Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu: a committed historian of media, pedo-criminality and ecology
Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu is professor of contemporary history at University of Versailles - Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ), deputy director of the Institute of Cultural and International Studies (Institut d'études culturelles et internationales), and director of the Centre for Cultural History of Contemporary Societies (Centre d’histoire culturelle des sociétés contemporaines CHCSC - Univ. Paris-Saclay, UVSQ). As a lecturer, she studies how representations of human interest stories, pedo-criminality (the crime of child sexual abuse) and ecology evolve in public opinion due to the way in which they have been relayed and interpreted by the media.
After initially considering a life close to nature and qualifying as an agricultural technician in 1979, Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu changed direction and turned to history. She completed a degree in rural societies at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in 1985. Following her teaching qualification, she spent the next decade in secondary education, before rekindling her passion for research. She embarked on a thesis focusing on human interest stories in the French press at the end of the 19th century, which she successfully defended in 1997. "Despite the pleasure of teaching, I longed for more and was eager to immerse myself once again in the intense intellectual pleasure of research." Through the study of social interactions in a Dordogne district between 1870 and 1929, she explored how the media shaped the social representations of the time. "No one had yet taken an interest in the perceptions conveyed by human interest stories in the local press, replacing the traditional networks of social interactions." To achieve this, she focused on the power of language in passing on information, drawing on the theories of figures such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.
Deciphering the changing perceptions of pedo-criminality
Between 1998 and 2013, Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu was an associate professor at University of Nanterre. She explored the history of sensitivities, noting in particular the importance of human interest stories as conveyors of emotion. Joining the Centre for Cultural History of Contemporary Societies (CHCSC) in 2004, she intensified her work on the media, specialising in pedo-criminality. She obtained her Accreditation to Supervise Research (HDR) in 2010. Drawing on court records, social and medical discourses, as well as film and literature, she has studied how and why the pace of allegations has influenced public opinion and altered societal tolerance. And the press, which reflects these opinions, has played a part in this evolution.
Her work has attracted the attention of the medical profession, the legal field and child protection associations. It has also caught the interest of radio stations such as Europe1 and France Culture, which have invited Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu to report on major child sexual abuse cases. "I am committed to raising awareness that the crime of child sexual abuse is not a recent phenomenon, but is as old as patriarchy itself. It is also essential to understand that mere repression does not solve the problem. On the other hand, defining the values of the society in which we want to evolve is a much more constructive approach."
Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu has also enriched the public debate with her books (Crimes et délits: histoire de la violence de la Belle Époque à nos jours - Crimes and offences: a history of violence from the Belle Époque to the present day, 2006; Histoire de la pédophilie, XIXe-XXIe siècle - History of the Pedophile, 19th-21st centuries, 2014).
A shift from the social to the environmental movement
In 2012, she radically shifted her field of expertise towards environmental history. True to her DNA as a historian, she delved into the archives to understand why and how environmental struggles arise and when they begin. She identified a dominant discourse, that of the positivist narrative - often upheld by historians - about the benefits of growth, productivity, technology and energy exploitation. The flip side of this narrative, namely the resulting environmental crisis, was identified as early as the 19th century by thinkers who criticised and warned against the effects of excessive industrialisation. They suggested formalising alternative vision for humanity. "Technocritical thinking was much earlier than we think, but received very little media coverage. I believe that the media play a crucial role in shaping or concealing public issues."
After the publication of the book Une histoire des conflits environnementaux - Luttes locales, enjeu global (XIXe-XXIe siècles) - A history of environmental conflicts - Local struggles, global issue (19th-21st centuries) - in 2019, which she co-edited with Anna Trespeuch-Berthelot and Alexis Vrignon and the book Une histoire des luttes pour l'environnement, XVIIIe-XXe siècles, trois siècles de débats et de combats - A history of struggles for the environment, 18th-20th centuries, three centuries of debates and combat -, co-authored with Steve Hagimont, Charles-François Mathis and Alexis Vrignon in 2021, Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu has again found herself in demand by the media. "Understanding the history is essential for living better in the present because many ideas already exist and are just waiting to be reused. I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to express this through this media coverage."
Interdisciplinarity and influence at the CHCSC
In 2020, she became director of the CHCSC, one of France's largest cultural history laboratories. It is part of the Institute of Cultural and International Studies (IECI), of which she was made deputy director in the same year. The CHCSC focuses on the history of objects, representations, media, cultural and natural heritage, and their international circulation. It comprises historians as well as literary and civilization scholars. "One of the cornerstones of my vision for the laboratory is to foster this interdisciplinarity because dialogue is essential to nurture thinking and creativity." Aiming to extend its influence beyond the scientific community and enrich the social fabric, the lecturer also engages with the general public. She does so through partnerships, such as those with the research centre at the Palace of Versailles, the museum of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and the regional archives.
As part of the evaluation by the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (Hcéres) scheduled for June 2024, Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu is rallying her teams to identify stimulating prospects for the future. These include active participation in the work of the Humanities - Heritage Sciences Graduate School of Université Paris-Saclay, the development of a reflexive laboratory on research programmes dedicated to the future of heritage, and involvement in the Science(s) and culture(s): knowledge societies and knowledge mediation research project.
A passion for teaching
Throughout her career, Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu has been dedicated to the transmission of knowledge. From secondary education to university, she has taught at all levels. "Teaching has always been a source of pleasure for me. I adopt a teaching approach that combines kindness and high standards, encouraging students to be independent." She teaches the history of media, justice and crime, as well as environmental concerns. In addition to her courses, she greatly enjoys supervising PhD candidates, a responsibility that provides her with continuous intellectual enrichment. "I urge them to get involved in research out of passion and a sincere desire to contribute to science. Given that career opportunities are limited, it's essential to prepare them to cope with any disappointments in relation to their ambitions."