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Archaeology and History

Photo of Dr Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley

Dr Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley

Senior Lecturer in European History


01392 724632


Office: Laver 301 (up main stairs in Laver to first floor, turn right and through double doors into Archaeology, my office is the first on the right)

Office hours Spring 2024 (15 January - 29 March)

Mondays: 16.30-17.30 (online only)

Wednesdays 9.00-10.00 (in person or online)

I joined the University of Exeter as Lecturer in European History in September 2014. My research centres on the lived experience of revolution in the Francophone world. In the European sphere, my focus has been on the French Revolution (1789-1799) and the mechanics and impact of ‘revolutionary justice’ and the Terror during that decade. I am currently researching the French Atlantic via study of the print culture surrounding the slave-led revolution that turned France's prized colony of Saint-Domingue into the nation state of Haiti.

I am also interested in harnessing the field of digital humanities to improve historical research and the student experience. I am the editor of a new online resource, ‘Revolutionary Duchess: The Elbeuf Letters, 1788-94’. This provides free public access to a digital edition of the writings of the duchess of the Elbeuf, a wealthy noblewoman with strident Counter-Revolutionary views whose work has never previously been available in English translation. It has been developed in collaboration with the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Lab, and there will be a series of events in the twelve months from September 2021 to introduce this new resource to A-level and undergraduate students and facilitate their engagement with it.

The Elbeuf Letters digital edition forms part of a larger 24 month AHRC-funded research project on which I am Co-Investigator, titled 'The Duchesse d'Elbeuf's Letters to a Friend, 1788-94'. As part of this, a scholarly edition of the complete Letters series (in the French original, and co-edited with Colin Jones and Simon Macdonald) will be published through Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment in early 2023.

Before arriving here at Exeter I had been researching and teaching at Queen Mary, University of London for seven years (including studying for my PhD from 2007-2011, under the supervision of Professor Colin Jones, FBA). I have also worked in the British Library, London as a Cataloguer of Early Printed Books (2012-13) and led a digitisation project of eighteenth and nineteenth-century French broadsides held at the John Rylands Research Institute, Manchester (2014). I received my BA in History (2004) and MA in Early Modern History (2006) from King’s College London.

My most recent publications are:

'Colonial Factions and Pamphlet Warfare: Writing Histories of Saint-Domingue and France during the Thermidorian Reaction, 1794-1795', French Historical Studies (forthcoming, January 2024).

Colin Jones, Simon Macdonald, Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley, The Letters of the duchesse d'Elbeuf: hostile witness to the French Revolution (2023).

'Reliving the Terror: Victims and Print Culture during the Thermidorian Reaction in France, 1794-1795.’ History, 104: 362 (2019): 606-629.

Creating and resisting the Terror: the Paris Revolutionary Tribunal, March-June 1793.’ French History 32: 2 (2018): 203-225.

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I am currently expanding my research into Francophone revolutionary politics and culture by investigating the intersection between the French Revolution and the dynamics unleashed by the contemporaneous revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. As part of this, I have a manuscript under review at French Historical Studies for a journal article titled Colonial factions, transatlantic terror and a dual revolution: writing the history of Saint-Domingue and France during the Thermidorian Reaction, 1794-1795.’ This uses print culture to study how contemporaries understood events on opposite sides of the Atlantic not separately but as interconnected parts of a dual revolutionary process.

I am also Co-Investigator on AHRC Standard Research Grant investigating a newly-discovered source on the French Revolution: the writing of the counter-revolutionary duchess of Elbeuf. The project's progress can be followed via the 'Revolutionary Duchess' blog, and I am Project Editor for a digital edition of the Elbeuf Letters. A print edition of the Elbeuf Letters (co-edited with Colin Jones and Simon Macdonald) is scheduled for publication with Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment in early 2023.

A British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship (2014-17) funded my previous major research project, titled ‘Victims and the French Revolutionary Terror, c.1793-1799’. This focused on the activities of surviving Terrorist victims during the Thermidorian Reaction and Directory (August 1794-November 1799). I used provincial archives in France and print collections in the USA and the UK to track the political and cultural impact of victims during the second half of the Revolutionary decade. Their diverse activities, which ranged from publishing some of the very first histories of the Terror to seeking financial compensation through the courts, provide important material for studying the legacies of state-sanctioned violence which France had to grapple with all the way through into the Napoleonic era.

Parts of this research are published in two articles: ‘Creating and resisting the Terror: the Paris Revolutionary Tribunal, March-June 1793.French History, 32: 1 (2018): 203-225 and ‘Reliving the Terror: victims and the Thermidorian Reaction in France, 1794-1795.' History, 104:362 (2019): 606-629.

The subject of my AHRC-funded PhD was ‘Reassessing Revolutionary Justice: Suspects, the Paris Revolutionary Tribunal and the Terror in France, 1793-1794’ (Queen Mary University of London, 2012, supervised by Professor Colin Jones, FBA). This research focused on the mechanics of the French Terror (1793-1794) and the reactions of those affected by it. I demonstrated the previously unacknowledged influence that defence activity had, both on the system of repression and wider French culture. This work is in the process of being turned into a monograph, provisionally titled ‘Resisting the Terror: Suspects, Victims and Revolutionary Justice in France, 1793-1795’. Some of the preliminary findings from this thesis have already been published in the following:

'Defence, Collaboration, Counter-Attack: The Role and Exploitation of the Printed Word by Victims of the Terror.' Edited by David Andress, Experiencing the French Revolution (Oxford, 2013), 137-54

Mapping the Terror: the Paris Revolutionary Tribunal and the Development of a National System of Revolutionary Justice.European History Quarterly, 44: 1 (2014): 5-32

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My office is Laver 301.

For students making module choices in March 2024 for Year 2 in 2024/25:

I will be teaching a new Option in 2024/25: 'Slavery, Revolution and Independence: Saint-Domingue and Haiti, 1685-18138'. For a flavour of the history of this period and some of the primary sources we will look at, try the following books (all available online via the University library catalogue):

Carolyn E. Fick, The Making of Haiti: the Saint-Domingue Revolution from Below (1990)

Jeremy D. Popkin, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution (2011)

Dubois and John D. Garrigus eds, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents (2006)

You can sample my own research into this period of history via my article in the latest issue of French Historical Studies: 'Colonial Factions and Pamphlet Warfare: Writing Histories of Saint‐Domingue and France during the Thermidorian Reaction, 1794–1795', French Historical Studies, 47: 1 (2024): 39-69

Or you can listen to these two BBC podcasts about the Haitian Revolution:

In Our Time on the Haitian Revolution

A Forum on Toussaint Louverture


I currently offer a Level 1 module on late eighteenth-century France and Saint-Domingue (using legal sources to interrogate issues including revolutionary violence, tensions in ancien regime structures of power, and the cultural impact of the Enlightenment) and a Level 3 Special Subject on France and Empire, 1756-1830 (tracking the themes of reform, revolution and counter-revolution across metropolitan and colonial terrains during this period). I also contribute to various core modules, including lectures on the eighteenth and nineteenth-century elements within the Level 1 Understanding the Modern World module. I supervise individual student research projects as part of the Level 2 Doing History and Level 3 Dissertation modules, as well as at MA level.

I welcome inquiries about postdoctoral study, especially in the following areas across the long eighteenth century:

The French Revolution; the Haitian Revolution; French and colonial cultural/social/political histories; print culture; the law and legal reform; state violence and memory studies.

Modules taught

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