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For the last thirty-five years or so, social memories have become more "problematic"--at least to manage--in France. French historian Jean-Pierre Rioux in his book La France perd la memoire (France is Losing its Memory) situates this shift in the early 1970s and clearly laments challenges to traditional historiography or the Republican national "story." Pierre Nora too, editor of the multi-volume Realms of Memory which has become a key reference work in memory studies, sees the 1970s as inaugurating new relationships to the past in France--brought about by the death of President Charles de Gaulle, the social upheaval of May 1968, the end of grand narratives, the "acceleration of history," and economic stagnation. As Nora puts it, there are "sites or realms of memory" because there are no longer "real environments of memory." (1) We should add that during the 1970s the questioning of the occlusions and comforting myths of the previous decades finally took place in the public sphere. (2) Questioning the activities of the Vichy regime (1940-44) clearly dominated much memory work in France during the 1970s and 1980s, due to the profound legacy of the Holocaust in Europe and complex ethical and practical issues relating to French involvement in it. More recently (essentially since the 1990s), a set of issues that can be grouped as (post)colonial have emerged more forcefully: for instance remembering, revisiting or re-evaluating the Franco-Algerian War (1954-62), the French Empire, slavery, or post-1945 immigration to France. (3) Many of these historical debates, and especially the Algerian question--that take place in or through a variety of media such as films, novels, scholarship, commemorations, political declarations, activism, the media, and other channels or spheres--tend to be polemical as the periods considered are often still highly contested.

22 juin
Journal of Social History

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