For Guillaume Beausire the unprecedented constraints imposed by social distancing proved an impetus to develop new ways of integrating archival research in undergraduate teaching, as well as the global in the local.
Teaching Global History in a pandemic: this is one of the many challenges we faced this year at the University of Lausanne. Social distancing rules did not allow us to have a large number of undergraduates delve into the archives. How could we convey that “taste for archives” celebrated by Arlette Farge, and enable students to pursue their own research project?
As the centenary of the 1923 Lausanne Conference was approaching, we had the idea to take a quick look at what light if any Lausanne’s departmental and police archives could shed on this topic. When we opened the boxes, we encountered a multitude of documents produced by the police during the Conference: from plans illustrating security arrangements put in place for Mussolini’s arrival and surveillance diaries recording the movements of Ismet Pasha to lists of people considered a threat by the police. Having digitized a large part of these archives we proposed that the students use them to explore global history from a very local perspective.
Their research produced some particularly stimulating results. Several students investigated how local community groups sought to make the most of the conference, whether to spread Kemalist propaganda (in the case of local Turkish student associations), to foster international labour solidarity (in the case of Swiss labour groups) or champion the Armenian cause (local churches).
Others students took an interest in some unrecognized actors of the conference, such as the colonel Arthur Fonjallaz, a leading Swiss fascist who used the events of 1922-3 to strengthen his personal and professional ties with Ismet Pasha and the Turkish authorities. Some undertook a media analysis of bourgeois and working-class newspapers’ coverage of the murder of the Russian diplomat Vatslav Vorovsky, an event which contributed to the weakening of bilateral relations between Switzerland and the USSR for many years.
The Conference was considered from a spatial angle; by mapping the plurality of spaces, both formal (conference rooms, luxury hotels) and informal (dance halls, bars, cinemas), occupied by the actors. Its impact on the Swiss hotel industry was explored, as well as the use of the treaty table to shape legacies and memories of 1923. The police archives revealed noteworthy (and sometimes transnational) trajectories of women activists, secretaries, students, journalists and sex workers.
Finally these archives indicate how security was maintained during the conference through border controls, interrogation and direct surveillance. This demonstrated how “Orientals” were constituted as a specific type of threat by the local police and how the latter collaborated with hotel staff to combat this perceived challenge.
The overall quality of research suggests that we succeeded in interesting the students in global history, despite the constraints imposed by distance learning. Students recognized the timeliness of their research, and embraced the opportunity the centenary afforded to share their work with international audiences of both academics and laypeople, via the Lausanne Project website and the Historical Museum of Lausanne.