Transition and Transformation: The French State and the Recovery of Alsace after the First World War
In 1918, the end of the First World War triggered the return of the region of Alsace to French rule after forty-seven years as part of the German Empire. The entry of French troops was captured in images that depicted cheering crowds in towns and villages across the region, but reintegration was not as straightforward as these early images suggested. Rather, return demanded a series of transformations across state and society, as French laws, administrative institutions, language, cultural practices and civil servants were gradually introduced into the region and met with responses that varied from welcome to appropriation to resistance. The situation was complicated as there was no single idea of the meaning of return amongst the French state and its agents, or amongst representatives of civil society in Alsace and beyond. As a result, return adopted the form of a multi-cornered struggle that lasted throughout the two decades following the return of Alsace to France. This paper considers the challenges of transition to French rule in Alsace after the First World War. It analyses the ways in which the French state and its agents established the boundaries of France and its national community in Alsace through new administrative institutions, laws and legal instruments, citizenship requirements, and border policing. It focuses upon how the state’s interactions with civil society affected state policy, and upon ideas of popular local ‘will’ and how they were articulated and mobilized in attempts to direct state policy in the recovered region.