Talking Point with Victor-André Masséna, Prince d’Essling: co-writing History

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“- Madame, I strongly dislike women who take an interest in politics.

– Monsieur, in a period when their heads are being cut off, it is perfectly normal for women to wonder why that may be happening.

This piquant exchange took place between Napoleon and Madame de Stael. Whether apocryphal or not is of no import. Historical quotations are charming and reveal the brilliant repartee of the figures of yesteryear.”

So said the French daily Le Figaro, on 23 December 2021.

“Whether apocryphal or not is of no import.” Really? Since its creation in 1987, the Fondation Napoléon has fought to separate the authentic from the hearsay. Indeed, we are soon to publish the Correspondence of Napoleon I online, free of charge, and the aim is precisely that, namely, to enable everyone – absolutely everyone – to verify Napoleon I’s words, less anecdotally, on serious subjects, to get to the source, to get as accurate an idea as possible as to what he really thought. To separate the legendary from what he actually wrote, from what he actually thought, to get away from the clichés, some of which (it must be said) were bandied about in 2021, the year of the bicentenary of the Emperor’s death.

Talking Point with Victor-André Masséna, Prince d’Essling: co-writing History

Indeed, it is our mission make the sources accessible to everyone.

First of all, we would like to provide the winners of our PhD grants and professional historians, sometimes from far away, with easy access to the most important documents. You could say that it is the essence of our institution to be able to share their analyses and to dialogue with them. But we also do public history; enthusiasts and simply the curious are likewise integral to our projects.

We had an idea right at the start that we were on the right track. All those bicentenary years 1995-2021 encouraged us in our intuition. But it was this year 2021, in its entirety, that gave us the solid proof: this is a history for all, specialists, teachers, critics, enthusiasts, young people alike.

As a result, we shall continue to concentrate on making all of our activities focused on the sharing of the history, untethered from commemorative dates, constantly reminding ourselves and our readers that History only endures because of our common will over the long term. This history does not belong to any particular scholar; it belongs to all of us, and the important thing will always be to strive to identify the authentic and to distinguish it from the apocryphal, the approximate, and worse still, the lie.

Victor-André Masséna
January 2022

Victor-André Masséna, Prince d’Essling, is President of the Fondation Napoléon.

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