The European Industrial Heritage of the First World War
This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference “The European Industrial Heritage of the First World War” which will take place on December 6-8, 2018 in Paris. The conference is a collaboration of the Comité d’information et de liaison pour l’archéologie, l’étude et la mise en valeur du patrimoine industriel (CILAC), the German Historical Institute Paris, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), the Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg, the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH), and the Université Paris-Sorbonne/Labex EHNE.
Please find more information on the event here.
The focus of your upcoming conference is the Industrial Heritage of the First World War: How did you come up with the idea for this event and why did you choose this rather new and unusual approach to study the First World War?
The First World War is often defined as the first industrial war, marked by the usage of chemicals, modern weapons, tanks, metal planes… The industry has played a decisive role for military equipment but also for civil purposes such as for example agri-food. The commemoration of the Centenary highlighted various forms of heritage of this war: battlefields, war memorials, cemeteries. Among these sites and objects, it was obvious to us that the Industrial Heritage of the war was absent, and particularly invisible: factories and all kinds of infrastructures – such as railways, ports, airports, or electricity – built during the war to respond to the war effort or to ensure the survival of population were absent.
In the Call for papers, you mention an earlier workshop on the theme, organized by the CILAC in December 2017: In which ways can your upcoming conference build on preliminary results identified during this workshop and how will it differ from it?
Various cases studied made it possible to emphasize that for companies, the architectural choices during the war were varied: maintaining a prestigious and careful architecture, resorting to techniques and materials of poor quality in the context of scarcity, or the usage of light prefabrication (metal structure and brick) in other cases. In the former case, the company relied on the reuse of the place after the conflict because it had to be short, or conversely, from 1917 on, because the company thought the war was going to end soon. In the latter, the purpose was mainly to quickly build large spaces suitable for productions such as mechanics or shells. Current owners of such sites very often do not know the history of their factory and its historical importance; the same is true for the services of the State in charge of the heritage for which this criterion does not appear in the heritage analysis grids. In a few rare cases, the link with World War I is highlighted and is even a reason to visit. We tried to understand why this is the case.
What future debates on the heritage of the First World War do you want to encourage with your workshop?
The industrial heritage of the First World War seems to be invisible: it is not identified or even defined as such. The architectural, economic and political features in which the industrial sites of the First World War were built fully justify their recognition alongside cemeteries and battlefields though. Our goal is to create awareness, at a European level, of the existence and value of this heritage. This will require taking into account this criterion in the patrimonial analysis of sites or conduct specific inventories. The industrial heritage of the First World War belongs to the collective memory and to the construction of the history of Europe.
Florence Hachez-Leroy is an HDR lecturer at the University of Artois and a researcher at the Centre de recherches historiques (UMR 8558, EHESS-CNRS). Her works are devoted to the history of business, materials and industrial heritage. She is president of CILAC, the French association for industrial heritage, and board member of The Industrial Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH).
Citation: Florence Hachez-Leroy, The European Industrial Heritage of the First World War, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 29.06.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10531.