This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University.
Having just completed my third year abroad at l’Université de Genève, Switzerland, and l’Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy, I was thrilled to be nominated to take part in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My task over the eight weeks is to scope the newly acquired Barbier archive, under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.
The archive was donated to the university by a living relative of the Barbier family. She believed that the archive would be valuable to researchers, as Paul E. E. Barbier was the first lecturer in French appointed to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, the institution that later became Cardiff University. After visiting the former owner’s home to see the archive, Hanna and Alan were keen to acquire it. The owner has spent time carefully organising and dating the extensive archive. It comprises several large boxes full of memorabilia relating to the family and the Victorian era, including photographs, newspaper cuttings and old exercise books.
There are also 36 archive boxes, each dated by year from 1860 to 1924, containing hundreds of letters, postcards and other correspondence between members of the Barbier family, as well as their relatives, colleagues and friends. The previous owner has also provided us with a very useful family tree, along with four booklets which she has written detailing the family’s involvement in the First World War. Others outline the lives of Georges Barbier (1819-1892), one of the original members of the family who came to London from the Doubs Valley in France, and Euphémie Barbier (née Bornet), the Swiss-born governess who settled in Cardiff after marrying his son Paul E. E. Barbier.
My responsibility is to go through the archive with a view to uncovering and recording its contents. I am also collating information about the family to enable the University to promote the archive both to future researchers and interested members of the public.
Once settled in Cardiff, the family continued to sustain their French links, often communicating in French with each other, and working closely with various French societies in Britain (the Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff, for example). The family’s Franco-British identity is very apparent in the archive, as most of the letters from the 36 boxes are in French. I have needed my language skills to read, decipher and translate the letters, which I have then been cataloguing into a spreadsheet so that future researchers have an understanding of what each box contains.
Each box of letters takes a while to go through, particularly as there are so many letters, and the handwriting is sometimes difficult to read! In a few weeks’ time, I will be conducting an oral history interview with the former owner of the archive, who I hope will be able to provide more detail and context to the family’s involvement in the First World War, and the different lives of each family member. In order to share my discoveries and give a taste of what the archive has to offer, I will be sharing updates via further blog posts and social media.