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. 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.
This has proved fertile for studies of the transition to peace and for the omnipresent traces of the conflict in interwar France, in memorials, collective mourning, artistic and intellectual reactions, and the anciens combattants already referred to. All this shows the vitality of French World War I studies at the centenary. Yet the scholarship reflects the major questions that such an overwhelming episode still poses for the French, questions that have by no means been resolved.
Nor is this surprising, for he stands at the intersection of national unity and the tragedy of war—two themes of the centenary, as we have seen. For victory as defeat turned on the efforts of the soldiers as well as the generals and politicians. In fact, the poilu had always occupied this place. In a telling study Nicolas Offenstadt showed how those executed during the war attracted powerful campaigns of rehabilitation in the interwar years, especially in the most unjust cases. In short, the social order, the legitimacy of the state, and the agency of the individual all intersected in the soldiers' experience of a kind of war that no one had anticipated, and of which the mutinies remained a touchstone.
Historians who underlined the imperatives of warfare in a now-remote period portrayed the poilus as men who, while developing their own culture of survival, internalized much of the broader war culture and above all the need to defend the patrie. Leonard V. Smith undertook the most detailed study to date of a single unit across the war: the Fifth Infantry Division. He concluded that the mutineers were more political than Pedroncini allowed and also that they extended beyond those who had fought in the Nivelle offensive.
In agreeing to return to the front once key demands had been met, they were in Smith's view recognizing the sovereignty of the state that resided in them as citizens. Emmanuel Saint-Fuscien added a military discipline that relied on a degree of consent by the men and on the hard-won authority of the officers, though Nicolas Mariot viewed this relationship more skeptically.
The point is that they were an episode that then gave way to the rising morale and fighting spirit manifested by the French army, as Bruno Cabanes showed, during the last year of the conflict including Smith's Fifth Division. The debate is vital, the issues are substantial, and none of the answers are entirely satisfactory. Perhaps this will happen only when the cultural and the social aspects have contributed their full weight to the causal narratives of the war.
The foregoing discussion of the historiography over the last half century has shaped the choice of articles for this special issue of French Historical Studies on the centenary of the Great War. Yet as Bostrom's article reminds us, and the data he amasses reveal, this was increasingly an artillery war. Victory would belong to the nation or nations that successfully coordinated its industrial capabilities to make possible an operational strategy predicated on the massive production of munitions and an ever greater reliance on heavy artillery.
Ill-equipped to wage an artillery war in and woefully short of munitions, France had to make significant strides in the manufacture of munitions and artillery if it wanted any hope of winning. Bostrom demonstrates how important was—but not for the reasons customarily cited. It was, of course, the year of Verdun and the Somme, battles in which the lethal effects of industrial warfare were tragically evident, but it was also—and this is the crux of Bostrom's argument—the year in which France successfully coordinated its industrial production to accommodate its new operational strategy.
This did not guarantee a quick and easy victory in , as the Chemin des Dames made all too evident.
Many factors contributed to the Allied victory in , including the demoralization of German frontline troops, but Bostrom's careful archival study demonstrates that critical advances in the production and deployment of high-quality munitions and heavy artillery were vital. If Bostrom's article reminds us that we need to look beyond the front lines to understand the evolution of military tactics after , Andrew Orr makes clear that the French army was compelled by circumstance to be innovative in other ways as well.
It has long been established that the munitions industry, faced with the dramatic expansion in production goals that Bostrom's article so clearly articulates, came to rely on the mobilization of French women and colonial men. Janet Watson's important study of the mobilization of women in wartime Britain has demonstrated that the British Army increasingly recruited women to serve in uniformed and nonuniformed support roles, thus freeing up men for frontline service. At first blush, the trajectory of female employment in the army seems predictable enough: the French army initially resisted hiring women, even as civilians, and then relented albeit reluctantly in , when every able-bodied man was needed in a combat role.
Women were, in the eyes of many officers ordered to hire them, unreliable, unprofessional, and all too often outright immoral. Small wonder, then, that the army rushed to fire all women still on the payroll at the end of the war. However, access to archival materials not previously available allows Orr to tell a story about women, work, and military identity in the s that prompts us to modify further, if not completely overturn, our understanding of the interwar years as a reassertion of masculinity and male predominance.
While many officers were quick to deride their female employees, it proved impossible, inefficient, and fiscally irresponsible to fire all women. Indeed, women hired during and after the war were invaluable in a postwar army depleted by wartime losses and revision of the military service law.
Unlike conscripts, whose term of service in the early s was reduced to a mere eighteen months and by to one year , women could—and did—serve in a unit for many years. One woman was thus worth at the very least one and a half conscript men! Women's continued employment in the army was by no means an unalloyed victory for gender equality: they were paid less than civilian men, and their eligibility for employment in the army derived, at least in the early s, primarily from their status as war widows.
As Orr demonstrates, however, ultimately it was women's second-class status that qualified them for employment in the civilian ranks of the French army: unlike conscripts, who gained the right to vote in in acknowledgment of the sacrifice of their wartime forebears, women could not vote and thus did not risk corrupting the military with disruptive radical ideas. Orr adds to the arguments of the historians of women already cited to show that the gender order of interwar France was more complex—and conflicted—than a simple misogynist backlash. The exceptions are studies such as those of Marc Michel and Richard Fogarty on the colonial contribution to the war effort, most notably the recruitment of half a million soldiers for combat, many of them on the western front.
In some parts of the empire, the principle of universal eligibility and the administrative infrastructure to guarantee the law's implementation prevailed, but in many colonies, including those of sub-Saharan Africa, which had contributed a significant number of men to the French forces, only children who were deemed financially needy qualified for the assistance that in France was given to all pupilles de la nation. The consequences more generally of this differential and utilitarian attitude to the empire would only become more pronounced with the economic pressures of the interwar years.
Eventually it would contribute to the inability of successive French regimes to chart a peaceful path to decolonization after comparable issues around military service emerged during World War II.
France and the Great War on Its Centenary | French Historical Studies | Duke University Press
Physically confined to the edges of the French imperial nation-state and consigned to the periphery of the French collective imagination, the pupilles de l'empire could at least lay claim to one badge of honor: having defended and died for France, their fathers had accepted the legitimacy of the nation's war effort. But what of those in France who had come to reject the war, its legitimacy, and the sacrifices it compelled? Who from on called for an immediate end to the bloodletting, preferring a negotiated peace to unconditional victory?
Were those who defined themselves as pacifists even more marginal in the French collective imagination than the unfortunate orphans of the most distant colonies? Curiously, while much attention has been paid as we have seen to the mutinies, concluding in the end that the influence of overt pacifism was marginal if not quite nonexistent, and also to the fluctuations of civilian as well as military morale in the subject of Renouvin's article , the history of pacifism during the war has suffered from the more general neglect of the political history of the conflict.
Despite publication of the output of the main socialist and labor antiwar bodies, the study of antiwar sentiment has been more vital for the interwar period than for the war itself. It is this gap that Norman Ingram addresses in his close and careful reading of the first wartime congress of the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme, held in Paris in November Ingram brings to light the impassioned debates and internal divisions of men and women who tried to reconcile in a time of war their patriotism and their pacifism.
Although most who participated in the congress believed that a lasting peace first had to be built on the definitive defeat of Prussian militarism, a minority called for immediate negotiations to end the war, whatever the territorial cost to France. Their unequivocal repudiation of a war that had by the end of cost a million French lives was not widely shared even within the ranks of those who called themselves pacifists, but the cumulative effects of war, and the as yet uncertain prospects for victory, made the minority's repugnance understandable enough.
What they could not have known—and what Bostrom's article makes evident—is that by late the transformation of the nation's industrial infrastructure to accommodate new military tactics made victory on France's terms more likely than ever. But if the minority's repudiation of war fell on stony ground during the Great War, its arguments found more fertile soil in the interwar years when the human cost of that success became apparent along with the realization that what had been won in was anything but definitive.
The articles in this special issue thus prompt us to reconsider what, and who, should be central to our understanding of the experience and impact of the Great War for France. Military history still has much to tell us about the conflict and its ultimate outcome, and there is more to be explored—and decided—about the nature of the soldiers' war, including the long-neglected other fronts on which the French fought, at the Dardanelles, in Macedonia, in Italy, and in Russia in But without begrudging the poilu his heroic stature and the trenches of the western front their iconic place in our conception of the war, the French success in organizing an industrial effort and waging a war ever more dependent on heavy artillery, aircraft, and tanks is ripe for reevaluation in its economic, social, and above all political dimensions.
France not only showed that it could sustain a war for democracy without entirely sacrificing democracy but also demonstrated rather against the perceptions of the French themselves that it was after all a major industrialized power. The failure to build on both those successes in the interwar period only makes this central dimension of the war more important—and more challenging—for longer-term interpretations of twentieth-century French history.
Women and children, once all but invisible in the collective and scholarly understanding of the war, are no longer peripheral to how we view the conflict and its aftermath. This has become apparent in the restoration of the poilus' story to that of the families and civilian lives from which they came. Yet this issue of French Historical Studies also suggests that in postwar France and throughout the empire, questions of gender and generation shed new light on an experience whose legacy, in November , was only beginning.
All three speeches emphasized unity, resilience, and victory. Only the second Verdun added the new spirit of Franco-German cooperation and the peaceful destiny of contemporary western Europe. For popular receptiveness to the war since , see Offenstadt, 14—18 aujourd'hui. See the website Europeana — at www. Reflected in English by two works: Hanna, Your Death Would Be Mine , an account of the life of one couple separated by combat on the front and based on their correspondence; and Barthas, Poilu.
Reissued in six editions, the last in , the year of Renouvin's death, it was never translated into English. The book has sparked controversy. Smith provides an illuminating study of the soldiers' testimony as literary construct in Embattled Self. Genevoix wrote a sequence of autobiographical novels, Ceux de 14 , the first of which, Sous Verdun , was translated into English during the war as Neath Verdun, August—October There is no study of the memorial, but see the museum's website and newsletter at www.
Ferro's research was on Russia, not France, during the war. The term home front was first used in Britain in but did not become commonplace until World War II, when with aerial bombardment the civilian population indeed constituted a new front. The terms used in France during Word War I were, in officialese, the interior and, in popular parlance, the rear as the opposite to, and complement of, the fighting front.
Comparable arguments on the nature of the French state and its relationship to the economy have been developed by Rosanvallon; see esp.
L'Etat en France. As yet there is no full study of Thomas despite or because of the boxes of his papers in the Archives Nationales 94 AP , though not all of these concern the war years. See esp. For an important overview, see Capedevila et al. Annette Becker, having begun by studying war memorials, published La guerre et la foi , translated as War and Faith.
See also Prochasson, Les intellectuels, le socialisme et la guerre , and Prochasson and Rasmussen, Au nom de la patrie. See www. For an older study, see Jacobzone, En Anjou, loin du front. An exhaustive list is not possible, but significant works are Cronier, Permissionnaires dans la Grande Guerre ; Pignot, Allons, enfants de la Patrie , on children's engagement in their fathers' war; Gilles, Lectures de poilus , on the role played by the press and literature in linking the soldiers to civil society; and Vidal-Naquet, Couples dans la Grande Guerre.
See also Doughty, Pyrrhic Victory ; Philpott, Bloody Victory , which integrates the French and British experiences of the biggest battle of the war; and Jankowski, Verdun , which looks at both sides, French and German. An important French battle study is Baldin and Saint-Fuscien, Charleroi , while Lafon uses a key component of the soldier's life to explore the nature of trench warfare in La camaraderie au front.
For a more political interpretation of the veterans' movement than that of Prost, see Millington, From Victory to Fascism. Finally, on the renewal of the political and diplomatic history of the postwar period, see Jackson, Beyond the Balance of Power. For a study that places the issue in binary terms, see Cochet, Survivre au front. Work on the economic and industrial dimension has been sparse since the marginalization of the social history of the war from the s. Les monuments aux morts. Paris, . Paris, Coll. Souscription pour le buste de Fulstel de Coulanges. Paul Landowski. Paris, , n.
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