “risk”, for example, is “There is a risk OF ENCOURAGING a return to a military conflict”.

[1] Note that from the very first mention of the document, it is best to clearly express what the document is trying to do. « The first document deals with Tony Blair’s apology » is weak.

[2] One student suggested that the colours in the document were significant – the green words for Ireland’s priorities, etc. This is creative but not correct in this case.

[3] Same comment here: from the beginning try to characterize what the document is doing, and what the motivation is. Cameron is forced to apologize because of the facts officially uncovered by the Saville inquiry, but he wants to do it in a manner which limits the damage to the reputation, in Britain, of the British Army. You should not characterize the apology as something Cameron felt like doing because he was so honest. If this were how politics worked, the apology would have come decades earlier.

[4] At the exam, obviously, if you do not know who Fianna Fail are, you cannot add these words, but if you do know you must show you know.

[5] If you can define « grievance culture » this would definitely be a bonus.

[6] Be careful: inquiry not enquiry.

[7] The characterization of the second document is considerably more difficult than that of the other two, and I think it would be possible to get a good mark on the exam even without understanding the humorous intent of the diagram, as long as you showed you understood*why* it was being considered essential to have « no hard border » in one place and a « hard border » in another. You should also show you know what a « hard border » actually is.

[8] Many students were too generous with their analysis of the interventions by politicians. Of course, it is quite possible that Blair and Cameron were motivated by the highest of ideals – this is not really something we can know. What we can know and explain is the circumstances which made it a good idea to apologize (Blair) with a particular political aim, or made it compulsory to apologize (Cameron) in the hope of damage limitation.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Week four m1 MEEF CAPES

I need a little time to write up my comments and corrigé of the mock exam we were looking at. In a few days it will appear here

Week four thème agrégation : Suggested translation: Victor Serge

 [Remember these suggested translations only stay online for a couple of weeks, so make sure you download them]

Comets are born[1] from the night


Kostia had been thinking over[2] whether he might buy a pair of shoes for several weeks when a sudden whim which he had not foreseen upset all his plans. By giving up cigarettes and the cinema and by skipping lunch every second day[3], he would in six weeks be able to save up, the one hundred and forty roubles he needed to buy those rather good boots, which[4] the kind salesgirl of a second-hand shop had promised to put by[5] for him ‘on the quiet’[6].

Until then, he was walking around cheerfully on cardboard soles which he replaced[7] every night. Luckily, the weather remained dry. With already seventy roubles to his name[8], Kostia went to look at his future shoes, for the pleasure. They were half-hidden in a darkened section of the shop, behind some old copper[9] samovars, a pile of binocular[10] cases, a Chinese teapot, and a box (full of seashells)[11] on which an image of the gulf of Naples stood out in celestial blue… A pair of riding boots,[12] in soft leather, stood in the front of the shelf: they were priced at four hundred roubles, would you believe it! Men wearing shabby coats licked their lips looking at them.

‘Do not worry,’[13] the little salesgirl told Kostia, ‘Your boots are here, don’t fret.’ She smiled at him. She was a brunette with deep-set[14] eyes, with pretty but badly positioned[15] teeth, and her lips were[16]… How could her lips be described? ‘Your lips are magical,[17]’ Kostia thought, looking at her straight in the face, not feeling at all shy[18], even though he would never have dared say out loud what he was thinking at that moment. Kostia’s eyes were held for a moment by her deep-set eyes, which were halfway[19] between green and the blue of some of the Chinese trinkets[20] displayed in the counter showcase. His gaze then wandered over the jewellery, the paper knives[21], the watches, the snuff boxes and other worthless trinkets, until it rested by chance on a small portrait of a woman framed in ebony, so small it could fit in your hand.

‘How much is this?’ Kostia asked in a surprised voice.

‘Seventy roubles. It is expensive, you know,’ replied her magical lips.

Hands that were also magical, emerging from a gold and red brocade thrown across the counter, took the miniature out. Kostia took it, deeply moved to be holding between his large, dirty fingers this image, this living image.


L’affaire Toulaev, Victor Serge, 1948


Sunken eyes



[1] Someone tried “stem from » but I think that is used only for an intellectual origin. « His distrust of politicians stemmed from a general ideology of self-reliance. » See collocations below.

[2] The verb « to ponder » worked well, too. ‘Mulling over’ is okay. Definitely not ‘meditating’ which is generally reserved for more transcendental activities. This may be unsurprising – a latinate word is much less likely to refer to an everyday activity like thinking things over. “Think over” is very good here, because if you can show you have a good grasp of phrasal verbs, this is impressive.

[3] The expression « every other day » is okay, but might be ambiguous here.

[4] Of course, “which » can often be omitted, but when the sentence is already a little complicated, it is better to leave it in.

[5] « Put aside » is good. « Reserve » is okay but latinate. « Put away » seems logical, but, as we shall see later in the passage, she did not « put them away » (which would involve putting them somewhere where no customer would see them).

[6] Someone tried ‘surreptitiously’, which is a little more intellectual, but otherwise fine.

[7] Not ‘renewed’.

[8] « In his pocket » is good. « Saved up » is fine.

[9] Were they copper or brass? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samovar

[10] Even if an element is usually plural, in an adjectival position it does not take an « s ». So, examine the following sentences: « What is your shoe size? » « Trouser length is measured in inches » « Where are my son’s pyjama trousers ? ».

[11] « Box of shells » is fine. Not a « shell box » which, like a wine glass or a coffee cup, may be empty. I do not think this is a box decorated by sticking shells on the outside.

[12] I misunderstood this at first. These boots are not the boots which Kostia is planning on buying, they are riding boots (« bottes royales ») which are far more expensive, are not hidden away, and look very attractive to impecunious visitors).

[13][13] “Rest assured” is too formal in style.

[14] Someone was tempted by « sunken eyes », but this is a pejorative expression, as Google helped me see (see below). “Deep-set” is spelt with a hyphen, though native speakers often forget this.

[15] Someone found “crooked” which is excellent. Listen to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqyUOlz_6i4

[16] Notice how I have added a verb. One does not have to add a verb everywhere, but there should be more verbs in your passage in English than there are in French.

[17] Someone tried “spellbinding” – a valiant attempt, but I have the feeling that   it is too active an adjective. You can see below the uses found in the British National Corpus (do check out the British National Corpus, it is invaluable).

[18] There are a number of possibilities, but a verbal structure is much better than « without shyness » or « without timidity ».

[19] Structures with the word ‘intermediate’ sound too analytical.

[20] The word « bibelot » does exist in English, but it is far too rare a word to use here.

[21] This is occasionally written as one word, but far more commonly as two.