MÉMORIAL DU CAMP DE RIVESALTES
: THE TOPOGRAPHY OF FRENCH MEMORY

  • Ian Cantoni

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis examines conceptions of history, memory, and identity in contemporary France
through a site-specific study of the Mémorial du Camp de Rivesaltes. With a history of some
seventy years of internment, the Camp de Rivesaltes spanned France’s great Twentieth
Century conflicts: the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the Algerian War;
witnessing decades of migration, internment, and displacement. Through studying the
memorialisation of Rivesaltes’ diverse pasts, fresh perspectives are offered on the memory of
the Vichy government, decolonisation, and France’s fraught navigation of conflicts not-quitepast.

The thesis considers the process of memorialisation both theoretically (applying theories
adopted from the field of memory studies) and practically (through research at the site
drawing on the principles of ethnography) to construct a study that shifts between the general
and the particular, the local and the global. The research contributes to a growing field that
applies theories of transnational memory to heritage sites, but, critically, tests these theories
in relation to the experience of those people who now populate the site. Through an
ethnographic examination of behaviour within the Mémorial and an analysis of responses to
the site from a wide range of constituents, the thesis illustrates the difficulty of imposing a
top-down, hegemonic understanding of French memory in the contemporary period. Rather,
it argues that the site be considered through the lens of multidirectional memory, considering
the potentially productive ways that memories of diverse conflicts and multiple sites of
violence can be brought together in one place.

Where the literature is well developed on the memory of France’s Second World War and
Algerian War experiences, this thesis examines a site that has, as yet, been under-represented
in studies of these periods. As such, this thesis provides a contribution to the knowledge that
is at once particular to the Camp de Rivesaltes, and general, concerning the memorialisation
of conflict in contemporary France. Through the use of varied archival sources, it explores
the voices of those interned onsite, bringing them into dialogue with museum practitioners,
architects, and visitors, in order to challenge any single reading of the camp landscape or of a
singular ‘French’ memory. Through an analysis of the processes that underpinned the
eventual creation of the Mémorial, various ‘stages of memory’ are revealed at specific
periods in time. Such an examination suggests the resurgence of particular memories
at particular times, aligned with local, national, and international events. It shows that these
memories, whilst intensely local, are equally tangled and intertwined with memories of other
times and places, and points to the difficulty of saying that these pasts have passed.
Date of AwardMar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorEugene Michail (Supervisor)

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