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  • Originally published 11/25/2014

    France awards highest honour to modest WWII spy heroine

    A World War II heroine who parachuted behind German lines on "perilous" spy missions, but was so modest she only told her children about it 15 years ago, was Tuesday presented with France's highest honour.

  • Originally published 07/02/2014

    When the United States Spoke French

    In Philadelphia in the early 19th century you could hear French spoken on the streets, eat French food, and watch French dramas.

  • Originally published 08/15/2013

    Q&A: France's connections in Africa w/ Lansine Kaba

    In January 2013, France sent a few thousand troops to Mali in a bid to combat rebel fighters who had seized control of the north of the country and were threatening to advance on the capital.The intervention shed light on some of France's historical relationships with its former colonies. But what do the country's historic ties with Africa say about its recent political moves?Dr Lansine Kaba is a distinguished scholar, writer and professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. He is the recipient of the distinguished Melville J. Herskovits Prize for best work in English in African Studies. Al Jazeera's Heather Roy spoke to this leading historian on Africa about the France-Africa connection and what role, if any, this relationship plays today.Al Jazeera: What does the term 'Francafrique' mean?Lansine Kaba: Francafrique involves a complex web of relations that have made France a major player in the affairs of many African countries and even of the African Union. Through the networks of this largely “opaque conglomerate”, France, a founding member of the UN Security Council and the World Bank, can boast a significant global influence that extends far beyond the French-speaking states.

  • Originally published 07/19/2013

    Robert Zaretsky: Why the French Love a Parade

    Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, in Texas....[Bastille Day] was the Age of Reason’s Woodstock — even with the presence of the National Guard, the citizen militia born in the creative chaos of 1789. Sporting their blue, white and red cockades, Guard detachments from across France came to affirm their region’s attachment to the Revolution. For the French nation in 1790, the Guard was no less the authentic representative of the popular will than, say, Jimi Hendrix (wearing red, white and blue) riffing on the Star-Spangled Banner was the authentic expression of Woodstock Nation.While the Guard’s role in the festival partly explains the military’s presence in today’s parade, there’s another source. With the advent of Napoleonic and Restoration France, July 14 became the date whose historical significance dared not be spoken. It was the fledging Third Republic, born in the rubble of defeat left by the Franco-Prussian War, which resurrected the parade in 1880.

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    Giles MacDonogh: What Happened to Europe?

    Giles MacDonogh is the author of several books on European history, including “After the Reich.” He is currently working on “Hitler’s Germany: A Social History of the Third Reich.”It all looked like a pretty good idea in 1951: A world war had come to an end only six years earlier and a cold one followed in its wake. Old enemies were about to become new friends.The first step was barter. Instead of milking the defeated nation’s resources — the ancient way of war — they could be shared: You have coal, we have steel; we’ll swap. This fair trade was at the heart of the Treaty of Paris, the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community, the seed that became the mighty European Union....It has now been 68 years since the end of World War II, and in Western and Central Europe at least, peace has reigned for the longest period in modern history — trouncing the calm that ran from Waterloo to the Crimean War by nearly two decades.It would be a pity to forget a century of good, hard work or the 60 years we have spent burying our differences and throw it all away at the toss of a coin.

  • Originally published 06/21/2013

    Archivists in France fight privacy initiative

    SERRAVAL, France — As a European proposal to bolster digital privacy safeguards faces intense lobbying from Silicon Valley and other powerful groups in Brussels, an obscure but committed group has joined in the campaign to keep personal data flourishing online.One of the European Union’s measures would grant Internet users a “right to be forgotten,” letting them delete damaging references to themselves in search engines, or drunken party photos from social networks. But a group of French archivists, the people whose job it is to keep society’s records, is asking: What about our collective right to keep a record even of some things that others might prefer to forget?The archivists and their counteroffensive might seem out of step, as concern grows about American surveillance of Internet traffic around the world. But the archivists say the right to be forgotten, as it has become known, could complicate the collection and digitization of mundane public documents — birth reports, death notices, real estate transactions and the like — that form a first draft of history....

  • Originally published 06/17/2013

    Napoleon's telegraph changed the world

    Napoleonic semaphore was the world's first telegraph network, carrying messages across 18th Century France faster than ever before. Now a group of enthusiastic amateurs are reviving the ingenious system.Before the web, before the computer, before the phone, even before Morse code, there was le systeme Chappe. Not for the first time or for the last, at the end of the 18th Century France made an important technological advance - only to see it overtaken by newer science.In this case, it was the world's first ever system of telegraphy.According to most accounts, the very word "telegraph" - distance writing, in Greek - was coined to describe Claude Chappe's nationwide network of semaphore....

  • Originally published 06/04/2013

    French learned to make wine from Italians 2,400 years ago

    The French weren't the first to make wine? Mon dieu! But as anyone who has sipped a Bordeaux, Champagne or Burgundy can tell you, the French got pretty good at it once they learned how. And thanks to some molecular archaeology, researchers can now confirm they picked up these skills as early as 425 B.C.So who taught the French the art of viniculture? Probably the ancient Italians, says the man with perhaps the coolest nickname in science research — the "Indiana Jones of alcohol," .The Eurasian grape — Vitis vinifera, the source of 99 percent of the world's wine — was first domesticated about 9,000 years ago in the mountains of the Near East, says McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Later, Canaanite, Phoenician and Greek merchants all played a part in spreading that wine culture across the Mediterranean....

  • Originally published 05/28/2013

    Robert Zaretsky: France, Algeria and the Ties That Bind

    Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, in Texas....From the moment [Algerian president Abdelaziz] Bouteflika arrived in Paris nearly a month ago after suffering a minor stroke, Algerians have suffered a news blackout. The Algerian government has treated the event rather like its military operation during the hostage crisis at a gas facility in the Sahara earlier this year: with intense secrecy and overwhelming force.Two newspapers were censured last week for reporting that Bouteflika’s health was worsening, while the government, under the eye of the president’s brother Said Bouteflika, insists all is well. Predictably, his blandly reassuring words have persuaded most Algerians that little is well, either with Bouteflika’s condition or Algeria’s future.

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    Far-right historian commits suicide In Notre Dame cathedral

    Dominique Venner, a well-known French historian who embraced and wrote about ultra-conservative causes for decades, committed suicide today in front of the alter at Notre Dame Cathedral. He had left a post on his blog decrying the legalization of same sex marriage in France. "An infamous law ... can always be repealed," he wrote. "It will require new, spectacular and symbolic actions to rouse people from their complacency."...

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    Mary Louise Roberts on the dark side of the liberation of France

    The soldiers who landed in Normandy on D-Day were greeted as liberators, but by the time American G.I.’s were headed back home in late 1945, many French citizens viewed them in a very different light.In the port city of Le Havre, the mayor was bombarded with letters from angry residents complaining about drunkenness, jeep accidents, sexual assault — “a regime of terror,” as one put it, “imposed by bandits in uniform.”This isn’t the “greatest generation” as it has come to be depicted in popular histories. But in “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War II France,” the historian Mary Louise Roberts draws on French archives, American military records, wartime propaganda and other sources to advance a provocative argument: The liberation of France was “sold” to soldiers not as a battle for freedom but as an erotic adventure among oversexed Frenchwomen, stirring up a “tsunami of male lust” that a battered and mistrustful population often saw as a second assault on its sovereignty and dignity....

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    Bozize ouster is latest power grab in Africa's "phantom state"

    (Reuters) - The French dubbed it the neglected "Cinderella" of their African colonial empire; modern observers have called it a "phantom state".Landlocked, isolated and poverty stricken, despite its reserves of gold, timber, uranium and gemstone quality diamonds, Central African Republic has been racked by debilitating rebellions for more than a decade. In the latest revolt, fighters from a loose rebel alliance demanding an end to years of exclusion from government seized control of the riverside capital Bangui on Sunday, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    First find of early human artwork

    A 14,000-year-old engraved reindeer antler is possibly the first piece of early human art ever found. The specimen was uncovered in the 1800s and has been in the vast collections of the Natural History Museum. Its scientific importance, and clues as to how it was made are only now being revealed, scientists report today.Natural History Museum scientists have pieced together the antler's history. It was found between 1830 and 1848 in Neschers, France, by local village priest Jean-Baptiste Croizet. There are no known records of early human artwork finds before this time and so it is the first, or one of the first, discoveries of Stone Age portable art....

  • Originally published 03/11/2013

    Robin Hood 'from Kent' not Sherwood Forest, historian claims

    ...New research suggests Robin Hood actually preyed on French invaders, fought in support of the King and – most shocking of all – came from near Tunbridge Wells, in Kent.A historian believes he has identified the real-life inspiration for Britain’s most famous outlaw.Sean McGlynn, an academic at the University of Plymouth and the Open University, has amassed evidence suggesting Robin Hood is based on William of Kensham, a largely forgotten 13th century forest bandit, who went by the alias Willikin of the Weald....

  • Originally published 02/15/2013

    France to return 7 paintings looted during WWII

    PARIS (AP) — France is returning seven paintings taken from their Jewish owners during World War II, part of an ongoing effort to give back hundreds of looted artworks that still hang in the Louvre and other museums.The works were stolen or sold under duress up to seven decades ago as their Jewish owners fled Nazi-occupied Europe. All seven were destined for display in the art gallery Adolf Hitler wanted to build in his birthplace of Linz, Austria, according to a catalog for the planned museum....

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    France takes step back in history

    ...And, much as President François Hollande of France denies that his country is still the gendarme of francophone Africa, the columns of French soldiers and planeloads of paratroops embroiled in the newest fighting recall much earlier campaigns.“There was a time when General Faidherbe pursued armed bands attacking the forts of the Sahel, and even then they professed radical Islam,” Bertrand Badie, a political science scholar in Paris, wrote in Le Monde, referring to Gen. Louis Faidherbe, who played a central role in solidifying French interests in the broad swath of desert known as the Sahel in the 19th century. “What have we done since then?”

  • Originally published 01/25/2013

    Andrew S. Curran: Diderot, an American Exemplar? Bien Sûr!

    Andrew S. Curran, the dean of the arts and humanities and a professor of French at Wesleyan University, is the author, most recently, of “The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment.”THE Enlightenment polymath Denis Diderot turns 300 this year, and his October birthday is shaping up to be special. President François Hollande has indicated that he plans to honor the philosopher and novelist with what may be France’s highest tribute: a symbolic reburial in the Panthéon. In the roughly two centuries since this massive neo-Classical church was converted into a secular mausoleum, fewer than 80 people have been admitted into its gravestone club. If inducted, Diderot will arguably be the first member to be celebrated as much for his attacks on reigning orthodoxies as for his literary stature.

  • Originally published 01/23/2013

    Europe’s odd couple, France and Germany, 50 years later

    BERLIN — France and Germany recently issued a joint postage stamp as part of a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, the landmark agreement between the two former enemies.The stamp is identical, except for one telling difference. In each country, it bears a picture of a man and woman, side by side, peering through lenses colored in blue-white-red and black-red-gold. But the French stamp costs 80 euro cents, while its German twin sells for only 75.In a year loaded with symbolic gestures and 4,000 commemorative events, including Tuesday’s joint session of Parliament, joint cabinet dinner and a concert, that 5-cent disparity is a reminder that despite the decades of friendship and enormous day-to-day cooperation, significant, often devilish, differences persist.

  • Originally published 01/19/2013

    The French Way of War

    IN 1966, the French president, Charles de Gaulle, war hero and general nuisance in Allied eyes, wrote President Lyndon B. Johnson to announce that France was pulling out of full membership in NATO and would expel NATO headquarters from France.“France is determined to regain on her whole territory the full exercise of her sovereignty, at present diminished by the permanent presence of allied military elements or by the use which is made of her airspace; to cease her participation in the integrated commands; and no longer to place her forces at the disposal of NATO,” de Gaulle wrote.After the humiliating capitulation to the Nazis, a tremendous shock to a prideful and martial France, it was not especially surprising that de Gaulle should seek to restore France to a place at the top table of nations, capable of defending its own interests with its own means at its own pace and pleasure.

  • Originally published 01/16/2013

    David A. Bell: The War in Mali is a Reminder of France's Grand Malaise

    David A. Bell is Professor of History at Princeton University. Born in New York City in 1961, he received his A.B. from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton.It remains to be seen whether France's military intervention in Mali will be considered a military success, but it already seems possible to count it a political one. The war has earned support from across the French political spectrum, President François Hollande has garnered acclaim for his leadership, and the French public broadly supports the country's stated humanitarian mission. The intervention recalls the days when “la grande nation” laid claim to an ambitious international role, particularly within its former colonial empire.But in today's France, this portrait of unity and resolve is actually something of an aberration. Far from expressing a confident sense of mission, the French public has recently been more inclined to a sense of decline, malaise, paralysis and crisis. And it is at least partially justified. 

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