French History @ the IHR

French History @ IHR: Hanna Diamond, ‘Paris and its liberation: photography, memory and the Second World War’

Date & Place: Monday 14 December, in the Wolfson Room NB02, IHR Basement, North block, Senate House

Speakers: Hanna Diamond (Cardiff)

Paper Title: ‘Paris and its liberation: photography, memory and the Second World War’

Chair: Iain Stewart (UCL)

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Hanna Diamond introduced new research which considered the importance of the visual record of the Liberation. She stressed how the events in Paris had been historicised and then transmitted, and how both of these actions had continued to shape how the public accessed the memory of the Second World War. This work will be the basis of a chapter in a new book on which she is working, and is also tied to her ongoing work with Paris Museums around the Liberation. Diamond discussed how these photographs could be read firstly through the way in which they were created, and latterly as emblematic symbols of how the war was remembered. She discussed how an ‘army of photographers’ had been mobilised at the Liberation, and how their work had been curated to present a strong message.

Museums rushed to frame the Liberation, and exhibitions as early as November 1944 invited the French public to look back on those heady days in August. Yet, they also framed a memory of the Resistance which inflated the extent and significance of the insurrection in Paris, and prioritised the role of De Gaulle and Leclerc. This was, in part, an effort to create a narrative of national unity that reflected the ordered harmony of De Gaulle’s victory parade along the Champs Elysee.

On subsequent anniversaries, this narrative was revisited and reinforced. Diamond examined a series of anniversaries, showing how novel practices of commemoration interacted with the relatively static text of the Liberation’s pictorial history. She discussed how Paris and its well-photographed barricades became the site of French memory of the War, whilst the beaches of Normandy remained somewhere for international commemoration in which the French participated.

By tracing the establishment and then practice of this ‘heroic narrative’ from 1944 to 2014, Diamond showed how the narrative had settled into a ‘frozen truth’. In these compelling images of the Liberation, she described simplified glimpses of the past, opening up interesting discussions of how the pictorial legacy of the Liberation can be contextualised and problematized in contemporary remembrance. Her paper contrasted the composition and commemoration of heritage, and interrogated the ways in which photographs frame a picture which is all the more interesting for what takes place just beyond the frame.

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