Prof Kevin Passmore
The Maginot Line in History, Culture and Memory
This project is supported by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, 2014-17 and by A British Academy and Leverhulme Trust Personal Research Grant
In the 1930s, the French government built an enormously expensive line of fortifications - the Maginot Line - along its frontier with Germany. Notoriously, in the summer of 1940, a lightening German attack through Belgium outflanked the Maginot Line, and within a few weeks France had been defeated. The fortifications seemed to be an irrelevance, a symbol of military myopia and refusal to look the imperatives of the modern world in the face. However, although the fortifications saw little fighting, they were enormously important strategically, socially and culturally not only in France, but internationally. Consequently, the Maginot Line represents an ideal focus for an interdisciplinary study and it provides a window into French and European history. The project is organised around seven themes: (1). The social, intellectual and cultural context of military strategy (2) fortification as part of a project to 'organise' French society, ensuring the ability of the state to structure the 'formless mass' (3) the significance and consequences of building the defences of the nation in a German-speaking region in which separatist feeling was strong (4) the Maginot line in the transnational context (5) the relationship between aesthetics (e.g. Art deco, Le Corbusier's modernism), military design and strategy (6) the history of everyday military life (7) the Maginot Line in memory.
Democratic Century: Democracy, Majorities, and Pluralism in Europe since 1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Democratic Century will trace the meanings and of the term 'democracy' and ask what was at stake in it use in a period in which the word has been harnessed to liberal democracy, Soviet popular democracy, the Nazi’s Teutonic Democracy’, nationalism, socialism and more. The book will break with the national comparative logic of many histories of Europe; it will show that the nation-state was only one of the frameworks within which people organized their actions, and was the most important in only particular contexts. At other times, frameworks larger than the nation (economies, religions, ideologies) or smaller (family, region) were more significant to people in the past.
The Reception of Fascism and National Socialism in France
We can better understand ‘fascism’ by examining it as a ‘social word’ in a transnational context rather than by attempting to categorise it using an abstract definition. Fascism was a contested term, which historical actors used (or refused to use) according to their own preconceptions, purposes, and the responses of others. Looking at fascism in this way means that we must examine fascism transnationally. Rather than asking, were particular movements fascist?’, we ask how they understood fascism in Italy, which aspects they emphasised, what they knew about it, how they mistook it, and how and why they used this knowledge. I develop these points using the example of France, a country about which there has been a long debate about whether the leagues of the 1930s were fascist or not, a debate which depends entirely on prior definition However, the leagues shared similarities and differences with Fascism and with national socialism. The question I ask is therefore why the leagues chose to privilege the differences and claim not to be fascist. I show that in France, for political reasons, it became increasingly difficult for any movement to claim to be fascist and still less to be national socialist. Nonetheless, transnational analysis shows that the leagues were entangled in complex ways with the German and Italian regimes.