Christophe Combemale

Project Update: Finalizing the Theory

My anticipated work will combine a thorough analysis of historiography, assembled this semester in preparation for the more dedicated nature of the formal project. I will combine this segment with direct historical analysis supplemented by the statistical excavation of empirical trends in my period of study, oriented toward the theoretical formulation of the relationship between state and society in achieving practical legitimacy. The ambition of the project gives me great cause consider the value of this early summer start.

PROJECT UPDATE:

My work this summer is entering its final stage; I have completed the revised write-up of my theory of institutions and political agents and supplemented it with illustrative examples and disambiguating glossary entries. These documents represent the culmination of many weeks’ reading into the thicket of related theoretical material and the development of my own nucleus of ideas into a fuller conceptual spectrum built on revision and adaptation. Though each element has been exciting to undertake and satisfying to complete, the core theoretical piece has certainly been the most important and fulfilling component of my work. At this juncture, the only remaining item from among the objectives that my adviser and I devised for this summer period is the comparative orientation of the original theory I have produced within the existing scholarship. I look forward to adding this final dimension to the theoretical stage of my thesis.

My thesis will be a composite product; fundamentally, it is a work that proposes a political and social theory whose salient claims are applied with the sensibilities of a historian to a demonstrative instance. This summer has been reserved for establishing the theory, leaving essential time in the upcoming year for the historical project of assessing the theory through the lens of the reign of Francis I. The opportunity to focus entirely on the theory has enabled me to adopt a more conceptually contained working style whose clear objectives enable depth without sacrificing the intended scope of the project and which have produced a workable theory ready for implementation within a distinctly subsequent phase demanding a refocused mindset as much as an appreciation of the running threads of the thesis.

I find the greatest challenge of work of this nature, reading and constructing theory, to be the marshalling of sometimes disparate inspirations into a cohesive (and coherent) work. A firm concept of the project is indispensable to this effort, and I continue to find great value in the clarity provided by the weekly meetings I began holding with Dr. Modell before the beginning of the summer.

Working during this time on a topic of my choosing has been a liberating process of welcome rigor and novelty, and the development of new understanding has been complemented by the mentorship of a knowledgeable and experienced adviser nonetheless party to the project as a learning enterprise. In this respect, I felt considerably greater ownership over the thesis as an object of scholarly innovation rather than a demonstration or reinforcement of current learning. I near the conclusion of this first experience with independent research enriched by my work and excited by plans and possibilities for the next year.

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The Beginning: Students Discuss Their Research Projects

In this video, the four students participating in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program’s inaugural year discuss their projects, which range from relationship research to anthropology and ethnography studies.

For more information on the program, the projects and how to get involved or provide support, visit http://hss.cmu.edu/honorsresearchfellowship/.

What I’m doing this summer – Christophe Combemale

combemale image

The poster I used to present my research project at the Heart of the Matter event on Monday April 21.

Christophe Combemale

Christophe Combemale

I undertake this summer phase of my Senior Honors thesis with great enthusiasm (and an appropriate measure of trepidation) at the prospect of work largely novel to my undergraduate experience. While I have already conducted historical research and presented my results in an academic forum, the interdisciplinary reach of this project demands an altogether different appreciation for scale.

My anticipated work will combine a thorough analysis of historiography, assembled this semester in preparation for the more dedicated nature of the formal project. I will combine this segment with direct historical analysis supplemented by the statistical excavation of empirical trends in my period of study, oriented toward the theoretical formulation of the relationship between state and society in achieving practical legitimacy. The ambition of the project gives me great cause consider the value of this early summer start.

In order to achieve the intended features of my thesis, I will divide the overarching process into distinct but by no means independent stages. Though I will characterize them by a certain preliminary ordering, the elements of this progression are not necessarily linear, and they may develop in parallel rather than in strict sequence.

As an immediate continuation of the preparatory work I began upon receiving this Fellowship, I will refine my understanding of modern academic perspectives on the reign of Francis I to best situate the historical dimension of my thesis in identifying its most substantive implications for current understanding of the period. My research to date reveals a strongly biographical tendency in the historiography, entirely expected given the intensely personal nature of governance in Early Modern France.

This feature of the period influenced my own decision to use the reign of Francis I as the focus of my analysis of the mechanisms of state legitimacy, using the lengthy continuity of the personality (Francis ruled for 32 years) presiding over the Kingdom of France to properly account for the variations of character which naturally affect the direction and functionality of the state. In a sense, I will both internalize the characteristics of Francis and other dominant domestic and foreign figures affecting his Kingdom as providing the motives which drive high-level state policy (either proactively or in response to pressure on these personal interests) and “reduce” them to more closely analyze the general mechanisms of state operation in evidence.

The advantages of my chosen period bring me to the next facet of my summer tasks. The increasingly sophisticated and centralized state of Francis’s France provides ample primary sources in the form of official records, some available by order from the French Bibliothèque Nationale and others directly online from academic databases. A record of the royal treasury during the period and a collection of every royal edict issued by Francis I are among the most promising examples; in the first weeks of my summer thesis work, I intend to conduct a statistical analysis of the data provided by these sources to evaluate the relationship between the quantitative dimensions of treasury income and allocation and the categorical incidence of royal edicts.

The statistical component of the project will provide a dimension of empirical rigor with which to enrich the conclusions enabled by other primary sources, such as Francis’s prolific letters (with which I intend to construct an evolving image of his motives as a ruler) and the valuable chronicles of the diplomatic meetings which profoundly marked the monarch’s foreign policy. These materials will provide the core of the historical stage of my thesis, and the last essential part of the first weeks of my summer work. I will begin research under the Honors Fellowship shortly after the end of my final exams, and my anticipation grows each day.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects