Edward J. Gray, a 2013 Alabama graduate in history, and current Ph.D. candidate at Purdue University, is now in Paris, researching a powerful French political family. Gray is passionate about his subject, the Marillac family, and their rise and fall from power during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period which also saw the centralization of the French state. The Marillacs were involved in the highest levels of politics and diplomacy. Their devotion to the Catholic Reformation, among other political differences, brought them into conflict with the Cardinal de Richelieu and led to their eventual disgrace. “This is like real-life Game of Thrones,” says Gray. “It’s great.” Though briefly powerful, Gray says that because of their fall from power, historians have not shown as much interest in the Marillacs as their significance merits. Gray hopes to contribute to the study of state-building, diplomacy, religious politics, and women and gender through this previously-ignored family.
Gray has received three prestigious grants: a bourse Chateaubriand from the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Vincentian Studies Institute Grant from DePaul University, and the Newberry Library/École Nationale des Chartes Exchange Fellowship. These have funded his research in France, where he examines archival documents relating to the Marillacs in collections throughout Paris.
Gray speaks highly of his undergraduate experience at Alabama, noting, “I had such excellent training in undergrad, it allowed me to hit the ground running in grad school.” He also credits Professors Dan Riches and James Mixson with preparing him for graduate school. Gray followed Dr. Riches’ advice to focus on strengthening his language skills, which has enabled him to use non-English sources in his studies of Early Modern European history. Additionally, he was encouraged to study paleography in order to be able to read the “atrocious handwriting” of this period.
Gray encourages undergraduates interested in going on to graduate studies in history to strengthen their skills in the languages they will encounter in research. He also says to consider paleographic training if they will be studying anything before 1800, as historical handwriting can be very difficult to read. He says the most important thing, though is “talk to your advisors and your professors — they’re wonderful!” He adds, “I just adored my time at Alabama, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.” Ed still wears his National Championship t-shirt, and he has been greeted with cries of “Roll Tide!” from passersby on the streets of Paris.