The London French: Liberty, Equality, Opportunity

Theme Modern Languages

The French have constituted an important presence in London for several centuries, though with variable degrees of ‘visibility’. Despite their increasing profile and contributions, the complex and evolving dynamics of the relationship between London and its French residents remains little researched.

Tube map of London translated in French.

Debra Kelly’s work addresses the many ways in which the French presence has contributed to the life of the British capital – from the late 17th to the early 21st centuries − with particular attention to the reciprocal exchanges between people and place. It examines the varied exchanges that characterise the relationship between French ‘exile’, ‘migrant’, ‘visitor’, and focuses on establishing new historical and contemporary evidence.

The research was conceived and directed by Kelly from 2010 to 2013 and has three main components:

  • British Academy-funded workshop/public event series (2011–13)
  • the resulting multi-authored book (Institute of Historical Research Publications, 2013)
  • the ‘London French’ Special Collection digital archive for the UK Web Archive Project (supported by the British Library)

The workshop series facilitated the collaborative multi-authored book and a public dissemination event at the University of Westminster (July 2013).

The research is interdisciplinary and takes an interpretive approach in the search for understanding and meaning in the representations of the French in London and in their motives, experiences, practices and contributions.

The potential of the initial research findings was identified by the project launch at the French Institute in 2010. This public event brought together invited representatives of the French population in London together with other members of the London French community. It led directly to a six-part series on French Radio London about the contemporary French in London and several media interviews. There was also support for the research from the French Embassy and Consulate which readily admits to gaps in data and knowledge concerning the current London French population.

The work is also of interest for: business/professional associations, cultural institutions, government departments dealing with urban migration and social inclusion, public engagement with the City, debates on immigration. ongoing political debate in France around French national identity and countering France’s current brain-drain.

This research, with which I was delighted to be involved, gave us real insight into the experiences of French citizens who live and work in London. For a diplomat, the findings are useful and compelling for understanding the motives, composition and experiences of London's French residents both today and historically. Professor Philippe Lane, (former) Higher Education Attaché, French Embassy, London.

Who's involved

Read more about who's involved with this research:

Supported by: British Academy, British Library


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