The France 1914 Conference

Conference 1914 France lowerThe France 1914 Conference, hosted by the George Rudé Society, the peak body of French historians in Australia and New Zealand, in association with Deakin University, took place on July 15 at the State Library.

The conference was an opportunity for historians, teachers, students and afficionados alike to share insights on what France looked like at the outbreak of WWI. Interventions of particular note were those from Jay Winter of Yale University, Colin Nettleback of Melbourne University and Annette Becker from Paris XI – Nanterre.

Commemorating Catastrophe

Jay Winter addressed the fascinating place a WWI in the France and Australian communal memories as both a catastophe (‘never again’) and a source of pride and honour. Is it possible to reconcile these two approaches to war? With a view to informing the teaching of this event which forms part of education curricula around the world, Winter proposed a fascinating reconceptualisation of WWI in order that war not be indirectly commemorated when we remember those it took.

Through Australian eyes

Colin Nettelbeck presented to eager eyes some rarely seen letters written by Australian soldiers which reveal a surprising affection for France – its culture, land, values and above all the French soldiers alongside whom they fought. Nettelbeck presented the outbreak of WWI as the starting point of a continuing love affair between the two countries, whose geographic and cultural disparity proved no hindrance to the discovery of shared values.

All in all, the conference was a fascinating exploration of the import of WWI for both France and Australia and a reminder of how its effects are still – for better or worse – felt today.

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