Eminent historian addresses QE society

QE’s History Society welcomed prominent British historian Professor Julian Jackson to the School for a talk on the French Resistance.

Professor Jackson is Head of the History School at Queen Mary, University of London, and is an acknowledged authority on modern French history. He has recently participated in a multi-part documentary made for French television on the subject of the Resistance – the only British historian invited to take part.

During his talk entitled Resisting the Nazis in Occupied France, Professor Jackson made the distinction between ‘Resistance’ – activities undertaken by organised groups of armed resisters; and ‘resistance’ – the small, yet symbolic decisions made by French citizens every day in their relationship with the Germans.

“It was a fascinating and multifaceted talk which emphasised the agonising dilemmas that average French people faced every day, and it challenged the audience to think about how they themselves would navigate the same dilemmas,” said Tahmer Mahmoud, QE’s Head of History, who arranged the lecture. Professor Jackson cited the example of a German soldier offering a pregnant woman a seat on the Paris Métro. If she accepted, he asked, was she approving of the Germans? If she refused, was she resisting? And who decided what was resistance and what was not; what was right and what was wrong?

“The event was very well attended and it prompted the students to think about the role historians have in judging the people they study,” said Mr Mahmoud.

As a specialist in French history, Professor Jackson also brought interesting insights to the recent French presidential elections. He reflected on the continuing resonance of resistance and collaboration during the Nazi occupation on the French national psyche today.

  • Professor Julian Jackson is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Cambridge in 1982. After many years at the University of Wales, Swansea, he joined Queen Mary History Department in 2003. His published works include: The Politics of Depression France 1932-1936; The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934-1938; France: the Dark Years 1940-1944. The latter was short-listed for the Los Angeles Times History Book Prize and translated into French in 2003. The French translation was commended by the judges of the Prix Philippe Viannay-Défense de la France.