Feature Archive

Feature Archive: the Mémorial de Caen

Each month, a postgraduate student or an early career researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research

Camille Mahé is a PhD student at Sciences Po Paris and the University of Warwick, working on children’s experiences of the post-war period in Western Europe. Here she talks about the archives available at the Mémorial de Caen in Normandy.

The Mémorial de Caen was inaugurated in 1988, on the initiative of Jean-Marie Girault, the former French senator and mayor of Caen (Normandy). He was 18 when he joined the French Red Cross that rescued civilians during the bombings after the Normandy Landings in June 1944. Later in his life, Girault wanted to promote reconciliation by creating a place where future generations could come to remember and learn about the history of war.

Today, the Mémorial de Caen includes not only exhibitions on the First and Second World War, but also the Cold War. It is both a museum and a centre of research with a small library. Many events such as international conferences, Human Rights competitions and exhibitions are organised by the Memorial.

The archives of the Mémorial specialize on the Second World War. A collection has been established over many years, and now contains 40 000 photographs, 200 hours of audiovisual archives, 800 written testimonies, 1 000 hours of oral archives, and 500 boxes of private archives. The Museum holds many posters and newspapers (not only in French, but also in German and in English) as well as printed archives dealing with many topics including Germany, the United States, Allies, deportation, collaboration, resistance, Normandy, and everyday life. For those who are working on World War II Normandy, the Mémorial is the place to go.

©Caen-Normandie Mémorial

The Centre is notable not only for its printed archives, but also for the impressive collection of objects, including European and American toys, guns, helmets, boxes, gas masks, clothes, handmade toys, children diaries explaining the Landings and beautiful maps. In the Mémorial’s collection, many original and rare archives can be found. Last but not least, the archivists Christophe Prime (cprime@memorial-caen.fr.) and Marie-Claude Berthelot (mcberthelot@memorial-caen.fr) are warm and welcoming.

The city also contains other resources for those who are working on World War II or Normandy: the Archives départementales du Calvados, focused on the Normandy region (and Calvados in particular) offer many research opportunities, as does the Bureau des archives des victimes des conflits contemporains (BAVCC).

The Museum is located in Caen (2 hours by train from Paris), but not in the centre of the city. (Full address: Esplanade Général Eisenhower 14000 Caen). The best way to reach the Mémorial is to take the bus n°2 from the town centre to the terminus “Caen La Folie Mémorial”.

Many hostels are available next to the Museum, but the best place to stay is next to the Castle or in the city centre, where it is easy to take bus n°2. You can easily walk to cafes and restaurants at the end of your stay. For those who want to spend the entire day at the Memorial, there is a cafeteria with food available all day long (and a restaurant), and on sunny days the garden is very pleasant.

Camille Mahé is a PhD student at Sciences Po Paris and the University of Warwick, working on children’s experiences of the post-war period in Western Europe (1944-1949 / France, Germany, Italy). She is particularly interested in childhood studies, war studies and the history of everyday life.

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