University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Summer vacation 2020: a virtual tour round Marseille

In this post, PhD student and Gale ambassador Megan Ison shows that even under lockdown conditions, our horizons need not be limited, as she takes us on a virtual vacation in France, using Gale primary sources, to get us in the mood for that holiday we plan to take, next year …

Summer 2020 – a vacation period with a difference

After a busy exam season each May, students up and down the country look forward to long summer vacations. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we can’t catch a flight this summer holiday.  Excitingly, Gale Primary Sources, an online database of digitalised primary sources, allows you to still explore your cancelled holiday destination – in a completely virtual way, from the safety of your own home!  For example, I had planned to go to Marseille in June, which is a historic city in the South of France well-known for its Roman and medieval remains.  Instead, I had a really fun afternoon using some rare and quirky Gale Primary Sources that the University of Portsmouth have purchased, to explore the South of France – and I’m taking you there with me in this blog post!

How to access Gale Primary Sources

You can access the Gale Primary Sources collections purchased by the University of Portsmouth by following these five simple steps:

  1. Log on to the University of Portsmouth Library website
  2. Click to search library resources
  3. Type your discovery query as Gale Primary Sources
  4. Click Gale primary sources [electronic resource]
  5. Scroll down, click online access

Gale Primary Sources we have permanently available at the University of Portsmouth

  • 17th and 18th century Burney Newspaper Collections
  • 19th Century UK Periodicals
  • Archives of Sexuality and Gender
  • Archives Unbound Collection: Spanish Civil War, Hollywood Moral Censorship
  • British Library Newspapers 1741-1950
  • Daily Mail Historical Archive 1896-2004
  • The Economist Historical Archive 1943-2015
  • The Illustrated London News Historical Archive 1843-2003
  • Nineteenth Century US Newspapers
  • Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive Parts I and III
  • The Times Digital Archive 1785-2013
  • State Papers Online
  • Chatham House Online Archive

Travel around Marseille

Once I had gained online access to Gale Primary sources via the University of Portsmouth website, I started by using the Term Frequency Function to plan my trip around Marseille.  The search terms I filtered into the Gale Primary Sources database using the Advanced Search feature were: ‘Marseille’ and ‘Vacation’. The results yielded were as follows:

With the predominance of terms such as ‘Riots’, ‘Police’ and ‘crime’, it appears as though Marseille is a little more colourful than the terracotta buildings I had been expecting to see on my holiday!  Nevertheless, a fan of any history concerning resistance, rebellion and regionalism, Marseille certainly sounds right up my street!

Keenan, Steve. “The new Marseilles connection.” Times, 9 June 2001, p. 1[S5]. The Times Digital Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IF0501048378/GDCS?u=uniportsmouth&sid=GDCS&xid=c5ac1563. Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.

Sightseeing in Marseille

Deciding which theme to explore first, I did what most city-breakers do: I drew up a list of must-see sights in Marseilles. The Old Port of Marseille was high up on my list of places to visit this summer. So, I searched within some of the thematic clusters shown in the diagram above, including ‘Marseille Dockers’, ‘Journey’, ‘Liner’, ‘Passenger’, and ‘Industry’, for sources relating to Le Vieux Port.

“Marseilles Strike.” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 3 Sept. 1904, p. 8. British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/GR3217394048/GDCS?u=uniportsmouth&sid=GDCS&xid=f3aa95dc. Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.

This particular source from 1904 about clashes between dockers and railwaymen at The Old Port contextualised why tourist brochures commonly refer to this area as “the centre of cultural life in Marseille”. I ndeed, a wider selection of primary sources revealed the Old Port to be the political and economic epicentre of this maritime city throughout history.  This understanding was deepened by other sources I found from the colonial period that framed Marseille as France’s gateway to the Mediterranean; the city’s old port as a bridge connecting the French mainland to North Africa. Examples include posters from 1921 advertising steamboat trips from Marseille to Algiers:

“C. G. T.” Illustrated London News, 26 Nov. 1921, p. 739. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/HN3100246936/GDCS?u=uniportsmouth&sid=GDCS&xid=f2d4d496. Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.

Wanting to probe deeper into the Franco-North African past of Marseille, I went back to search within the thematic clusters of ‘Murder’ and ‘Riot’, which conjured up some contemporary newspaper sources that shed light on the complicated legacies of colonialism in this French port city.  Focused particularly on the issue of immigration, many reports narrated the prevalence of racism and racialised violence in this part of France, especially within the socio-economically deprived banlieues.  Perhaps I best not visit these areas of the city in person when I finally get the chance to go … although I can safely learn more about them from home in sources such as this one, which is from The Women’s Studies Archive:

Survey Projects: Background Information Families/Work & Family Life 1986-2 of 7. 1986. MS The National Network of Hispanic Women Archives: Series I: Administrative files Box 32, Folder 13. University of California, Santa Barbara. Women’s Studies Archive, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PLNWIN946868258/GDCS?u=uniportsmouth&sid=GDCS&xid=1ead92f7. Accessed 20 Mar. 2020

Another two sites I particularly wanted to visit in Marseille this summer are The Cathedral and The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde.  Whilst the FA Cup was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, a newspaper article documenting Hull FC’s trip to the city en route to Australia in 1924, paints a good picture of these two iconic sites.

For example, this source likens worshippers in the cathedral to “a living representation of the Last Supper”, and describes the view from the Basilique as “producing a wonderful sight- every building looked like a doll’s house”. This is more what I had in mind!

Local food and regional identity

Of course, trying local food is a key part of any holiday- especially in France, the land of great cuisine! What is Marseille well-known for? Lots of provincial ripe, rich and refreshing fruit and vegetables sold at artisan markets, according to a newspaper report written by Peter Kirk (British MP) published in The Illustrated London News in the late 1960s. Yum!!

Interestingly, this source by MP Kirk also includes political undertones about regional identity in Marseille, which is perhaps unsurprising given the author of this article was a British politician. As a researcher of regionalism in France, some of the passages I found especially interesting from his article include:

“This is the land of the French opposition.  It is not a coincidence that the most famous revolutionary song in the world comes from Marseilles”

[NB: the French national anthem is actually said to have been written by Rouget de Lisle in Alsace, not Marseille!]

“The valley of the Loire forms a natural boundary; north are the conformists; south are the nonconformists. So it has always been, so it will always be”

“There is bitterness here, a bitterness which is fanned by their newest arrivals- the pieds-noirs. They have settled in Provence to be as near as possible to their beloved Algerian sun”

This  source could be said to identify some of the root causes of the issues surrounding post-colonial immigration in Marseille, that the previous newspaper article from The Women’s Studies Archive source talked about.

A more touristic aspect of Marseille’s local identity is its reputation as the ‘sexy city’ of France. I found some fantastic romance novels that relate to Marseille as France’s ‘oppositional’ city, including stories about rebellious local men who flirted with women and stole their hearts away from powerful men in Parisian society- including the King of France himself!!  I recommend the tale of Francis LeBaron in the rare book ‘A nameless nobleman’, by the American author Jane Austin, which I found in the Women’s Studies Archive.  This would make a great holiday read, to be enjoyed sat lapping up the Mediterranean sun at the Old Port with a big fresh fruit salad  after a busy day of sight-seeing!

Where can you still go on a summer holiday?

Virtually exploring Marseille was a super easy and extremely fun afternoon activity that I really encourage you to do too with your cancelled holiday destination! The university semester may be over, but we have so many digital resources that can help you to carry on learning really important research skills such as source analysis this summer, whilst discovering somewhere new.  If you would like to have a go yourself, you can share your travel stories on the University of Portsmouth twitter page @UoP_History.

For more posts by Gale Student Ambassadors exploring how primary sources can help your research and essays, check out The Gale Review















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