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Mettray at AHA

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In anticipation of the American Historical Association Annual Meeting this January 3-6 2020 in New York City, we Stephen A. Toth, author of Mettray: A History of France’s Most Venerated Carceral Institution, a few questions about his research.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

I was initially under the impression that my research—which had been confined to the single archive where Mettray’s records were housed—was sufficient for a book. What I discovered while writing, however, was that the extant records were deficient, most notably those related to individual prisoners. For a more fulsome picture, I visited four additional archives which held the respective records of four other juvenile correctional facilities. In examining these materials, I uncovered the voices of many former Mettray prisoners who had been transferred for disciplinary infractions. Had I known of this lacuna earlier, I could have planned accordingly.

2. How do you wish you could change the field of history?

I think historians need to be more forward-facing in their relationship to the general public. In the last twenty to thirty years it seems as though we have ceded our role as public intellectuals to journalists and I think we do ourselves a disservice in this regard. We need to do a better job of engaging in our broader civic dialogue by reminding people that history is our most fundamental tool for understanding ourselves and the world.


Stephen A. Toth is Associate Professor of Modern European History at Arizona State University. His research examines the history of incarceration, most particularly the evolution of the prison in theory and practice, in modern France and the Francophone world.


Access the full AHA Program, here; or follow the meeting on social with hashtag #AHA20 or @AHAhistorians

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