Beyond DeGaulle/Beyond London: Conference on new approaches to the history of the Free French and the external Resistance.


Title of Conference/Event:

Beyond De Gaulle and beyond London: New approaches to the history of the Free French and the external Resistance

 Date(s) held: 4 June 2016, University of London in Institute in Paris (ULIP)

Conference organised by the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP), Queen Mary University of London and the University of Manchester.

Why did you feel it was timely for a conference/event on this theme?


The idea behind this workshop comes from my colleague Charlotte Faucher (QMUL) and my own developing work on the history of international organisations and transnational networks in the era of the Second World War. Following the Fall of France and the signature of the Armistice with Germany, resistance networks organised themselves in and outside of France. It is upon the latter group that our work focuses. Charlotte Faucher’s research explores how the Free French groups as well as groups outside the Gaullist circles used French arts and nascent European and international cultural institutions to promote resistance ideas outside France. My own work illuminates, in particular, how the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was exploited by French officials as an international platform to advance France’s broader political aims both within and outside Europe. Crucially, our research illuminates the ways in which culture and relief were understood by some French in exile as a vehicle for pursuing international leadership and a means of restoring national prestige.

Both research projects reflect in various ways on the tensions between international organizations, cultural institutions and (Free) French national priorities. French attempts to re-assert their power globally in the aftermath of the 1940 defeat are a familiar tale. But our work approaches this issue from fresh vantage points: the question of French cultural diplomacy and services abroad and the exploration of humanitarian relief efforts in Europe. In doing so, we seek to answer two broad questions: 1) How did old and new international institutions affect the way the Free French movement and later the French Committee of National Liberation (both led by Charles de Gaulle) approached cultural/humanitarian efforts in Europe? And 2) How successful were these French policy-elites in maintaining their vision in the face of a transformed international environment?

With this in mind, the aim of our forthcoming workshop is to showcase new research on the history of French wartime policies and prompt fresh reflection on networks that made up France’s external resistance, the role of competing ideologies, the question of ‘soft power’ or the interactions between Free French experts and existing or nascent international organisations.

In many ways, this workshop represents a timely opportunity to revisit the history of the Free French and external resistance. Aside from the opening of new archives, the international dimensions of the Free French movement have begun to size unprecedented scholarly attention. In recent years, the ‘transnational’ and ‘global’ turns have indeed invigorated the study of the ‘Free French’ movement and the Resistance. The conference organised on ‘Les Français Libres et le Monde’ in 2013 (and the subsequent publication edited by Sylvain Cornil-Frerrot and Philippe Oulmont) have shown the potential of internationalist approaches for the study of De Gaulle’s world visions and the Free French movement more broadly. Last year, Strathclyde historians Dr. Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr. Karine Varley organised a conference on France and the Second World War in a global perspective. And, even more recently, the Institut français in London hosted an evening on ‘New approaches to World War II’ with Professor Guillaume Piketty and Professor Robert Gildea which drew on the notion of global war. The call for paper that we issued ahead of the conference offers an overview of these recent historiographical developments.

What are the key themes and debates raised during the conference? 

This workshop is truly international in nature, bringing together leading scholars from Israel, the United States, Canada, Britain and France. A range of different historical perspectives and methods is brought to bear on the topic, including the history of emotions and international and transnational history. We are also excited to bring together scholars who work on a wide variety of archival documents and primary sources: a couple of speakers will be presenting archives that have been recently opened to researchers, while another will draw on post-war documentary films that concerns little studied resistant groups. Key themes of the workshop include: ‘Global Culture Fronts’ and the Alliance Française Networks; internal tensions and anti-Gaullism within resistance networks abroad, the charged question of antisemitism; the issue of Allied bombing; resistance networks in Indochina; Free French groups in Canada; or the questions of the ‘return to intimacy’ of former French resistant fighters. Dr. Jean-Marc Dreyfus (Manchester) will present new research on the work of André Mayer, a French veteran of the League of Nations who actively contributed to the creation of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The field of history and French studies will also met in one of the papers which considers the question of French cultural resistance, by examining the translation of resistance literature into English in New York during the war. This opens up questions about the role of the translator as an intermediary making cultural productions available to an Anglophone audience.

The keynote speaker, Professor Emmanuelle Loyer (Sciences Po Paris), will re-evaluate the legacy of the resistance through an examination of how Soixant-huitards (ie the participants in the student and workers’ protest movement of May 1968) used a vocabulary close to that of the Resistance. Thus, although the workshop focuses on the war and immediate post-war period, we have encouraged participants to think about representations, conflicting legacies and memory. Professor Julian Jackson (QMUL) will conclude the day. You can find the programme of the workshop here

Where are you hoping to go from here?

 We are hoping to publish selected papers from the conference in a selected issue. A second workshop will be organized in Manchester in 2017. Both workshops are associated to the French History Network (FHN), led by Dr Ludivine Broch (Westminster) and Dr Alison Carrol (Brunel) and the Royal Society of Edinburg-funded network on the Relations Between Britain and France in World War Two convened by Dr. Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr. Karine Varley.

So, if you would like to get involved and learn more about our project please contact us at or

The event is kindly supported by the Society for French Studies (SFS), the Society for the Study of French History (SSFH), the Fondation de la France Libre, the School of History at Queen Mary University of London, the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP) and the University of Manchester.



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