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Under the shadow of defeat : the state and the commemoration of the Franco-Prussian war, 1871-1914

Varley, Karine (2002) Under the shadow of defeat : the state and the commemoration of the Franco-Prussian war, 1871-1914. French History, 16 (3). pp. 323-344.

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Abstract

The French defeat in the Franco‐Prussian War represented a crushing blow for the Second Empire, the fledgling Republic and the French nation. While intellectuals and policymakers embarked on a process of soul‐searching, the French public responded to the defeat with an unprecedented wave of commemorative acts predicated on the belief that the French national defence was more honourable and more glorious than the German victory. In recent years, much attention has been devoted to the Third Republic's celebration of the French revolutionary past, and the role these celebrations played in developing and sustaining republican values. In this article, however, I examine the Republic's comparative neglect of its more recent past. The first section outlines the practical considerations and obligations behind the state's work to bury those who died in the Franco‐Prussian War. The second section explores the government's intervention in and influence over certain commemorative acts. In the third section, the article examines sustained government resistance to the creation of a commemorative medal for veterans of the war. I argue that successive governments adopted a relatively passive role in the war commemorations owing to fears that resurrecting memories of the war might serve to undermine the stability and legitimacy of the Republic.