Accessibility statement

Myths, Memories & the Legacy of the French Occupation (1940-44) - LAN00053H

« Back to module search

  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Angela O'Flaherty
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

On the 14th of June 1940, German troops entered Paris ushering in a 4 year period of occupation, known as les années noires, which was to test not only French society, but also its much celebrated republican values. It brought with it the glory of the Résistance but also the shame of collaboration and the Holocaust. The Second World War may be long over but its memory shows no sign of becoming less relevant, with references to the wartime past peppering speeches and public discourse following the terrorist attacks of the 2010s, on the campaign trails of presidential elections and even in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this module, we look at how key French experiences of the Occupation have become part of collective memory and national myth building, focusing, in particular, on how the official history and memory of this period has been constructed, manipulated and, even, abused in recent years. By looking to the past, and perhaps more importantly to the changing interpretation and understanding of this past, we will be able to better examine contemporary France and French identity.

Related modules

Pre-requisite module

  • French language and cultures: Advanced

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The module will:

  • Examine key aspects of the French experience of the war years, including the Résistance, collaboration and the Shoah;

  • Explain the evolving construction of the memory of the Occupation;

  • Discuss how this memory is used, manipulated and even abused;

  • Examine the many controversies surrounding the memories of this period;

  • Consider why events of the war years remain so important to French identity;

  • Analyse the link between the war time past and contemporary issues such as racism and antisemitism;

  • Compare the evolving treatment of these memories by historians and public figures;

  • Improve proficiency in written and spoken French.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key facts related to the Occupation and its memory;

  • Critically evaluate a wide range of documents including: digital newspaper articles, speeches, documentaries, short stories, eyewitness accounts, letters and photographs;

  • Compare and contrast differing treatments of the memories of this period over time and/or by different groups;

  • Interpret and analyse primary and secondary sources;

  • Demonstrate independent study skills and pursue personal research on the topics discussed;

  • Formulate and justify arguments related to the subject matter;

  • Communicate in both spoken and written French with increased confidence and accuracy.

Module content

The topics covered might include:

  • The construction, collapse and rehabilitation of the Résistance myth

  • The enduring legacy of De Gaulle

  • The problematic memory of Maréchal Pétain

  • The experience of Collaboration

  • Holocaust denial in France: origins and contemporary forms

  • The experience of the Shoah in France

  • The Rafle du Vél d’hiv and its commemoration

  • Anti-semitism

  • The crimes against humanity trials of the 80s and 90s (Barbie, Papon etc)

3 one-hour seminars per week

  • Independent study in the form of preparation for class discussion is an essential part of students’ commitment

  • Particular emphasis is given to the development of analytical and critical skills through the study of authentic materials (i.e. resources in French for native speakers of French)

  • The module is taught and assessed in French.


Task Length % of module mark
Open paper
N/A 60
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Video presentation
0.17 hours 40

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Research essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative assessment and feedback

  • Formative tasks done individually or in groups throughout the module

  • Feedback will include written comments and oral feedback during class discussions.

Summative assessment and feedback

Students will be given written feedback and marks for their work within the University mandated schedule.

Indicative reading

A wide variety of sources ranging from both the war years to the contemporary period will be examined: speeches, newspaper articles, social media postings, literary texts, art and documentaries.
For example: students may examine extracts of key speeches (De Gaulle’s appel du 18 juin (1940), Malraux’s speech honouring the panthéonisation of Jean Moulin (1964), various presidents’ commemoration of the Rafle du Vel d’hiv (1995- present) etc), collaborationist posters, resistance poetry, documentaries (Nuit et Brouillard 1956), first-hand/literary accounts of the Shoah (Auschwitz et après, La Nuit), key legislative texts (Le premier statut des juifs 1940, la loi Gayssot 1990), social media outputs from contemporary politicians (Marine Le Pen, Macron) as well political campaigning material (Le Pen, Macron, Zemmour etc).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.