For anyone studying the ancien régime society of eighteenth-century France, the Archives Nationales in Paris provide an invaluable but not unproblematic perspective. Fastidiously classified and organised, the archives help the uninitiated to navigate and make sense of foreign world. Yet they also impose a sense of order on to a society that was made up of a patchwork of corporations, customs and loyalties that were often resistant to the centralizing and rationalizing aspirations of reformist ministers in the service of the monarchy.
My fieldwork conducted through the summer of 2013 was focused on several goals: to initiate contacts on the ground who could both be interlocutors and guides through the city, to establish connections with organizations that represent the Maghreb community, and to concretize the themes and focus for my dissertation.
Go to almost any family reunion, and you’ll find some of the same things: gossip and posturing, old photos and favorite recipes, brand new babies and aged ancestors. For anthropologist Jennifer Cole, these often-awkward gatherings are rich opportunities for fieldwork that offer a glimpse into the emergence of a transnational culture as it forms.