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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

Module Aims

• Introduce you to the circumstances and debates that shaped the reception of refugees in France during the first half of the twentieth century; and secondly, to familiarise you with how these events have been remembered. • Encourage you to assess critically the extent to which French governments have upheld universal rights for refugees seeking asylum. • Enable you to identify the continuities/discontinuities of immigration policy during this period. • Stimulate reflection on how and why cultural differences/similarities were articulated by French officials, the public, and the refugees. • Develop an awareness of how geographical displacement affects personal identity.

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.

Special Features

The lectures will acquaint you with the broad context of each topic, introduce you to the various historical debates, and provide the stimulus for in-depth reading in preparation for the weekly seminar. The weekly seminar will be largely student led involving group discussions of set questions and peer reviews of individual presentations which will have been posted on blackboard in advance. You will be expected to prepare material for each seminar in order to discuss the weekly questions and to provide substance to your critique of other students’ presentations. This format should also allow you to deepen your knowledge of the overall topic while providing ample opportunity to discuss and expand on areas of your interest which may not have been explicitly covered within the lectures. The student presentation encourages you to work autonomously and to reflect on the most effective way of presenting your findings with the use of audio-visual sources. In addition, the system of informal peer feedback at the end of each presentation will stimulate you to reflect critically about how others construct and present their own ideas, which should in turn encourage self-reflection about your own abilities. The ongoing process of sharing and critiquing ideas in class combined with the preparation of a seminar presentation and short essay should equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to undertake the longer written assignment.

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.

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

Resources & Reading list

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

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 .

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

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


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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