International oral history project shares the voices of the “petits réfugiés”

“Petits réfugiés” (little refugees)
“Petits réfugiés” (little refugees)

During the Second World War a large number of French children were displaced and separated from their families as a result of the Allied bombing of France, the threat of invasion and severe food shortages in cities. Known as the “petits réfugiés” (little refugees) the voices of these children have rarely been heard.

Dr Lindsey Dodd’s new research project explores the memories of the “petits réfugiés” providing them with a voice for the first time. A senior lecturer in modern European history, Dr Dodd has research specialisms in the theory and practice of oral history, and the experiences of children in war, particularly in France.

International research collaboration

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Following a successful bid with colleagues from Bath Spa University and Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, Dr Lindsey Dodd from the University of Huddersfield has embarked on a 30-month research project. This multi-stranded project is jointly funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the French Laboratoire d’Excellence (LabEx) Les passés dans le présent.  The funding unites the AHRC’s theme Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past and the LabEx research strand ‘The past in the present’.

This Anglo-French funding will enable the recording and analysis of the memories of French people who became “petits réfugiés”

Disrupted Histories: Recovered Pasts

Titled Disrupted Histories: Recovered Pasts, the overarching project incorporates varied research by experts in fields that include history, politics, ethnography, history, sociology and anthropology, who will investigate five separate case studies, linked through the use of oral history. Each of the experts has an interest in history, memory, commemoration and narrative and are all working on post-conflict and post-colonial contexts, with populations who have been displaced. As the research progresses, working papers and research blogs will appear on the project’s online platform, accessed at https://dsrupdhist.hypotheses.org/.

Discovering “Usable Pasts”

“Petits réfugiés” (little refugees)
“Petits réfugiés” (little refugees)

Official histories create versions of the past which are “usable”. As such, they tend to homogenise the past and impose certain storylines. The ‘Disrupted Histories’ project looks towards unofficial and heterogenous versions of the past. By providing a platform for those excluded voices it may be possible to revise more formalised narratives.

The experience of civilians in wartime, many of whom are children, can struggle to find a place in the French narrative of the Vichy era, which has created various “usable pasts” over time, from the glorification of the role of the Resistance to feelings of shame over collaboration with Nazi Germany and guilt over the deportation of Jews.

Dr Dodd will carry out around 20 new interviews, focusing on issues of family displacement and separation, and working with the Archives municipales de Boulogne-Billancourt in the Paris region and the Archives départementales de la Creuse in the centre of France.

This research will enable older people to share their childhood experiences and become part of their national story.

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