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Devlin Scofield, Michigan State University, History

Veterans, War Widows, and National Belonging in Alsace, 1871-1955

Alsace-Lorraine is a historically contested border region between Germany and France. In the period from 1871 to 1955, the provinces were repeatedly exchanged between the two antagonistic states in 1871, 1918, 1940, and 1945 at the conclusion of successive military engagements. Alsace was geographically peripheral to both Germany and France, yet became imbued with an enduring symbolic centrality for both nations. My dissertation, “Veterans, War Widows, and National Belonging in Alsace, 1871-1955,” utilizes the context of this historical rivalry to interrogate notions and practices of German and French citizenship, issues of identity, and the growth and limits of the welfare state by investigating the interactions between the German and French states and Alsatian veterans who fought for the opposing power in the previous conflict as well as the treatment of war widows whose husbands died fighting for the recently divested state. Historians have recognized the dual possibilities embodied in the figure of the veteran or his survivors as bastions of the established order or as sources of official anxiety and national insecurity, yet these studies have focused on the ways in which a state reintegrates its own citizens, while the question of incorporating and supporting onetime enemies remains yet to be addressed. By focusing on a singular geographic space, such as Alsace, where both victors and vanquished attempted to reconstruct post-war lives, relationships with one another and the newly sovereign state, not just once but four times, my dissertation will add new perspective into the manner in which “loyal” and “nationally-minded” citizens were constructed out of largely “indifferent” or hostile populations. Alsace is a microcosm for France and Germany’s struggle for the political and cultural domination of the European mainland during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and provides a distinctive comparative framework to study the continuities and ruptures in the processes of German and French nation-building from the margins in a single contested geographic space.