Kate Marsh, 1974-2019

Tributes paid to leading scholar of French colonial history

May 2, 2019
Kate Marsh

An exceptionally wide-ranging scholar of empire and its aftermath has died.

Kate Marsh was born in 1974, grew up in Merseyside and studied French and history at Balliol College, Oxford. In 2001, she moved to the University of Liverpool to take up the Sir Ronnie Jarvis studentship for a PhD, completed in 2005, which formed the basis for her book Fictions of 1947: Representation of Indian Decolonization 1919-1962 (2007).

After her doctorate, Professor Marsh remained at Liverpool, secured a prestigious Leverhulme early career fellowship and was appointed lecturer in French in 2007. This was followed by extremely rapid promotion to senior lecturer in 2010, reader in 2012 and a personal chair (as professor of French historical studies) in 2014. Although she continued to develop the themes of her PhD and published India in the French Imagination: Peripheral Voices, 1754-1815 in 2009, she greatly expanded her historical and geographical focus to incorporate contrasts between different empires and themes such as indenture and slavery in the post-emancipation French Antilles. The results can be seen, for example, in her third monograph, Narratives of the French Empire: Fiction, Nostalgia, and Imperial Rivalries, 1784 to the Present (2013).

Charles Forsdick, James Barrow professor of French at Liverpool, described Professor Marsh as “one of the most creative, dynamic and original French studies scholars of her generation”, who was “equally at home delving into the colonial archives as she was engaging in an always meticulous and incisive reading of the fiction, theatre and other creative writing generated by France’s four centuries (and counting) of overseas expansion…She revelled in the interdisciplinary, transnational and comparative possibilities afforded by being a modern linguist and worked tirelessly to defend the modern languages field.”

Despite a short career dogged by illness, Professor Forsdick went on, Professor Marsh’s contribution “eclipsed what most scholars manage to achieve in twice as many years”. Her work not only “reasserted the previously underestimated importance of India to French colonial history” but “underlined the recurrent role of tropes of loss, melancholy and nostalgia in narratives of the French empire and – most recently – reassessed the place of regionalism, France’s port cities and policing in this historical field”. The fruits of her research also fed into last year’s Slaves of Fashion exhibition at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery and the Wolverhampton Art Gallery which used the story of Indian textiles to illuminate trading patterns both in the imperial era and in today’s globalised world.

Professor Marsh died of metastasised ovarian cancer on 9 April and is survived by her husband Lee Russell.


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