War on the land : an environmental history of the Second World War and its aftermath in South Eastern France, 1939-1945

  • Chris Pearson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Through a detailed case study of South-Eastern France, this thesis represents the first environmental history of the "dark years" and their aftermath. Contributing to Vichy historiography, environmental histories of war, and French environmental history, this study argues that nature mattered during the years of war and occupation, both materially and culturally. The natural environment was a site of combat, a means for constructing identities during a time of political and social upheaval, and a "victim" of human conflict. Following defeat in 1940, the Vichy regime launched an ultimately unsuccessful war against "wasteland," born of ideological convictions and severe material shortages. Forests represented a particularly important source of natural resources and were consequendy over-exploited, as well as being transformed into political spaces by both Vichy and the resistance. In addition, occupation armies plundered forest resources and used them for military manoeuvres, developments which French foresters struggled to restrain. Similarly, nature preservationists battled to preserve the Camargue from agricultural modernisation, military manoeuvres, and German submersion plans, aided (unwittingly) by nature. Elsewhere, Vichy and the Club Alpin Franc?ais mobilised mountains as a space in which to remake French masculinity. This mobilisation of the mountains was echoed by the resistance, especially in the Vercors, which was transformed into a "natural fortress." This intense human activity necessitated the reconstruction of the environment in the postwar era, which was planned and state-led through schemes such as the Fonds Forestier National. Just as it had between 1940 and 1944, nature continues to matter, and plays a role in preserving and obscuring memories of the war. Drawing on governmental and other archival sources (some previously unexamined), this thesis aims to demonstrate the relevancy of environmental history to wider historiography, as well as inform contemporary concerns about the complex relationship between war and nature.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish

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