Nicolas Offenstadt

1914-18 Today The Great War in Contemporary France Publication date : October 7, 2010

Nicolas Offenstadt is most notably the author of Les Fusillés de la Grande Guerre (1999). A senior lecturer at the University of Paris-I, he has also published Faire la paix au Moyen-Age (2007) and Le Chemin des Dames (2004).

In France in 2004, more than ten novels were published that had World War I as a backdrop. That same year, the film Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement), about a court martial during World War I, was seen by more than four million spectators. In addition, a vast number of local associations are engaged in memorial activities along the former battlefront. It would seem that the Great War, far from being a subject restricted to historians, has become a matter of widespread social and cultural interest over the past twenty years.
This interest can be explained by a dual series of factors. The first lies in the specificities of the Great War, which affected every French family. But the revival of interest in the War goes beyond the conflict itself. It relates to our society’s changing relation to time — time which consumes the past and past events. In this context, the dramatic events of the past resonate powerfully for us and are heightened by genealogical and regional as well as politically engaged narratives.
The present-day interest in the Great War is quite remarkable, and comes to us in the form of a revival after a period of relative obscurity. Memory has a history and a chronology. Each vector (books, monuments, etc.) also has its own timeframe. This volume travels from one aspect to another to evaluate and explain why we have become so greatly interested in the War of 1914-18. The author shows that politicians today constantly make use of the major locales of the war to talk about the present. This political use echoes the social use of vestiges of the war. The death of the last surviving veterans doubtless contributed to the mise en scène of their memoirs. Against this background, historians have actively participated in the discussion around the war’s renewed presence, but it is doubtless through artistic and cultural creativity that this vivid presence has most massively and uninterruptedly made itself felt. The goal of this book is both to understand and to measure such marked interest.

• A complete history of the “memory” of the Great War in the contemporary mind.

• What role does this conflict and its consequences play in the current social, political and cultural debate?

• Beyond the war itself, what this book reveals to us is the current state of our society and its relationship to the past.