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The University of Southampton

FREN3025 An ambivalent asylum: the histories and memories of refugees in early twentieth-century France

Module Overview

This unit introduces you to some key definitions and concepts before providing an overview of the main phases of immigration in France from the 1880s to the late 1940s.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The key issues, events and people that shaped immigration policy in France between the 1880s and the late 1940s.
  • The distinguishing features of migrants, refugees and exiles.
  • Different approaches to the study of refugee history in France.
  • Some of the issues concerning the relationship between history and memory.
  • The dynamics shaping the appearance and development of refugee monuments in France.
  • The historical specificity of identity and memory.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Identify and put into practice the different skills required for analysing primary and secondary sources.
  • Make informed connections between historical events and the lived experience of individuals in history.
  • Constructively criticise other people’s ideas based on an informed judgement of the subject in question.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Participate in group discussions, work effectively both as a member of a team and individually.
  • Read, evaluate, summarise and synthesise texts in French and English.
  • Communicate your ideas in a coherent and cogent fashion through oral presentations and written work.
  • Develop your presentational skills with the use of audio-visual resources.
  • Prioritise and manage your time more effectively.


This module introduces you to the circumstances surrounding the reception of refugees in France together with the opportunities, restrictions and dangers that shaped their experiences from the 1880s to the late 1940s. In the first instance you will be introduced to some key definitions and concepts. The arrival of refugees from different national contexts will then be compared, contrasted and contextualised in relation to the major historical events of the period: the Dreyfus affair; the First World War; the interwar years; the Popular Front; the concentration camps and para-military work companies of the Third Republic and Vichy regime; the Resistance; and the post-Liberation culture of commemoration. One of the overarching themes linking the different historical periods is the process of integration/incorporation and you will be invited to reflect on how inclusion and exclusion occurred. A second thread considers how French opinions and responses were influenced by the recollection of previous conflicts, for instance: how did the memory of the Franco-Prussian conflict and the First World War influence attitudes towards the arrival of anti-fascist German refugees of the 1930s? How was the reception of Spanish republican exiles conditioned by press reporting of the Spanish civil war? In addition to exploring the broad context of this period of refugee history, you will be strongly encouraged to analyse how events were experienced and remembered by the refugees themselves by reading at least one memoir or collection of oral histories. This emphasis on how the social interconnects with the personal will allow you to bring and practise reading skills acquired from other units. The module concludes by tracing the creation and development of monuments dedicated to the memory of refugees in contemporary France.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Weekly lectures and seminars. • A set of weekly questions to guide you in your reading. • Discussions arising from student-led seminars with the module convenor acting as a guide and learning facilitator. • Informal feedback from the module convenor and students on oral presentations. Learning activities include • Directed and undirected reading in both English and French. • Preparation of cogent and well-founded arguments for oral presentations and group discussions. • Reviewing other students’ presentations. • The research and completion of written assignments.

Wider reading or practice40
Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions2
Follow-up work4
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Silverman, Maxim (1992). ‘Immigration and the nation-state' in Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, racism and citizenship in modern France. 

Ponty, Janine (1996). Réfugiés, exilés, des catégories problématiques. Matériaux pour l'histoire de notre temps. ,44 .

Vernant, Jacques (1953). The Refugee in the Post-War World. 

Noiriel, Gérard (1999). Réfugiés et sans-papiers: La République face au droit d'asile XIX-XX Siècle. 

Said, E. (2000). ‘Reflections on Exile’ in Reflections on exile and other essays. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback • Peer and tutor feedback on seminar presentations and the short essay. • Discussion of essay/or dissertation plans by arrangement with the module tutor.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 45%
Essay  (2500 words) 45%
Seminar presentation  (8 minutes) 10%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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