My research to date has focused on a social and cultural approach of the issues of identity, contacts and transfers during the First World War through a long-term analysis involving sociological and anthropological approaches. I have also investigated the urban experience of the First World War in a social and cultural approach. I am currently working on Allied cultures and identities during the war, and on communitarianism as a support for troop morale. I am also doing research on wartime cooking, including the adaptation of recipes to wartime shortage, the taste and the food experience, and the cross-cultural issues of wartime rations (food importations and new products’ discovery, feeding the colonial troops).
In my doctoral research on Leave and soldiers on leave in Paris during the First World War, I adopted a holistic approach to First World War societies, using a wide range of primary sources, such as Paris police records. This led to the creation of 2 databases including information about 6,000 soldiers on leave and 6,000 deserters. I have shown that the leave was a great support for the combatants’ and the civilians’ morale and was a key to maintain social and family bonds during the war. The issue of leave was also critical to the evolution of the links between the Army, the French Republic and citizenship. I have carried out a study of the military and logistic issues of the leave system showing how its improvisation annoyed the combatants, who were mobilized for the defence of their rights, which chimed in with a long-established cultural trait of the contentious people of Paris. In the Parisian space, social relations and identities were redefined as emerged wartime moral hierarchies in response to the war effort.
My analysis of soldiers’ disobedience and transgressive behaviours has criticized the notion of a “brutalization” of French combatants; a thesis which is still discussed in French historiography. I have also carried out a sociological and cultural study of desertion in France during the war, which led me to discuss the concept of “consent”, a central notion in the French historiography of the conflict. Lastly, I have written a cultural history of the soldier on leave in relation to the figure of the combatant in arms. To do so, I mobilized a wide array of sources, including postcards, novels or songs, and I have shown the limitations of another prevalent historiographical concept, that of the “War Culture”. I did indeed show that the wartime system of representation drew on nineteenth-century (or older) cultural codes and tropes and that the numerous links between the front and the rear involved cultural cross-fertilization.
Capital Cities at War project
From 2003 to 2007, I was an active member of the research group Capital Cities at War. Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919, A Cultural History, coordinated by Prof. Jay Winter (Yale University) and Prof. J.L. Robert (University of Paris I). This comparative and international project produced a cultural history of the three capital cities through the analysis of the production, the dissemination and the appropriation of representations during the war. This project focused on the main sites of the capital cities and I was in charge of the supervision of the working party researching, 'the street'. I also played an active part in three other groups: 'Railway Stations : Gateways and Termini for the Metropolitan experience of war', 'Entertainments', and 'The Home and Family life'.
Our work on “the street” showed that the mobilization of specific spaces and communities within of the capital cities had an impact on their atmosphere and on all the images associated to them. The war affected the culture of the cities’ constituent places and wartime social and cultural identities were shaped on the streets through the mobilization in , support of the war effort. New figures appeared in the cities’ crowds : increasingly militarized and feminized, the crowds embodied the tensions, which, although inherent in the process of national mobilization, contrasted with the myths of national solidarity. The commitment to the war effort led to the emergence of new moral norms imposed upon the cities’ populations by the conflict. This project proved to be a most rewarding experience of international collaborative research.
Marie Curie Fellowship (2011-2013)
This project aims to investigate the operations of the Triple Entente in the First World War as a multicultural military alliance, exploring the intercultural contacts and exchanges between and within the forces which made up the Entente, as the First World War proved to be an extraordinary opportunity for millions of Entente soldiers to come into contact with fellow combatants who had come from all parts of the allied empires to fight a common enemy.
The project will describe and analyse the policies devised by the Allied nations to regulate contacts between – and in some cases enforce segregation of – Allied troops and/or home front populations, but also investigate the cultural issues of uprooted soldiers (European, Colonial & North American) sent to European battlefields, who had numerous opportunities to mingle on the Western front. Communal and national sociabilities are then challenged with the melting-pots of the emerging Allied cultures. The project will pay particular attention to the moments and sites of interaction to stress the diversity of circumstances in which benevolent or tense interactions took place. The project will also contrast the emergence of the Allied identity with the steps taken to maintain communal identities during and after the conflict. Military historians have stressed the importance of national and communal identities in combat operations, when the cohesion and discipline of troops is critical to their efficiency in the field, and the role that sport, civilian popular culture, and regimental traditions and identities played in this process within the British and American armies. The research will develop these matters exploring in particular food traditions as a support for morale among uprooted soldiers, and cross-cultural food issues.
The project will eventually investigate the construction of an Allied identity that was meant to ensure the cohesion of a multinational Allied coalition and sustain the mobilization of public opinions. The research will go beyond official discourses, steeped in the language of high-politics and military operations, to analyze how the press, literature, and the popular culture of the allied nations also contributed to the definition of this allied identity.