I was in Urbana, Illinios over the weekend, presenting a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies. Amidst the cornfields of the greater Champaign area, my allergies raged. I was so hopped up on antihistimines that I couldn’t take much in. Nonetheless, my paper, “A Place in the Republic,” was well received. I even got some major encouragement from some heavyweights.

Actually, for an all-Alsace panel in the last group of sessions at the conference, we had a very large audience. The other two papers were well argued, and I look forward to any publications that might come in the future. As I gathered from the other panelists, Alsace is in more peripheral to French Studies than it is to France. Perhaps it’s considered too German. Indeed, they expressed regret that they could not build a full career in French history out of studying Alsace, and that German historians were more receptive to their ideas.

As for the paper itself, I received only positive responses. The commentator was overjoyed by my “syncretic” approach. What really surprised me was how enthusiastic people could be about the German material in the paper. A few people wanted to know more about Landeskunde (German regional studies.) Others wanted to talk more about Adenauer beyond the German national context. Regular readers to this blog know of my admiration for Adenauer. I’m now more convinced that I will make a future studying him.

I attended only a few panels because of my allergies: one on environmental history, another on occultism and political prophecy. Right now I need to get some rest: it took me two days to get home because of problems at the Chicago airport, and running from gate to gate wore me out. However, in all that time, I was able to read Manuel Azuela’s The Underdogs (an interesting fiction on the Mexican Revolution, which can be read here) and half of Kevin Boyle’s Arc of Justice.

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My conference paper is still an editing nightmare. Oh, it’s getting written, but I think it has a ‘mind of its own’ rather than ‘writes itself.’ I’m trying hard to keep it under the time limit, but I resent losing the color that is present in the corresponding chapters. I’m might lop off a lot of “pre-history” (the other two papers are on Alsace pre-1918) and discussion about Reichsreform (reform of the German territories and redrawing of boundaries.) I also need to fit in some discussion about the necessity of regional history as histoire croisée. Anyway, here’s the intro so far:

An article written by Vermeil in 1926 may have confirmed the worst fears of the French government: the Rhenish separatists, expelled from Germany and finding exile in France, were attempting to make common cause with autonomists in Alsace. French propangandists (like Maurice Barrès) had depicted both as victims of Prussian hegemony. Now the separatists, to whom France gave support, became rabble rousers who would radicalize the autonomists, encouraging them to support a project for a trans-Rhenish, Catholic federation that would stand between France and Germany. The fears were exaggerated. Despite the irony that the former agents of French occupation in the Rhineland would ‘come home to roost,’ Alsatian autonomists (as well as the population) sympathized with, but did not join, their former co-nationals. The scare reflected the tendency to analyze problems in Alsace in the light of conditions in Rhineland, and vice-versa.

Nonetheless, there was something uncanny about the similar political climates of these border regions. Both hosted movements that aggressively advocated autonomy either within or from the nation. In the broader sense, Rhinelanders and Alsatians found themselves in the same situation: the transition from empire to republic raised questions about the nature of regions–their independent existence, their relationship with the nation, and transnationalism. Although Alsatians and Rhinelanders were uncertain how the coming of the republic would affect them, it was also an opportunity to think of new possibilities: to balance the nation and its parts and allow diversity to flower.

Rhenish regionalism and Alsatian regionalism appeared to be ascending at a time in which “minority” movements grasped at internationalism to balance their relationships with national governments. Despite common ideas and the simultaneity of regionalisms, the two movements experienced radically different fortunes. German governments came to see regionalism as a tool to strengthen Germany unity, in spite of its critique of national unity. The cultural politics of the provincial self-government encouraged a sophisticated understanding of the Rhineland’s organic unity, its relationship with Western Europe, and its membership in the German nation. Consequently, separatism gave way to a subtler advocacy for territorial rights and regional interests.

French government seemed always at war with regionalism in Alsace, no matter how moderate, temporary or practical it was. Exploration of regionalism was itself regarded as a foreign import. Moderate regionalism struggled to maintain a clear message while attacked by integrationists and radical autonomists. Ironically, Alsatian regionalism, stronger and more cohesive in 1914, became ineffective while Rhenish regionalism, almost non-existent before 1918, succeeded at pushing a for regional interests. In the Rhineland, regionalism shed the reputation of separatism. Contrarily, regionalism in Alsace was overshadowed by autonomism.

It’s rutting season, and Milli has been giving everyone longing looks. Too bad he won’t survive the month without getting fixed–we can’t take much more of his overexcitement.

Posting has been light for some simple reasons. First, I am sick of staring at my computer. Preparing for the baby has required a lot of extra time on the internet, comparing prices of products and examining safety records. It doesn’t take long before I crave fresh air and human contact. Luckily my wife has a good humor about things: she even hums the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents along with me.

Second, I am preparing a paper for the SFHS next month. Of course, it deals with regionalism in Alsace and Rhineland as a strategy for integration into the republic. Comparing the two, I hope to show that Germany’s tolerance of regional studies in Rhineland moderated regionalism, allowing it strengthen national sentiment, whereas French intolerance created mistrust that fragmented regionalism, creating weak moderate movements and strong radical autonomy. They’ll be other stuff too, about the nature of regionalism in the 1920s and 30s. The good news: all the stuff is coming from what I have already written. The bad news: it’s three chapters of material I must condense into a twenty minute talk. I can complain about giving myself too much work, but eventually I would have to give a talk of this scope anyone, so…