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The University of Southampton

HIST3036 France under the Nazis, 1940-1944 (Part 1)

Module Overview

In 1940 France experienced the worst military defeat in its history. On this module you will explore the causes and consequences of a defeat that caused the collapse of French democratic rule and direct military occupation by the Germans until 1944. You will learn about how the French experienced and came to understand the defeat, and the bruising compromises with the German occupiers that followed. We focus especially on the functioning and ideological underpinning of the authoritarian Vichy regime (1940-1944), which enjoyed semi-autonomous status over the period; the collaboration with the Nazis of both political elites and ordinary men and women; and the complicity of the Vichy regime in the deportation of 80 000 Jews to Auschwitz. You will encounter the military, diplomatic, political, social and cultural dimensions of this complex subject. Through an engagement with primary sources in translation, we consider how the defeat was understood by contemporaries, how the Vichy regime sought to retain its sovereignty in the face of crushing German Occupation, and the daily life of civilians.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The political, military and social history of France in the early to mid-twentieth century with a particular emphasis on sources of division and conflict;
  • The reasons why an authoritarian regime was so quickly established after the military defeat of 1940, and how it managed to present itself as legitimate;
  • The role of the Vichy regime in the Holocaust;
  • The range of popular responses to the fall of France, including both collaboration and resistance to the German occupiers and the Vichy regime;
  • Various genres of primary source material and how historians might read this material as evidence.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Identify (through the use of electronic bibliographical searches) and read primary and secondary materials in a range of formats including microfilm and online where appropriate;
  • Communicate effectively in group discussions, including in the role of presenter;
  • Work independently and as part of a team to identify and solve problems;
  • Develop your time management skills in planning and completing tasks set.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse critically a variety of textual, visual and material sources and comment upon their relevance to the historical study of France under Occupation, 1940-1944;
  • Engage with seminal and recent historiographical texts on that subject;
  • Structure a coherent written argument based on an engagement with primary and secondary literature;
  • Participate constructively in group discussion, presenting your case by drawing on your reading, knowledge and understanding.


In many ways the module is designed to question why these years of wartime Occupation have come to be called les années noires (the dark years) in France. Doing so helps to explain why the experiences of resistance and collaboration have proven so difficult to reconcile in national memory. In this first part of the module we consider the question of what made the Vichy regime possible. By looking at the nature of social and political conflict in 1920s and 1930s France, we will see how the calamitous military defeat of June 1940 was perhaps over-determined, and also identify how and why pre-existing anti-republican currents were able to rise to such prominence after the collapse of the Third Republic in the same month. We explore how successfully the Vichy regime was able to install its so-called ‘National Revolution’, designed to remake the family, work and nation by penetrating daily life; and we consider the nature of relations between German occupiers and French occupied, thus testing Philippe Burrin's ideas about ‘accommodation’ with the enemy. Topics are likely to include: The emergence of radical politics (fascism and communism) in the 1920s and 1930s The fall of France in 1940 as a military and historiographical problem The ‘National Revolution’ of the Vichy regime: religion, family, youth The cult of Marshall Pétain French Nazis and the ultra-collaborationists in Paris Daily life and popular opinion Propaganda, Anglophobia and allied bombing Vichy, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching activities include: • primarily, two double sessions per week in seminar format and led by student presentations; • close analysis of a variety of primary source materials in different genres (in English translation); • Small-group and plenary discussion that draws on reading and understanding of the historical frameworks of understanding of the subject matter. Learning activities include: • In depth analysis of primary sources; • Preparatory reading and individual study; • Individual participation in seminars, group work and short presentations on seminar themes.

Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Completion of assessment task126
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Atkin, N. (2001). The French at war, 1939-1944. 

Gildea, R (2002). Marianne in chains. 

Pollard, M (1998). Reign of virtue: mobilizing gender in Vichy France. 

Poznanski, R (2001). Jews in France during World War II. 

Burrin, P (1996). Living with defeat: France under the German Occupation, 1940-1944. 

Millington, C (2012). From Victory to Vichy: Veterans in Interwar France. 

Lee, Daniel (2014). Petain’s Jewish children: French Jewish youth and the Vichy regime, 1940-1942. 

Jackson, J (2003). The Fall of France: the Nazi invasion of 1940. 

Jackson, J. (2001). France: the dark years, 1940-1944. 

Paxton, R.O (2001). Vichy France: old guard and new order, 1940-1944. 


Assessment Strategy

The links between assessment methods and learning outcome are as follows: The twice weekly seminars will provide you with a forum to discuss the primary sources and relate them to the historical context and the historiography. They will also allow for the development of interpersonal skills; through the use of class presentations you will be able to develop your knowledge and understanding of particular subject areas and to enhance your oral communication skills. The long assessed essay will be written on an independently negotiated topic, and will represent deep and systematic research whose arguments will be driven by an engagement with primary source material. It will also test your engagement with the themes of the module encountered thus far. The gobbets exam asks you to present cogent and succinct analysis of a selection of primary source material already encountered in seminars; it tests how well you handle and make sense of historical evidence. This source-based focus of the longer essay and exam will prepare you for the Dissertation in the second semester. In addition, there will be a mid-term opportunity to submit for feedback two source commentaries in preparation for the gobbets examination. Feedback Method • Individual consultation on essay ideas and plan before submission • Formative source commentaries exercise with written and oral comments from tutor on its strengths and weaknesses • Essay/exam cover sheet • Individual consultation on request


Commentary exercise


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Take-away exam  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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