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Teaching history in France

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#31 Andrew Field

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 10:15 PM

Just a quick word to say how marvellously interesting this is - thank you to all those involved. There are lots of people reading this and gaining a new pespective on how topics are taught. I certainly am.

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#32 JP Raud Dugal

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Posted 23 March 2004 - 12:28 AM

Sorry Ulrike. We did not mention the special links we have in our curriculum with Germany. It's a very interesting pov as far as I'm concerned.

We have a lot in common in our curriculum with yours.
Germany is quite present in most of our courses.

It's quite late then I take just one thought if my brain can work :woo: (and I will come back tomorrow if you don't mind...)

I think that we faced the same orientations in our curriculums that is to say that the European Unity is present everywhere in them.

You talked about German Unity and the way Bismark era today is being considered in a more negative way than previously. It shows that our will is to built a very strong core within the EU.
Even if I'm slow, I understood that Bismark is, in a way responsible for the Versailles treaty because of the Francfurt's one in 1871.
By this way, Germany is saying that they are to shame for the first world war. We must not forget that France was humiliated not only by the 1871's treaty but also because its will to enlight the world, its feeling of being much more civilised than all the countries have been interupted by this war.

But, one thing is sure. Birsmark tried to isolate France and one of its main consequences is the 'Cordiale Entente' between France and the UK one century ago!

I will try tomorrow to throw some bridges between all our curriculums on some issues if you want to.

If I make some misinterpretation please tell (nobody is perfect :crazy: )

Jean Philippe

#33 D Letouzey

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Posted 23 March 2004 - 09:33 AM

Enormous thanks to Ulrike for his message and the multiple issues we shall have to discuss : what links between the history we teach and history as a social science ? what relations between national identities and a more global history...

I am busy correcting a mock exam : I have already read that Petain and Hitler did shake hand at Rethondes ;) , and that european trade was flourishing in 1943, in a Europe dominated by a "Grande Allemagne" ;)

I shall try to follow Ulrike and Jean-Philippe 's threads this evening.

For French readers,
Givors sous les bombes (Evelyne Py, Memoire-Net) :

Le Havre : http://lehavre.1944.free.fr/2bomb.htm

Just one remark : we have a franco-german TV (Arte), since Mitterrand and Kohl,
but, in english, only american telefilms... :flowers:


Edited by D Letouzey, 23 March 2004 - 12:24 PM.

#34 UlrikeSchuhFricke



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Posted 23 March 2004 - 01:32 PM

I think analysing the way the relationship between France and Germany have been described in our history books and how this description have changed show very clearly that how we teach history and what we teach, which perspective we have and teach is strongly influenced by the political changes, sitaution and atmosphere. When Germany was still dreaming of becoming a superpower once again Bismarck was the hero to turn to.(An aside: I am not quite sure if we have given up this dream completely; I still hear Mr. Schroeder demanding a permanent seat in the Security Council) As I said before today German history between 1864-1914 is seen differently; Bismarck still is praised for uniting Germany but we question the way how this was done.
The question who or what was responsible for World War I is still a highly controversial one among historians ( a book written and published in the 1960's which stated and proved how much Germany was responsible for the beginning of this war and how the German government, army and economy had been preparing themselves and the people for this war raised a huge outcry and triggered a debate which is still going on); the modern German history books follow the British books listing the various factors and causes which led to the beginning of the war. The question of who or what is to blame is left open.
The Versailles Treaty is seen as a "bad" or unsuitable treaty which was inspired more by revenge than creating peace although we stress the point that it is necessary to remember the year 1871 and how Germany humiliated France to understand the French motives in 1919.
Post-War (world War II) relations between the two countries are seen as examples that countries who had been firmly entrenched enemies for centuries can become partners, friends and form the basis of a functioning partnership.
That France and Germany formed a strong alliance against the Iraq war and were both branded "old Europe" by Mr. Rumsfeld once again proved how close both nations are. Despite this German Grammar school students who have to learn a second foreign language tend to avoid learning French and prefer Spanish which is perceived as the easier language. To counter this the education boards of the German Laender decided to make the students start the second language one year earlier: in year 5 kids start learning English; from summer on they will begin the second foreign language (mostly French) in year 6 and will be given the option to start learning a third foreign language in year 8 or 9.

#35 D Letouzey

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Posted 23 March 2004 - 08:49 PM

I think WW1 is a good case study after Ulrike 's analysis on history and national identities.

From what I have seen in english textbooks, the teaching of the history of WW1 has a wider place in England than in France. We have no Poppies on November 11th. Nevertheless, this year, future French teachers have to study « Les sociétés, la guerre et la paix, 1911-1946 ». In fact, they study mainly WW1 and its role in the XXth history, and in the XXth horrors. http://hgtice.free.f.../1418biblio.htm

A recent book from Antoine Prost and Jay Winter ,
Penser la Grande Guerre, Un essai d'historiographie is very helpful.
I have published online the French summary :

Antoine Prost and Jay Winter see 3 different generations of historians :

- until 1935, many politicians and generals published their memoirs. Pacifism was strong in France and in Britain. In history, the main focus was political, diplomatic, military.
For this first group, WW1 should have closed the wars between nations in Europe.
But the SDN was a failure. The real change came only in 1949, the beginning of the European project.

- Around 1964 (50e anniversary), the need for memory was still strong. In 1959, 3 veterans published « Vie et Mort des Français » during the war. Their book was a big success.
In 1961, Fischer follow a theme studied by Pierre Renouvin in "Les origines immédiates de la guerre (1925) : who was responsible for the outburst of the war ?
All this was summoned in Les Causes de la premiere guerre mondiale : essai d'historiographie (1973).

But after WW2 experience, WW1 seems a more european than world conflict (except for Canadians, Australians, NZ, South Africans...
The Ecole des Annales had a leading role, with the ambition of a « global history », une histoire totale. Economic and social historians studied mainly the rank and file soldiers in the trenches, the mutinies (Guy Pedroncini), the war economy... sometimes from a marxist POV.

- In 1992-1994, new questions aroused.
On one hand, the Cold War was over ; Eastern Europe look westwards, where Maastricht was discussed. But War and violence were back in Sarajevo, 80 years after 1914.
On the other hand, since 1980, the history of the Holocaust has had a greater place.
All this interacted with the need for a more global European history.

Several young historians choose to write a cultural history of WW1. They use George L Mosse 's books as a reference about brutalisation, war culture, mourning... For them, the WW1 soldiers volunteer, and not only in Kitchener 's army between 1914 and 1916.
Annette Becker and Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau thought that it was now necessary to "14-18. Retrouver la guerre" : for them, all the previous books missed the real understanding of WW1.
Part of their work was linked with the opening of Peronne Historial.
(in this addesss, us stands for the entry in english ;) )

Some historians are reluctant with this POV. One of them, General Bach have studied archives about « Fusillés pour l'exemple ». Soldiers were sentenced to death in 1914 and 1915, in the French army. Not only in 1917, after the failure of Nivelle 's offensive, and the outburst of mutinies in the French army.
This book, and a TV documentary meet <span style='color:purple'>Stanley Kubrick 's Paths of Glory, which was undirectly censored in France from 1957 to 1975 : too many veterans,
a diplomatic protest...
This year, I have shown 3 short sequences : the assault, the military tribunal, the last sequence with the young german girl facing the soldiers.</span>

I have invited Antoine Prost in Caen, last january, for a conference on La Grande Guerre : Armées, Combats, Sociétés (France, Allemagne, Royaume-Uni).
He has shown how our three societies went to war with their national cultures.
He seems to be sceptical about the links between WW1 brutalisation and WW2 horrors. Of course, there have been more than 300 political leaders killed in Germany from 1919 to 1924. But it is difficult to find such a political violence in Britain and in France.

Antoine Prost is the author of "Tuer sur le front occidental"
a paper published in Vingtième siècle n° 81.
Veterans don't show them as professionnal killers.
But the artillery killed much more is this war.
You can see some extracts : http://clioweb.free....-18/prost20.htm

WW1 can also be seen on another POV : how does a personal and social event become an historical fact ? Last November 11th, there was less than 100 veterans in France. Historians have to replace actors and witnesses.
That a question survivors from WW2 often fear : how can they be sure that the hell they suffered, from the Nazis, will not disappear ?

Last point, How do this scientific history affect our textbooks ?
In a 1988 textbook, WW1 is studied chronologically, with a paragraph on «the total war » : government, war economy, propagandas. With some documents on planes, life in the trenches, women and war...

In 2004, we have to teach « les grandes phases du conflit », then the aspect of a « total war » .
in recent textbook (Hatier, L-ES), the chronological approach is hard to find.
Focus is set on « une guerre acceptée par tous », « peindre la guerre », « soldiers and civilians », « women and war », « war and mourning »... These books give access to war posters, from several countries.
There are only 2 lines about the Somme battle, a trench photo from the IWM, a painting from CRW Nevison, Edith Cavell 's execution. Lawrence is there, between Joffre and Clemenceau. No Haig the butcher... ;)

In a way, the authors seem to anticipate each new intellectual fashion.
But some students may lack a simple chronological knowledge, always necessary to understand what has happened in history.

WW1 and Internet in French:

I have selected some of the main websites about 14-18 :

Jean-Pierre Husson (Reims) has created a very complete website :
Teaching WW1 :
Memorials and monuments :
Art and WW1 :

an online historical atlas :

3 personal remarks to conclude :

Before 1914, european socialists tried to fight for peace. Jean Jaurès was accused of treason by monarchists, and he was killed by a nationalist in july 1914.
After 1919, France was ruled by nationalists, like Poincaré who invaded the Ruhr in 1923. For sure, they saw only Germans, they made no difference between the Weimar Republic and William II 's regime. We know what resulted from this policy.

Students don't work on November 11th, but only a few may attend the official ceremony.
Personnally, my grand-father was a soldier in 14-18 ; he was not wounded, but it got there a bad illness. My uncle was sent to Germany in 1942 ; my father had to hide to escape the STO in 1943.

By choice, I take more time to teach WW2.
Even when it is at the end of the curriculum, in "classe de premiere".
On April 27th, we have a day on deportation memory. We met in Montchamp, a village where several resistants were denounced by a neighbour in the next village.
They have been killed, on june 6th, 1944, by the nazis.

Edited by D Letouzey, 29 July 2007 - 04:45 PM.

#36 UlrikeSchuhFricke



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Posted 23 March 2004 - 09:49 PM

If and how much we follow a chronological order when dealing with wwI depends on the age group and year of the stduents; WWI is a topic of our year 9 and the beginning of 10 and then we combine a chronological presentation - e.g. via a timeline- and some indepth studies like life and death in the trenches; the homefront and changes inside Germany under the impact of the war; the experieneces of German artists and authors (e.g. Thomas Mann) and how this influenced their work.
For Sixth form students the syllabus is slightly different and World War I serves as an example for what happens when nations driven by nationalist feelings enhanced by the "we are the best and strongest" attitude no longer are interested in maintaining peace but are leading their people into a war. The main focus is why peace movements (Jean Jaures was mentioned) failed, why the German Social Democrats supported the war.
At the high time of the Cold War and the arms race when once again the idea that the more weapons a country had the less likely it would be attacked rules the political and military thinking of the time the peace movements used the beginning of the 20th century to point out the dangers of increasing the army and designing new weapons. Still today this idea is present in our schoolbooks to show that a policy of military deterence is and was a dangerous path.
And World War I is presented as the first modern war with new weapons with poison gas and a huge loss of lives in senseless battles. Here works of art - paintings, poems, excerpts from novels - are included in our lessons to explain and demonstrate how devastating and frustrating this experience was for the generation many of whom later called themselves "the lost generation" (think of Hemingway).
Last year I used a simulation to make the students feel what life in the trenches must haven been like. I gave them some information based on letters, novels, pictures to prepare them; then they had to crouch behind and below their desks; the desk was a substitute of the shelter and for 10minutes the students had to listen to battle noises - machine guns, grenades etc. As our clasroom was rather small for 30 students they were sitting on the floor very close together and could hardly move a limb. I then asked them to write a diary entry and a letter home to the loved ones. All the texts were very impressive and astonoshingly it was the boys who normally are very "cool" and slightly aloof when it comes to expressing feeling who opened up and showed their emotions. The students were clearly impressed and deeply moved.

#37 JP Raud Dugal

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Posted 23 March 2004 - 10:20 PM

For some precisions about WW 1, I will add some weblinks:

La couleur des larmes is about paintings in the first world war: No need to learn french, this website is mainly visual B)

I used the British Pathe website to find out some films from the first world war.

I may add something on this period. We are intended to study the monuments (that's compulsory in our curiculum), as 'lieux de mémoires'. In the Mosse's book, it is obvious that the British, German and French ones are not the same at all.

After the first WW, we burried the 'unknown soldier' beneath the Arc de Triomphe. As much as I know, in the UK, the tomb of the 'unknwon soldier' contains no body at all (am I right?).

Some monuments were erected as the 'Ossusaire of Douaumont' in which are the bones of the soldiers of Verdun. For 300,000 soldiers, both Germans and French, it was impossible to recognise them. It's such an impressive monument:


Here you can have some examples of monuments erected to commemorate the soldiers:


Some works have been done by pupils in my County: Correze B)

[you can click the spots on the map]

There is only one main pacifist monument in France and it's near here in Creuse: Le monument aux Morts de Gentioux: Quite a surprising one:


Do you study it either in the UK or in Germany such things?

Jean Philippe

#38 D Letouzey

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Posted 24 March 2004 - 08:26 AM

Some changes have been made to my previous WW1 message :

On French textbooks in history, a very short message, to follow the long one on WW1 :

Have a look at this webpage :

I have scanned several pages on Hitler 's Germany.

Of course, since 1971, images are more frequent.
And sometimes the text is now very allusive.
But the structure is still the same : the left page for the text, the right for the documents.

Edited by D Letouzey, 24 March 2004 - 09:53 AM.

#39 Juan Carlos

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Posted 24 March 2004 - 09:12 AM

Apart from the main events of the history of International Relations (e.g. the Armada, Wars between France and Spain in the 16th century, 30 years war, Westfalia Treaty...)French and British history are studied mainly in the last year of the Compulsory Education, subject: Modern History from 15th to 21st century,(15-16 years old) and the first year of Upper Secondary Education, subject: Late Modern History from late 18th to 21st century,((16-17 years old)

Here are some topics that are studied in Spanish curriculum:
English Revolution
English Industrial Revolution
French Revolution and Napoleon
1830 and 1848 Revolutions in France
Parliamentary Reform in Britain
First World War (it is focused mainly on Western Front and Treaties of Peace)
Domestic Politics in both Britain and France over the Interwar Period
Second World War
Domestic Politics in both Britain and France after the Second World War
European Union integration process

Of course, they are not very deeply

#40 D Letouzey

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Posted 24 March 2004 - 02:07 PM

This morning, at my home, there was 2 english couples, coming from the Fens (they live close to Andrew 's).
One of their uncle, Arthur Papworth, was killed in August 1944 ; he is buried in the village cimetery (no in a war cimetery), and the local authority pay a gardener to flower the tomb. At this moment, it is all in yellow, with daffodils, one of the colours of his regiment. The local school is named after him.

"His life : a beautiful memory
His death, a silent grief

The tomb :


The village church and the cimetery (A Papsworth 's tomb is in the middle, just behind the wall):


Edited by D Letouzey, 25 March 2004 - 12:32 PM.

#41 Laurent Gayme

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Posted 24 March 2004 - 04:02 PM

About how scientific history affects school history

I would say there is a major influence. For example we had to study, in the former curriculum of the college (4e), society in the time of french absolutism, and it was a way to explain french revolution. It was a result, I think, of jacobin-marxist analysis of the revolution (Mathiez, Lefebvre, Soboul).
In today's curriculum, we have to insist on abolutism and fight against (english and US revolution, enlightment). My point of view is that this change is a major result of the rise of a new school of thought in french history :
- the general rise of political history (René Rémond and his followers, who reign over history of France in the XXth century) against the school of the Annales. This school overshadows others in building history's school curricula;
- the rise of anglo-saxon analysis of french revolution, forwarded in France by François Furet and alii (Furet/Ozouf, Dictionnaire critique de la Revolution française).

So today we have to study history (college) from a political point of view, not from a social point of view (exception : age of industry): building the french monarchy since middle age, rise of political new ideas against absolutism, soviet revolution as a result of WWI, disparition of world's economic crisis (1929) and of the New Deal, french political history since 1789

Actually a new school of thought is rising : cultural history. French leaders are members of political history too. Cultural history is now entering curricula (see Danieland JP's topics on WWI).

Do you have similar changes in UK, Germany, Spain ?

#42 JP Raud Dugal

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Posted 24 March 2004 - 07:43 PM

Ulrike and Juan Carlos (good to hear from you :D ) were talking about european integration.

I think that in Germany, France, as well as in Spain, european integration is taking more and more importance within the curriculum.

The fact that we are not teaching the Napoleon era but mainly what it brought to Europe is an evidence of that.
Moreover, in our new program in Première (16-17 yo) , II WW was added (and removed to the final year (Terminale)). This tend to prove that wars are not big issues. Next year in Terminale's new curriculum, the european integration in history will replace the II WW....II WW has to be considered as an event (awful one) but not as a main issue in the 20thC.

I tried to deal with it showing the students that it was an important issue.
For the British case, I send them to the BBC website on the UK's integration.


Then I showed them a speech of T. Blair in 2001.


Students were asked to write an essay and to have a conversation with the english assistant on that. Some were surprised... :woo:

Next year, I will have a look to Churchill's speech in Zurich (1946). And, Schuman's one...and the main events of the european integration (the elysean treaty 1963 for example together with the Maastricht treaty etc etc)

The best way to have a look in a lot of languages is to have a visit to the wonderful website of Juan Carlos. It worth it! (together with John Simkin they did such an excellent work last year on the key players of the European integration and a webquest on Jean Monnet)


[Have you got such things to study in the UK?]

Jean Philippe

Edited by JP Raud Dugal, 24 March 2004 - 07:44 PM.

#43 John Simkin

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Posted 25 March 2004 - 06:38 AM

(1) I have always been interested in the subject of the French Resistance. Is this studied very much in France? Would most French children know about people like Jean Moulin, Emmanuel d'Astier, Pierre Brossolette and Jean-Pierre Lévy? A few months ago I had an email from Helene Viannay about my web page on her. She seemed surprised that she was being studied in British schools.


(2) The other day a teacher on the International Education Forum from Nashville asked about the teaching of post-war European history. He wrote:

Bearing in mind that I will have about four hours of lecture time for the subject, what are the essential elements for helping to give an understanding of developments in Western Europe since 1945 (Excluding the Cold War)

I presently have a section of France and the political history of Charles De Gaulle
I have a vague section on the development and later reduction of the British welfare state

I spend a good deal of time on setting up the ECSC, EEC, EU through the Treaty of Rome, Treaty of Maastricht introduction of the Euro.

What other topics should be included in this segment of my class? Obviously the best material covers trends of general Western European history.


What aspects of French history should he study? I suggested he should study the careers of Charles De Gaulle and Jean Monnet.

Edited by John Simkin, 25 March 2004 - 06:41 AM.

#44 UlrikeSchuhFricke



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Posted 25 March 2004 - 07:02 AM

As far as I know the Annales introduced a new, more structuralist and Marxist perspective of interpreting history.
Looking at my German schoolbooks they still try to link social and political elements. Cultural history has been introduced into our curriculum as well which I think is very important.
If you have to teach post-war European history and if you do not want or cannot concentrate on the Cold War, studying the history of the European Union seems to be the best option.
One interesting aspect which is unfortunately not really dealt with in textbooks is the attitude of the people towards this process. In the beginning with the Cold War and its thretas looming large and a Europe still divided by real borders the majority of the people welcomed the process of unifying Europe. Especially young people welcomed the idea of meeting with young people from France. The ideas of Schuman, de Gaulle and Adenauer were supported by large segments of their people. Today Europe and unifying Europe no longer is based on a people's movement; many Europeans see the process of enlarging Europa, introducing an European Constitution etc. as something which is of no or onle little interest, something which does not really concern them (if then it is more about jobe than intercultural understanding), something which happens in a far away place called Brussels. Young people are mostly not very interested in the topic; a Europe without borders is the only Europe they know. Most people believe that the European Union makes things and decisions more difficult and increases superfluous bureacracy. It would be very interesting to find some chapters and data in textbooks which show when this process of disillusion began, why it started, if this disillusionment can be found in other European states as well.

#45 JP Raud Dugal

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Posted 25 March 2004 - 04:27 PM

(2) The other day a teacher on the International Education Forum from Nashville asked about the teaching of post-war European history.

I answered him:

For EEC and french matters, you can highkight the 'empty chair policy' in 1965 by De Gaulle in the European Council. It has stopped the European Integration. In fact, during a press conference, General de Gaulle express doubt on the will of Great Britain to join the EEC. Negotiations on EEC enlargement enter a period of crisis in 1963.

On De Gaulle you can look at this website in English:


One can tell that De Gaulle tried to show the independance of France: another example is the NATO case...France withdraws from NATO integrated military Command. You can link it with the run for ABomb ownership.

Something you can add is (perhaps) the Mitterrand era (1981-1995).
The first two years of his presidency are quite spectacular, nationalisation of the economy, abolition of the death penalty, ...

http://www.diplomati...stoire07_1.html (in english)

But the most important thing is the Franco-German cooperation:

The hand-in-hand ceremony in 1984 in Verdun is one of the turning point for Europe and the beginning of a new era:


In french the Franco-German relations with some photos:

It could be useful for your student with this example to understand why we use the term 'OLD Europe'

Last link for France and EU:

Jean Philippe

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