2014-2015 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to announce

The Maginot Line

Bert Gordon
(Professor, European History, Mills College)

Friday, May 1, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hal
University of California, Berkeley
Tourism studies have grown in recent years but the relationship between it and war has received relatively little scholarly attention. France, the leading international destination for travelers, according to United Nations World Tourism Organization figures, is the home of battlefield tourist sites going back to Gallic fortifications against the Romans at Alésia. Since World War II, the Maginot Line fortresses, built to protect France from German invasion, have evolved from hulking wreckages of a defeated nation to cultural symbols of head in the sand futility and, finally, as in the case of the Great Wall of China, to tourist heritage status. As early as 1950, the fort at La Ferté (Ardennes) was opened to tourists. Other fortresses followed suit after 1964 when the French government ceased maintaining the Maginot Line fortifications. Most of the forts along the Line that were opened to the public were purchased by private associations, sometimes in conjunction with local municipalities, and opened to the public in the mid-1970s. By the late 1990s, preservation and memory increasingly informed discussion of the fortresses. A move by the military authorities to fill in some of the fort entrances in the Metz-Thionville area in 1997 provoked the formation of a heritage preservation society to maintain them the next year. Although the numbers of visitors to Eurodisney outside Paris dwarf those of tourism to the Maginot Line fortifications, fortress tourism is of significance to regions such as Lorraine, whose installations attracted some 250,000 visitors in 2003. In 2007 the Maginot Line forts open to the public were estimated to have received some 300,000 visitors, often groups of school children brought to visit in the name of heritage. Whether the fortresses of the Maginot Line, together with the books written about them and the souvenir items sold in their gift shops bring in more revenue than they cost to maintain is an open question but they have clearly taken their place in official French national heritage.

Speaker Bio:
Bert Gordon is Professor of European History and Chair of the Social Sciences Division at Mills College. He is a member of the Journal of Tourism History editorial board, is General Secretary of the International Commission for the History of Travel and Tourism, serves as co-editor of the H-Travel internet discussion network, and regularly teaches a course, "Men, Women, and Travel: Tourism in Europe Since the Renaissance." A specialist on World War II France, Gordon has written on war-related tourism in that country and, more recently, the emergence of "mass tourism" and Mediterranean tourism. His books include Collaborationism in France during the Second World War (1980) and The Historical Dictionary of World War II France: The Occupation, Vichy and the Resistance, 1938-1946 (1998). "Touring the Field: The Infrastructure of Tourism History Scholarship," will be published in the Journal of Tourism History in either 2015 or 2016. He also co-edited "Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History," a special issue of French Historical Studies, published this month as volume 38:2 (April 2015). His article, "'Defensive Architecture' and World War II: The Maginot Line in Memory and Tourism," appeared in Józef Niznik, ed., XXth Century Wars in European Memory (Berne, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2013), pp. 14-29. He is currently writing a book, Tourism and the Tourist Imagination in World War II France: From the German Conquest through the Creation of Memory, 1940-present.

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