November 11 was different again. An official holiday since , it stands as the epitome of the national commemoration of the war. Precisely because World War I confirmed the nation-state as the dominant form of political identity and authority in Europe with the collapse of the dynastic land empires in the east , the cemeteries and main ceremonies have tended to remain as they were conceived immediately after the conflict—expressions of the nation.
This monument is anything but national. Inside it consists of a sequence of metal panels that list in alphabetical order, and with no reference to nationality, the nearly six hundred thousand soldiers who died on this part of the front. Officially, therefore, the French centenary has confirmed the soldier as the main though not the sole focus of commemoration, the suffering everyman who, for whatever causes or motives, endured the war and the other conflicts of the twentieth century.
But the centenary has also shown how widespread the attachment to the soldiers' memory is and how in France it links both families and localities to the history of the war. So it has turned out to be. The sheer diversity of the resultant activities has been remarkable. The profile depends on whether one measures the public sphere lectures, exhibitions, tourism, radio and television programs , academic conferences, or scientific publications.
Nonetheless, the overall lines seem clear. Of the literally hundreds of projects that gained the seal of approval of the Mission Nationale du Centenaire, the official body established to oversee the centenary, the bulk have been local and departmental, reflecting the deep traces left by the war. These traces of everyman, and everywoman, allow historians to write new histories in new ways. As far as the scholarly history of the war is concerned, the roots and implications of this development go back at least half a century.
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In , the last year of the fiftieth anniversary, Pierre Renouvin published a remarkable article in the Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine. Such an approach still dominated academic historiography in the s. But in his article Renouvin reviewed the sources that had become available as the fifty-year closure of state archives ended for the Great War. He identified a host of documents from the surveillance of private correspondence to prefects' reports on public opinion that henceforth made it possible to write a history of popular feelings during the troubled year and the war more generally.
Renouvin did not only capture the distinction between the causal narratives of high political history and something else that he still sought to define; he literally embodied it. Naturally, such a belief had been expressed in an outpouring of soldiers' published memoirs, diaries, and novels that started with the war itself and that one of their number, the Franco-American literary critic Jean Norton Cru, sought to list and evaluate for their fidelity to what he understood that experience to be.
This was left in the s to the veterans who sought to transmit the message of their war to future generations and to protest against any glorification of the conflict. Refurbished for the centenary of Verdun in , it remains perhaps the last collective statement made by the veterans. Much of the popular response to the half centenary reflected this interest in the daily life of soldiers and civilians.
Ferdinand Foch and Georges Clemenceau in ? But departmental archives, including those of the Vosges, Ardennes, and Pas-de-Calais, as well as several far removed from the line of fire, invited the public to think about how local communities experienced and were transformed by the war. Yet neither a public appetite for such topics nor even access to the archives that allowed them to be addressed was sufficient. After all, as Renouvin pointed out, the press, diaries, and correspondence had long been available.
The point was borne out by the most controversial episode of the poilus' war, the mutinies occasioned by Nivelle's disastrous offensive that erupted in late spring and summer For just what those protests consisted of and signified was vital for answering larger questions about the war. Minimized in much of the soldiers' autobiographical literature, they stood nonetheless for the Left as a symbol of the soldiers' revolt against incompetent military leadership or even the war itself. Establishing the geography, dimensions, and chronology of the incidents, Pedroncini likened them to an apolitical strike by some forty thousand men who had been involved in Nivelle's offensive and who now refused not so much to fight the war as to fight it on the basis of discredited tactics.
He rebutted the more lurid contemporary myth that the revolt was fanned by pacifist propaganda, threatening a breakdown of the war effort. Three other studies in the following decade bore the influence of Renouvin and the epistemological change that he had identified at the end of the half centenary. Jean-Jacques Becker published a thesis supervised by Renouvin on public opinion in that punctured the later myth of a French population insouciantly consigning the belle epoque to oblivion as it embarked enthusiastically on war.
On the contrary, that moment of undoubted unity was shot through with somber resolve and a belief that the crisis was a struggle for national survival, making the unity all the more impressive. He studied their massive presence and evolution in postwar France, when, with three million members, they formed the largest civic movement in the country. This sought to combine the politico-military narrative and the social psychology of experience that Renouvin himself had kept distinct. It translated Renouvin's article into what such a history of the war might look like. The question behind much of this scholarship was of course that of revolution.
It included the fate of French syndicalism and socialism with their revolutionary orientation during the war; responses to events in Russia, that new lodestone of revolution in ; and the question of how, and how much, the war radicalized labor in France as elsewhere. She concluded that the primacy of peace over revolution curbed the radical Left during the conflict, so that the schism was a product more of postwar illusion and disillusion than of the war.
The labor history of the war focused on a wartime working class generated by the industrial mobilization and reconstituted both geographically as a result of the invasion and socially from new sources women, immigrants. Fed by rampant inflation and powered by acute labor shortages, local trade union militancy sprang up in the chief munitions centers and then the railways. From to it fueled the biggest strike waves in French history to that point. Jean-Louis Robert supplied the culminating study of the complex relationship between patriotism and revolution in the case of the Paris working class.
Pointing to the multiple milieus in which identities of both class and nation were forged by workers trade unionism, war factories, the state and to the stimulus of industrial militancy, as well as to its limits, he concluded that a rising hope for a revolution in the sense of a social transformation that would address the ills and inequalities of wartime was indeed apparent among many Paris workers, but that victory and the solidity of the state, which as noted intervened in social affairs, frustrated in France what their opposite precipitated in Russia.
Like other social groups the classes moyennes , the bourgeoisie , the peasantry failed to attract the attention of the social historians. However, the prefects and other agents of the state were acutely aware of how these groups limited wartime disaffection in —18, something underlined by the continued work on public opinion. They suggested instead that the war reinforced gendered distinctions and hierarchies owing to the moral supremacy accorded men in combat, the exploitative nature of much women's work during the war, and an emphasis on motherhood. Moreover, even the concern with maternity and its compatibility or otherwise with waged work enlarged a professional sphere for women as educationalists and social workers—a paradox increasingly apparent between the wars.
Gender emerged above all as more conflicted and more likely than before the war to express broader social and political tensions. The seventy-fifth anniversary of World War I passed without comment. The French had other things on their mind in the bicentenary of the Revolution and the year that ended communism, opening the way to the reunification of Europe.
The best social history had always prized subjectivity as one of its themes and part of its evidence. Yet its main categories, such as class and industrialization, addressed durable structures and longer-term processes. However, in the s and the first decade of the s it became clear that a basic paradigm shift had taken place, pointing toward a cultural history of the war. While it was not confined to France, historians working in and on France played a key role in bringing it about and making it an international phenomenon. Representations, language, and memory became more than symptoms of explanations that lay elsewhere.
As subjective experience, individual and collective, they became explanations in their own right, for which larger structures provided the context. Analysis turned on reconstructing meaning, expressed in social codes, values, beliefs, emotions, representations, acts. This in turn revealed the wealth of contemporary understandings of the war, including myths, that could no longer at least not easily be dismissed as propaganda.
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Studies of art, literature, intellectuals, the popular press including that of the trenches , and religion plunged historians into the world of the war. Whereas the memorial at Verdun had conveyed the last message of the anciens combattants as a self-evident truth pride at their sacrifice in an appalling if unavoidable war , the Historial de la Grande Guerre, the first major museum on the western front in a generation, founded in on the Somme, was the exact opposite.
European in orientation it showed the British, French, and German empires at war and animated by a group of academic historians, it treated World War I as an enigma to be explored and explained anew. Historians in the first decade of the s enlarged on the range of topics already indicated, including a renewal of local and regional studies which had never entirely ceased focusing on processes of mobilization and the role of the local in an intensely national experience.
A new generation that came of age after the caesura of in Europe and a wider world where mobility and transnational perspectives were taken for granted produced a host of new studies. They have overlapped, each approach evolving as the dominant paradigm of the field shifted because each continued to address different issues such as respectively power and authority, economic and social structures, and experience and representations.
They have varied in strength and speed, as new themes became mainstream while older ones, eddying on the margin, tried to edge back in. If cultural history exerted its pull during the decade before the centenary, it by no means monopolized World War I historiography in France. Yet Anglophone historians have contributed significantly to the French case, notably Elizabeth Greenhalgh's trilogy, which stands as the most sustained recent study of the French army.
French military historians have begun to renew the subject with work on battles and trench warfare. As for diplomatic history and the origins and responsibilities for the war, these have troubled the French less than their neighbors across the Rhine. While Christopher Clark's magisterial study, The Sleepwalkers , was translated into French, it did not have the seismic impact that it did in Germany, where over two hundred thousand copies sold in the first year.
This was in spite of the departure from orthodoxy whereby it assigned French and Russian leaders a major role in provoking war by dint of their refusal to let Austria-Hungary backed by Germany eliminate Serbia. It was as if the legacy of Renouvin's diplomatic history, with its qualified endorsement of French resistance to German aggression, still held sway. By the same token, Krumeich's nuanced rebuttal of Clark for his neglect of Germany's role in the July crisis, and his qualified endorsement of Renouvin's position, was translated into French in the centenary year. The extract indicates that.
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These specific public welfare policies were allied in Strasbourg to particularly dynamic private charitable organizations, in particular those specializing in child care. Their dynamism was also related to the very specific religious situation of Strasbourg and Alsace, partly derived, as we have seen, from its borderland location. Concerning the interwar period, the short booklets written by Auguste Hermann provide a good survey of the services and institutions the city of Strasbourg had set up to care for children in difficult situations.
At the beginning of the s, they tried to take control over the municipal orphanage, but their efforts remained fruitless despite the fragile financial state of the orphanage. The orphanage is, indeed, considered by a great part of the population and especially by its ancient wards as an inherent part of the City itself, and it is clear that the reasons that are put forward today are not enough to justify that the City should give up an institution that has so admirably functioned for so many years. This climate of emulation, rather unique in Europe, is likely to have had positive effects on the diversity of actions undertaken to deal with orphans, thus turning the borderland city into a testing ground for social action.
Can the same be said regarding the design of the place, more particularly its architectural design? Architectural design and borderland situation. In , a fire destroyed the orphanage, then located in the ancient monastery Sainte-Madeleine, in the centre of the city. Total reconstruction proved necessary, but the huge reconstruction works also provided an opportunity to create a radically new building. With its large bay windows, its southward orientation and its vast verandas, the new orphanage perfectly exemplified new public health concerns.
New knowledge, derived from the discovery of the part bacteria played in the spread of disease, disseminated throughout Europe and especially in Germany, attempting to solve such issues as overcrowding in urban spaces, waste disposal or water pollution. Personal collection of Christian Pfeiffer, Even when it came to interior furnishings, the building proved very innovative. The orphanage was one of the first buildings in the city that could boast equiped bathrooms.
The same concern was visible in other border regions or in regions where German presence had to compete with another area of cultural and linguistic influence. Though such intervention was particularly intense in Strasbourg, it was also visible elsewhere in the Reichsland. In Mulhouse and Colmar monumental orphanages thus appeared, striving to comply with the new health principles. The orphanage Saint-Joseph in Mulhouse was admittedly located in an ancient castle, but at the beginning of the twentieth century an entirely new building was adjoined to it, which sheltered near to orphans in May The imposing building, which was inaugurated on 4 July , was also attentive to the new health concerns, even if its style, which can be linked to the regionalist school, was different from that of the Strasbourg orphanage.
Illustration 6: The ancient orphanage of Colmar. Without more detailed studies, it is impossible to know whether the purchase of the house in Saverne sprang from a French or a German-Alsatian initiative, or if the decision owed everything to circumstances. One may yet notice that at the time the acquisition was made, the administrative commission of the Hospices civils enjoyed only limited financial means: buying the house must then have been considered as an imperative, whatever the cost.
Breathing pure mountain air was certainly one of the few remedies that were then offered against tuberculosis, which wrought havoc in Europe, in borderland regions as much as elsewhere. After studying the architectural design of the orphanage, it may be interesting to focus now on its day-to-day management, and the way it was affected by the succession of German and French influences.
Day-to-day management and national influences on the borderland. As we have seen, the orphanage had been managed by the Sisters of Charity of Strasbourg, a congregation founded in , since the eighteenth century, when Strasbourg belonged to France. The sisters did the laundry and the cooking, provided medicine and nursing care. They also had to try to make the institution self-sufficient. During the same period, out of boys, were declared Catholic and 92 Evangelical. In a city in which two different faiths had coexisted since it had come back to France in , the sisters were not always unanimously accepted.
These were rather classical arguments, a staple of the socialist rhetoric used by Meyer or Peirotes, in the line of that used by the Republicans under the Third Republic. There is nothing to surprise us in such an opposition from the congregation 65 , but the reactions of ancient residents are particularly telling. The decision of the Municipal Council was nevertheless not overturned, and the sisters had to leave the orphanage, whereas in other French cities, they kept their position in civil social institutions.
Did this situation, though, have any influence on the way issues related to the nation were apprehended inside the orphanage? Borderland situation and national issues inside the orphanage.
The change from belonging to one nation to another was first translated in Alsace by a change in languages, at least from an official point of view. The succession of official languages is visible in the records left by the orphanage after the First World War, more particularly in the enrollment records.
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